Sunrise brief: Xcel fined $1M over solar interconnection complaints


Minnesota utility regulators fined Xcel Energy $1 million for complaints related to delays in connecting solar projects to the electricity grid.

Almost all of the roughly 120 complaints were filed by St. Paul-based All Energy Solar in 2019.

Published reports said that Minneapolis-based Xcel acknowledged shortcomings, but argued the complaints should have been rolled into one. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) disagreed with that assertion, but split on whether to immediately hit Xcel with the $1 million fine.

The complaints stem from a 2019 standard that Xcel, the solar industry and clean-energy groups hoped would improve the state’s interconnection process. The interconnection problems have been with community solar gardens — which number over 300 — and other smaller projects.

In December 2019, All Energy Solar filed 128 complaints against Xcel, accusing the utility of “systemic failure.”

At least one other developer filed a complaint, and the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association reportedly has said in regulatory filings that other developers have had similar problems.

There has been “industry­wide exasperation” with Xcel on connecting to the grid, David Shaffer, the trade group’s executive director, was quoted as saying to regulators.

The avalanche of complaints hurt Xcel’s 2019 “quality of service plan,” an annual regulatory report. They put Xcel over its allowed threshold of 363 complaints for 2019, triggering the $1 million fine.

Xcel reportedly said it has resolved the 2019 All Energy Solar complaints, which the company contends should not count toward its service-quality plan. The plan was never intended to include interconnection issues, which have their own review process, Xcel said.

Sungrow will supply energy storage system

Sungrow said it will supply an energy storage system to the 100 MW Chisholm Grid project in Fort Worth, Texas. Chisholm Grid has been under construction since August of 2020 and will be one of the largest battery energy storage facilities in Texas when work onsite is completed this June. The facility will use lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (LiNiMnCoO2) battery technology. It will provide energy and grid stabilization services to the ERCOT wholesale electricity market.

The Chisholm Grid Battery Energy Storage Project is owned by Astral Electricity, a privately-held energy storage power producer, and was developed by Able Grid Infrastructure Holdings, a joint venture between Able Grid and MAP RE/ES.

Driving EV adoption

Researchers at MIT say that installing charging stations on residential streets, rather than just in central locations such as shopping malls, could have an outsized benefit in increasing the number of electric vehicles on roads.

They also found that adding high-speed charging stations along highways and making supplementary vehicles more easily available to people who need to travel beyond the single-charge range of their electric vehicles could greatly increase the vehicle electrification potential.

The findings are reported in the journal Nature Energy.

The researchers developed a methodology to identify charging solutions that would conveniently fit into people’s daily activities. They used data collected from GPS tracking devices in cars, as well as survey results about people’s daily driving habits and needs, including detailed data from the Seattle area and more general data from the U.S. as a whole.

Being strategic in placing infrastructure where it can be most convenient and effective could make a huge difference, the researchers said.

Image: Pixabay/joenomias

The approach emphasized building a better understanding of people’s detailed energy consuming behavior, throughout the day and year.

While the vast majority of people’s daily driving needs can be met by the range provided by existing electric cars, people sometimes need to drive much farther. Or, they may need to make more short trips than usual in a day, with little time to stop and recharge. These so-called “high-energy days” can be the deciding factor in people’s decision making about whether to go electric.

Being strategic in placing infrastructure where it can be most convenient and effective — and making drivers aware of it so they can easily envision where and when they will charge — could make a huge difference, the researchers said.

In looking at driving habits in Seattle, the team found that the impact of either adding highway fast-charging stations or increasing availability of supplementary long-range vehicles for up to four days a year meant that the number of homes that could meet their driving needs with a lower-cost electric vehicle rose from 10% to 40%. The number topped 90% when fast-charging stations, workplace charging, overnight public charging, and up to 10 days of access to supplementary vehicles were all available. The researchers said that charging options at residential locations (on or off-street) proved to be key across all scenarios.

The study’s findings also highlight the importance of making overnight charging capabilities available to more people. While those who have their own garages or off-street parking can often already easily charge their cars at home, many people do not have that option and use public parking. That includes locations such as hotels as well as residential neighborhoods.

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