Maryland launches review of electric-distribution systems

As more distributed-energy resources (DERs) are added to the country’s electrical grid, tension between traditional electricity-distribution companies and distributed-generation advocates is palpable in states across the country.

In response to the conflict in its state, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) has launched a targeted review to ensure electricity-distribution is affordable, sustainable and reliable for all its customers.

As part of this study, the PSC will examine:

  • Time-varying rates for traditional service, distributed-energy resources (DERs) and electric vehicles
  • Performance-based ratemaking
  • The benefits and costs of DERs, with a comprehensive analysis for potential use in future utility tariffs
  • Maximizing advanced-metering benefits for ratepayers
  • Implementing interconnection rules and policies to promote competitive, efficient and predictable DERs markets maximizing customer choices
  • Distribution system planning, to allow utilities to accommodate increased DER adoption, and allows for an evaluation of the appropriate level of utility investment in distribution assets.
  • Assessing impacts of the evolving distribution system on residents with limited incomes.

“It’s fantastic that the PSC is doing this review,” says C.J. Colavito, director of engineering for Rockville, Md.-based Standard Solar, a full-service solar installer. “It’s in the public’s best interest to evaluate DERs and what their value is to the community and grid accurately.”

Colavito said he hopes the study needs to go beyond the obvious, measureable benefits and accounts the societal benefits as well — jobs, cleaner air and those benefits that are not as easily measured.

Four previous PSC activities sparked this effort. A year ago, the PSC hosted a technical conference on the barriers to DER development, and they held a public conference in June on barriers to the development of electric vehicles. In addition, the work other states are doing prodded the commission to act.

The final contributing factor was the Exelon-Pepco Holdings merger proceeding, when the PSC insisted that Pepco Holdings investigate how they can transform the electric-distribution grid, including smart-grid technology, microgrids, renewables and distributed generation.

“We obviously keep a close eye on what is happening in other states on this issue,” said Tori Leonard, communications director for the PSC, in an email. “The initiatives of state regulators across the country  —New York and California specifically, along with others — have also made us realize the importance doing this kind of study.”

A public meeting on the review likely will be held in December.

“In my experience, the commissioners react well to the volumes of comments and the number of people who show up to support causes before them,” Colavito said. “So I would urge people to pay attention to the process, make formal comments and, if at all possible, go to the committee meetings. This is important to the future of electricity distribution in the state. Let your voices be heard.”

Update: This article was edited at 11:29 am EST on 10/14/16 to include comments from Tori Leonard.

Update: This article was edited at 4:23 pm EST on 10/14/16 to clarify that the PSC hosted the two technical conferences instead of merely attending, and the agreement was with Pepco Holdings, which is the parent company of Pepco.

Update: This article was edited at 4:50 pm EST on 10/14/16 to reflect that there were four factors that encouraged the PSC to act.