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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Utility Regulators Suspend Dominion’s Rules for Connecting Solar Projects to Grid

Dominion Energy’s Scott Solar facility in Powhatan County, Va. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND — Virginia’s electric utility regulators told Dominion Energy Wednesday that it is no longer allowed to impose its rules for connecting smaller solar projects to the grid because it doesn’t have the authority to do so.

The order from the State Corporation Commission was issued after a group of solar developers called the Distributed Solar Alliance filed a petition asking for regulators to suspend the rules because of resulting cost increases and project delays. Dominion had argued the rules were needed to ensure grid safety and reliability.

“Based on the findings and recommendations in the report, the Commission hereby issues an injunction” suspending the rules, the order states.

The commission’s decision follows a report from a hearing examiner that recommended suspension of the rules on the grounds that they were contrary to state law that requires Dominion to provide service that is not “discriminatory.” The examiner also noted there are two reviews of interconnection rules already underway at the commission where the Dominion rules can be discussed.

Tony Smith, president and founder of Secure Solar Futures, a member of the Distributed Solar Alliance, called the order “a momentous event in the history of distributed solar in Virginia.”

“It squarely tells Dominion that they operated illegally,” Smith said. “It is the commission, not Dominion, that sets interconnection policies and regulations in the state.”

Smith said he couldn’t speak for all of the projects that were affected by the technical upgrade requirements in the company’s rules, but said Prince William County can go forward with a 900 kilowatt solar project that his company is working on. Completion of the project was in jeopardy because of the rules’ requirement that customers sign a Small Generator Interconnection Agreement. The solar developers have said the approach shifted project risk to customers,  in contrast to power purchase agreements (PPAs) in which developers bear the risk.

Prince William County Schools “can now move forward with this project for two schools, including Freedom High School,” said Diana Gulotta, director of communications for the district. “Moving forward helps us get closer to reaching the carbon reduction goals of our strategic plan, as well as the scope of the original solar PPA project with Secure.”

The Distributed Solar Alliance plans to raise its concerns over interconnection in the ongoing SCC cases, he added.

In a statement, Dominion spokesperson Jeremy Slayton repeated comments previously provided to the Mercury that “our filings and interconnection requirements are designed to ensure the same safety and reliability standard regardless of who builds the project.”

“We remain committed to ensuring the safety and reliability of our grid,” Slayton said.

The commission made no decision on a late request from the Distributed Solar Alliance to allow companies to recover costs they incurred as a result of Dominion’s rules, saying that ask can be made in a separate proceeding.

The commission also stated it had “neither disregarded, nor taken lightly, Dominion’s claims regarding safety and reliability.”

“The Commission has identified the Company’s current authority under existing law,” the commission wrote. “Dominion should continue to take the actions necessary to maintain the immediate safety and reliability of its system; this may include, but need not be limited to, seeking specific authority from this Commission in one or more formal proceedings.”

Smith said he expects both sides to “sit with the decision” before making further requests.

“We’re just very thankful for the commission for having acted so expeditiously and unequivocally,” Smith said.

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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