Friday, April 19, 2024

Utility Regulator Recommends Suspension of Dominion’s Rules for Connecting New Solar to Grid

Solar panels. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND — A Virginia utility regulator is recommending that rules set by Dominion Energy for how new generation sources can connect to the grid should be paused after solar developers argued they are throttling the development of new solar projects around the state.

State Corporation Commission Hearing Examiner Mary Beth Adams recommended July 31 that the interconnection rules and requirements be suspended until new regulations on the matter are finalized.

Dominion’s rules are “beyond what is permitted” by state law and regulations on interconnection, found Adams. Furthermore, she wrote, the “continued implementation of the [rules] will create barriers to interconnection that the Interconnection Statute aims to prevent,” providing “sufficient harm” to justify a suspension until further investigation can occur.

While hearing examiners can provide recommendations for the State Corporation Commission, their decisions are not binding and must be reviewed by the commission, which then issues a final order. There is no specific deadline for the commission to enter a final order in the current case.

Dominion maintains the rules are needed to maintain grid safety and reliability. The utility has argued they are especially necessary because recent laws like the sweeping Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020, which seeks to decarbonize the grid by 2050, are leading to an influx of solar projects in Virginia.

The case stems from a petition by the Virginia Distributed Solar Alliance that argued smaller-scale solar projects were being stalled because of grid enhancements the rules were requiring developers to make. The group said the requirements were slowing down projects producing up to 3 megawatts of energy, known as distributed generation sources, including projects undertaken by public schools.

In her recommendation, Adams cited state code that said Dominion must provide distribution service that is “just, reasonable, and not unduly discriminatory to suppliers of electric energy, including distributed generation.”

Dominion’s interconnection rules divide projects into three different categories based on size. Adams said the creation of those categories would require a change to regulations or tariffs — the rules for how customers are charged for a specific service — that would have to be approved by the commission.

The Virginia Distributed Solar Alliance is supporting Adams’ recommendation, but has made two new requests: that any new interconnection rules established by the commission not be applied retroactively, and that developers be reimbursed for any costs they incurred as a result of complying with Dominion’s rules.

“It is certainly imperative for the Commission to establish that no utility can impose substantial barriers to the implementation of solar distributed energy resources without a Commission determination,” wrote Cliona Mary Robb, an attorney representing the Distributed Solar Alliance.

Dominion has doubled down on its argument that it must be able to adjust its rules to keep the grid and employees safe without needing commission approval. The utility also requested a chance to reply to the alliance’s new requests.

“It is the Company’s responsibility to operate the grid safely and reliably and the Commission should not substitute its technical judgment for the Company’s as to what is necessary to fulfill this obligation,” wrote Jontile Ray, an attorney representing Dominion in the case.

Tony Smith, president and founder of Secure Solar Futures, a member of the Distributed Solar Alliance, on Tuesday said, “We’re hopeful that they see through this as yet another effort by Dominion to claim that they are the only parties that can effectively ensure safety and reliability of the grid.”

Jeremy Slayton, a spokesperson for Dominion, said the company’s top core value is safety.

“Our filings and interconnection requirements were designed to ensure the same safety and reliability standard regardless of who builds the project,” he said. “We believe this to be critical to maintaining a reliable energy grid.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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