New Partnerships Help Utilities Break Down Solar Barriers

May 11, 2016

The Solar Technical Assistance Team (STAT) Network launched its first program of technical assistance to electric utilities and announced three new efforts to provide direct support to utility partners. The activities range from providing interconnection training to conducting detailed techno-economic modeling to leveraging community solar finance tools.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a member of the STAT Network, leads the technical assistance.

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Implementing streamlined interconnection procedures for distributed solar photovoltaics

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) is a joint action agency that has 45 members across Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, and California. Its member utilities own and operate publicly owned electricity systems to provide services to local customers. Due to the small size of many member organizations and customer bases, some members face a challenge in accommodating customer requests to interconnect customer-sited solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.

NREL will deliver detailed training to UAMPS member organizations on interconnection standards, procedures, and business processes at an upcoming board meeting. Following this initial engagement, NREL will deliver resources on interconnection applications and processes to all UAMPS member organizations. NREL will also support an interconnection "hotline" for UAMPS members, allowing these utilities to receive individual assistance in implementing these procedures. NREL will also hold bi-weekly calls to address frequently asked questions and allow for discussion of key issues.

Pasadena Water and Power (Pasadena, California)
Evaluating economics of battery storage for community solar installations

Pasadena Water and Power (PWP) is the municipal utility serving the city of Pasadena. The utility delivers electricity service to roughly 57,000 customers and water service to 37,000 customers. The utility has supported the growth of customer-sited solar PV installations in recent years. In response to customer interest, it has also committed, in its most recent integrated resource plan, to develop both community solar and feed-in tariff programs. The utility has solicited proposals for community solar installations from developers through the Southern California Public Power Authority and is considering the integration of battery storage to the proposed solar facilities.

NREL will support PWP's evaluation of battery storage options for its community solar facilities through a suite of technical and economic evaluations. NREL will support basic site design and assessment and will deliver detailed techno-economic modeling using the battery storage capabilities of the NREL REopt platform. NREL staff will also analyze the potential resiliency benefits of these combined solar-and-storage facilities in response to disasters such as earthquakes. 

City of Colton Electric Utility (Colton, California)
Fremont Department of Utilities (Fremont, Nebraska)
Marquette Board of Light and Power (Marquette, Michigan)
Marshfield Utilities (Marshfield, Wisconsin)
Examining community solar financing options for municipal utilities

NREL received similar requests from a number of municipal utilities that were seeking to evaluate financing options for their proposed community solar programs. Such utilities have unique opportunities and constraints in the financing arena, which can complicate the comparison of options for utility staff. For example, as part of a city government, these utilities may be able to achieve low-cost financing through municipal bonds, but as tax-exempt entities they are unable to directly capture the 30% federal investment tax credit for solar facilities.

By leveraging existing community solar finance tools developed by NREL and project teams under the DOE Solar Market Pathways projects, NREL will work directly with utilities to clearly define and model distinct financing scenarios and to evaluate the impacts of various options on the pricing of customer participation and on the utilities' finances. These efforts will seek to demonstrate the financial viability of one or more community solar financing models to key utility staff and city decision-makers.

NREL will also coordinate its assistance on project finance assistance with the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), which will deliver assistance on customer outreach and subscription efforts to several of these utilities through its ongoing DOE-funded community solar technical assistance program.

The STAT Network gathers NREL solar technology and deployment experts to provide unbiased information on solar policies and issues for utility and state and local government decision-makers. NREL provides technical assistance to utilities on matters that require solar market expertise related to topics such as programmatic conceptualization, existing program design/redesign, and long-term utility strategic planning.

—Linh Truong