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Maine PUC Asked to Fix “Leapfrogging” Problem Triggered by 2022 Changes to Maine’s Generator Interconnection Rule

The Maine Public Utilities Commission is currently considering whether to commence a formal emergency rulemaking process to amend Chapter 324 of its rules governing generator interconnections. The purpose of the rulemaking would be to correct a growing problem whereby smaller “Level 2” interconnection projects are able to “leapfrog” larger “Level 4” projects in the interconnection queue, triggering restudies and delays for Level 4 projects that have completed their distribution level interconnection studies but are awaiting final I.3.9 approval.

The emergency rulemaking was initially requested through a joint petition filed in December by Central Maine Power Company, Versant Power Company, Maine Renewable Energy Association, and the Coalition for Community Solar Access. A link to the Petition, which is part of Docket No. 2022-00359, can be found here.

More specifically, Petitioners seek to resolve the “leapfrogging” issue that Level 4 projects have faced since the Commission’s 2022 adoption of a new definition of “Aggregated Generation” in Chapter 324. Under the new definition, a Level 4 project is not considered “aggregated generation” with a fixed spot in the interconnection queue until it has entered into an interconnection agreement with the utility AND paid for all required interconnection upgrades. Many Level 4 projects wanted to pay 100% of the interconnection costs, but were not able to do so due because delays in the cluster study results made it impossible to determine the interconnection costs.

Since the adoption of the new definition of “aggregated generation” in Ch. 324, CMP and Versant say they have seen a significant increase in Level 2 interconnection requests, and each Level 2 request that “leapfrogs” a Level 4 request awaiting the results of an I.3.9 Cluster Study forces a restudy of the Level 4 project. In practice, there is no limit to the number of Level 2 projects can apply for interconnection and force the Level 4 project to undergo restudies. The longer the delay in the I.3.9 process, the greater the likelihood that a Level 4 project will confront one or more of these “leapfrog” situations.

To address the leapfrogging issue, the Commission issued an advisory ruling clarifying that Level 4 projects that have paid 100% of distribution costs (but not transmission costs) may be considered “Aggregated Generation.” Central Maine Power Company, Request for Approval Waiver of Chapter 324, Docket No. 2020- 00211, Order Clarifying Order Granting Waiver, at 1-2 (Oct. 20, 2022). In this ruling, the Commission further clarified the timing and process for Level 4 projects requesting an invoice for 100% of distribution costs while awaiting the results of a Section I.3.9 cluster study by noting that projects should be allowed to pay 100% of known distribution costs prior to I.3.9 approval if the project developer is willing to do so. Id.

The proposed emergency rule amendments sought in this proceeding include:

  1. Formally codifying in Chapter 324 the terms of the advisory ruling issued by the Commission in Central Maine Power Company, Request for Approval Waiver of Chapter 324, Docket No. 2020-00211, Order Clarifying Order Granting Waiver, at 1-2 (Oct. 20, 2022);
  2. Reducing the maximum size of a Level 2 project from 2 MW to 1 MW; and
  3. Introducing a site control requirement on certain Level 2 interconnection requests to reduce the number of speculative Level 2 requests.

Following the submission of the emergency rulemaking petition, the Commission sought comments on eleven different issues relating to the appropriateness of emergency rulemaking. The Petitioners submitted comments in response to the Commission’s Request, and the Office of Public Advocate also submitted comments citing no objection to the proposed revisions to Chapter 324. However, OPA questioned the “emergency” nature of the rulemaking request, including its view that the Petitioners had failed to demonstrate that, absent the rulemaking, there would be an immediate threat to public health, safety, or the general welfare.

On February 3, 2023, the Commission issued a Procedural Order seeking further clarification from the Petitioners regarding:

  1. Data supporting the analysis performed by CMP and Versant in calculating the number of Level 2 projects each utility has in their queue; and
  2. The relationship between the projects included in the publicly available Level 2 Application Tracker on the CMP website and the number of Level 2 projects received by CMP and Versant.

On February 13, 2023, CMP and Versant each filed responses and data sets in accordance with the Commission’s request for clarification. Versant’s response comments can be accessed here, and CMP’s can be accessed here.

At this stage, the Commission will consider all of the information filed to date and either issue further information requests or proceed to rule on the request for emergency rulemaking.

As always, if you have any questions or want further information, please do not hesitate to contact one of our Energy, Telecommunications & Natural Resources attorneys.