The old system operated by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) was widely acknowledged as broken. Following a boom of development activity, more than 80 GW of generation is waiting for review, about two-thirds of it renewable energy. In 2007, only 63 MW of wind was connected in California.
CAISO has traditionally dealt with connection requests in the order they are submitted. If five requests in one region are under review and a sixth comes in, that sets off a cascading need for more studies of the prior five. "There was no way to draw a line in the sand and say simply, here's what we're going to study and if you come in afterwards, you have to wait because we won't study your project until next year," says CAISO's Gregg Fishman.
A new cluster study process is intended to fix the problem. CAISO will open a wide window of many months, but less than a year, for interconnection requests in any specific area. It will then close the window and study that specific cluster unimpeded by new requests.
The fee for a generator to apply for connection has been raised from $25,000 to $250,000, which Fishman says is a fundamental change that will ensure only projects with financial backing and a realistic chance of being built will be submitted. If certain metrics are not met along the way, such as applicants proving they have control of the land for a project, an additional $250,000 will have to be paid to hold their place in the queue.
"The best time to have done this would have been a couple years ago, but nobody knew there would be this incredible boom, especially in renewable energy projects...and then we were literally inundated by all the renewables project requests," says Fishman. Now it is a just a waiting game to see the queue slowly unlock itself, says Fishman. "This is an issue we believe we've dealt with now. It will take some time, but the future is laid out, and that's a huge thing."