Solar demand overwhelms Michigan utility – not “predictable”

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It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it! – Upton Sinclair

Michigan electric utility Consumers Energy has applied for a “partial waiver of the Electric Interconnection and Net Metering Standards” with the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC). The filing (Case No. U-20444 – 28 page pdf) noted that between 2008 and 2015 interconnection applications grew from 58 to 259. However, in the past two years:

The total number of annual interconnection applications submitted to Consumers Energy has increased exponentially. All told, the Company received 2,435 interconnection applications in 2017 and 2018…That is more than three applications per day, every single day, over a two-year period…The increase in interconnection applications that began in 2017 was too substantial, and too sudden, to allow the Company to respond with an immediate corresponding increase in resources and staffing.

The company stated,

First, the scale of the problem was not truly known to the Company until 2018…Nor could the increase in applications experienced in 2017 and 2018 have been predicted by the
Company in earlier years.

If the company had followed the linear growth trends of 2008 through 2016, then 230 and 252 applications would have been expected in 2017 an 2018, respectively. And had that linear growth continued into the future:

the annual total of interconnection applications actually received in 2017 (weren’t projected) until around 2040, and it would not have reached the annual total of interconnection applications actually received in 2018 until after 2097.

The document noted that Not only has there been a sharp increase in overall demand for interconnection, but demand has shifted in the past two years to larger and more complex projects (see image below), than in prior years. The utility noted that of more than 100 generating facilities larger than 1 MW currently interconnected with Consumers Energy’s distribution system, only three are solar facilities. Yet, as of the day of the report, more than 540 outstanding interconnection applications for facilities larger than 1 MWac involve solar projects. Specifically, these larger projects were called out as being a heavy strain on resources as they take longer periods to analyze.

And while the larger projects received the most attention, all system size categories have increased since 2008 – with residential increasing 2,300%.

The report also noted that there were challenges on the side of developers as well, as applications in the queue hadn’t necessarily followed through on documents complementing their applications, fees paid and other issues. In the case of one developer that had submitted more than 150 interconnection applications – the applications had been submitted with one-line engineering diagrams “sealed” by a professional engineer whose license had expired at the time the application was received.

Specifically, the utility notes that “Interconnection Standards prescribe time periods in which the Company must review and process interconnection applications.” Per state law, all interconnection applications, the Company must review the application and determine whether it is complete within 10 working days. Then, depending on project size, engineering reviews and distribution system studies must also be completed in defined time frames. For instance, a Category 4 system of “greater than 550 kWac and not more than 2 MWac” must have its engineering review completed within 25 working days, and the distribution system study completed with 45 working days.

The source of the news, Peter J Cavan of Centrica, noted it most simply – “can’t handle new solar”. As noted on Friday, wind+solar+storage will bring “massive disruption” – and it’s just getting started folks.