United States

United States

Proposals to speed up grid connection in US get unanimous FERC approval

Cluster approach will streamline interconnection processing, introduce penalties on transmission providers, and reduce waiting times for wind projects

US grid systems are set to receive an overhaul under the proposed changes (pic credit: John Paraskevas/Newsday RM via Getty Images)
US grid systems are set to receive an overhaul under the proposed changes (pic credit: John Paraskevas/Newsday RM via Getty Images)

Vast quantities of new wind power capacity across America could be unlocked if reforms to reduce interconnection queue backlogs, proposed by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), are adopted.

In a rare unanimous vote of approval, FERC has proposed ‘first ready, first served’ rules for clusters of new generating projects, rather than considering projects individually in the order in which applications are submitted.

The FERC proposal will now be subject to public consultation, followed by a final order, expected late this year or early 2023, and then – if it adopted – regional implementation.

At end 2021, there was more than 1,400GW of generation and storage capacity waiting for connection to the grid, more than 90% of which was for zero-carbon resources, according to the Queued Up study by the US Department of Energy's Berkeley Lab.

Around 247GW of that was wind power, 77GW of which was offshore.

For comparison, total installed wind capacity in America was almost 135GW by end 2021, according to the American Clean Power Association.

Berkeley Lab notes interconnection wait times have been rising in many regions. For projects built in 2000-2010, it typically took around 2.1 years from connection request to commercial operation, but this increased to around 3.7 years for 2011-2021 projects, it says.

Wind projects have also had a low completion rate. From 2000-2016, just 20% of projects waiting for interconnection approval were ever connected, says the Queued Up study.

Rob Gramlich, founder and president of Grid Strategies, believes FERC's proposal will improve connection rates significantly. “These [proposed FERC] process reforms will allow tens of gigawatts of wind, solar, and storage projects to connect more quickly to transmission systems,” he said. “Clusters are groups of projects that get studied together. That’s better than the current separate analysis of every individual generator, where the results are a function of what happens to every other generator.”

But Gramlich stressed: “The real solution is planning new transmission, because the root cause of the problem is insufficient capacity.”

Gramlich, formerly with the American Wind Energy Association, said FERC’s proposed rule is likely to be adopted, noting “a 5-0 vote is unusual”.

After the vote, FERC Chairman Rich Glick, a Democrat, said: “Today’s unanimous action addresses the urgent need to update, expedite and streamline our processes to interconnect new resources to the grid.”

He added: “We are witnessing unprecedented demand for new resources seeking to interconnect to the transmission grid and queue delays are hindering customers’ access to new, low-cost generation.”

How FERC reforms will work

Under FERC's proposed first-ready, first-served cluster study process, transmission providers will conduct larger interconnection studies for numerous proposed generating facilities, rather than separate studies for each individual project.

In order to ensure grid-ready projects can proceed through the queue in a timely manner, transmission providers will impose additional financial commitments and readiness requirements on interconnection customers.

The FERC commissioners voted to speed up interconnection queue processing, with firm deadlines and penalties on transmission providers which fail to complete interconnection studies on time (the exception is in instances where ‘force majeure’ applies).

A simplified process of studying interconnection requests is also to be introduced for when applications all relate to the same state-authorised or mandated resource solicitation.

Technological advancements will also be incorporated into the interconnection process by, for example, allowing more than one resource to co-locate on a shared site behind a single point of interconnection and share a single interconnection request.

FERC also wants interconnection customers to be able to modify existing interconnection requests under certain circumstances, for example by adding a generating facility to the application, without automatically losing their position in the queue.

Transmission providers will also have to consider alternative transmission solutions if requested by the interconnection customer, if the reforms are adopted.

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