Maine utility admits solar interconnect faults, hires consultants – pv magazine USA

The Central Maine Power Company admitted its solar power interconnection processes were flawed in 2020-21 and proposed a settlement that includes hiring grid analysts, funding a task force between the industry and utility and a considerable tightening of upgrade cost estimates.

In file number 2021-0035 with the Maine Public Utilities Commission, electric utility Central Maine Power Company (CMP) admitted wrongdoing and proposed a settlement to bolster their solar integration work after last year interconnection fee debacle.

To achieve the utility’s goal of improving interconnect processing, $550,000 will be spent to hire up to six new contractors to support the interconnect process. These individuals will focus on the cluster study process at the transmission level for large-scale projects. An additional $150,000 will fund an ongoing industry and utility task force to identify and resolve network connection issues.

The $700,000 will come from shareholders’ money and cannot be covered by taxpayers.

The settlement also notes that CMP was at fault and should have identified its “surge” issues much earlier in the project interconnection process. The utility said it would modify scanning techniques to better estimate upgrade needs.

Among these modifications of the interconnection technique is a tariff refinement. The utility’s CMP said it will “commit to providing more detailed cost estimates and construction schedules than the (-50%/+200%) cost estimates” they had submitted.

Additionally, the utility released a list of projects — shown below — that are currently undergoing long-term cluster studies, slowing their progress toward construction. The CMP indicates that it will endeavor to respect the deadlines currently defined in order not to slow down these projects further.

This regulation comes in response to massive interconnection fees which were sent to the solar developers after they had already received the interconnection costs and processes.

According to the Maine Renewable Energy Association, some examples of the upgrade changes received by solar developers include:

  • Developer A – originally received a finalized interconnect agreement, with an expected upgrade fee of $100,000. When the document was returned to the utility for final signing, instead of receiving the countersigned original agreement, a new upgrade fee of $1,420,000 was paid, plus additional costs to be determined;
  • Developer B – With five projects fully constructed and having an interconnection agreement fully executed, the developer received a notice that their projects were being upgraded, along with additional fees and a schedule for longer treatment.
  • Developer C – A project with a fully executed interconnection agreement was reassessed for over $12 million in upgrade fees for a project under 2 MW.

After some public pressure, including Governor Janet Mills calling for an investigation, company officials were able to uncover the mistakes of their ways. The utility responded with a letter stating that initial upgrade estimates, which were in the range of $10–15 million per substation, reflected the cost of a complete rebuild. Revised estimates provided a range of $175,000 to $375,000 for required upgrades.

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