Getting your solar connected
Most solar installations are connected to the electric grid. The process of connecting your solar installation to the electric grid is called interconnection. Connecting to the grid ensures that you will always have electric service. This will be true even during portions of the day when your system isn’t generating electricity.
Your installer will work with your utility to ensure that your system is connected.
The steps to receive your interconnection are:
- Your installer submits an application to the utility
- Your utility reviews the application
- The utility approves the installation and gives you permission to switch on your system
What your utility looks for as part of the process
Your utility will review your solar installation. It will assess how it might impact the local electric grid. If the utility determines that the project will harm grid performance, they may ask you to make your installation smaller. Alternatively, they may ask that grid equipment is upgraded before you install.
The utility will determine the approximate costs and who will pay for upgrades. Who pays differs. In many areas, the standard for who pays is the “last person in the door.” This means if a utility says equipment needs upgrades, the project that triggers this upgrade must pay the upgrade costs. This is the case even for equipment that multiple customers share.
Upgrade requests rare for home solar installs
Most residential installation installations are considered Level 1 interconnections. These are the simplest. They usually cover systems up to 10kW or 20kW. In most cases, a utility does not require equipment upgrades for Level 1 interconnections.
Application process and timelines
The interconnection process, on average, takes 90 business days. This will vary from utility to utility. The process starts when your installer submits an application to connect to the grid. It ends once you are able to switch on your system. Some states have laws requiring specific timelines for completion. This should be clearly stated on your interconnection agreement paperwork available from your utility. These laws prevent utilities from unnecessarily dragging their feet on approving your system.
Interconnection issues and utility pushback
There are two common reasons why utilities will delay interconnection approval:
- They require you to upgrade the cables connecting your home to the closest electric pole. This upgrade costs between $2,000 to $5,000. Your utility will ask for this if they believe the existing cables are not designed to handle additional loads to and from the household.
- They require an upgrade to the existing distribution system in the neighborhood. Utilities may justify these upgrade charges on the basis that the local utility system equipment will not be able to cope with any surplus electricity supplied back to the grid by a solar array.
Why utilities may ask for an upgrade
Utilities will justify upgrade charges for safety reasons. Solar’s popularity continues to grow. This will place more electricity onto the grid. This may require upgrades to the distribution system when an area achieves a high density of local solar energy production. Utilities are placing greater scrutiny on residential interconnection applications, relative to previous years. They are doing so because they say certain neighborhoods or regions have already hit maximum capacity. They say that further upgrade work is needed to the local distribution network.
When you should file a complaint
When your utility marks a system for further review or gives pushback during the interconnection approval process, it places it under Field Verification Status.
The utility takes this time to evaluate:
- The scope of the project,
- Required upgrades required, and
- Approximate costs.
If your utility adds additional interconnection costs, we recommend you take the following actions:
Step 1: Contact your utility directly
If your utility rejects your interconnection application and requires you to either pay for system upgrades or a reduction to their system, your utility will present their findings in an official cost letter.
Your installer usually represents you in these cases. Your utility should provide you and your installer with transparent data about:
- circuit hosting capacity,
- current load status, and
- information about any pending or planned upgrades
This data will help your installer determine whether the charges or assessments made by the utility are justified.
Step 2: File a formal complaint
If your utility takes more than two weeks to respond or leaves you in Field Verification Status for a prolonged period, you are losing out on solar’s benefits. You should take the next two steps:
- File an individual complaint on the utility’s customer service page on their website
- File a complaint with your state utility regulator (Their name will vary. They’re usually called the Public Service Commission or the Public Utility Commission). The Commission is responsible for ensuring utilities serve their customers fairly.
Contacting your utility regulator
Each state has a government body that is responsible for regulating utilities. Their name varies by state. They may go by “public service commission” or “public utilities commission”. They approve the rates that utilities can charge customers and ensure that utility regulations serve the public interest.
They also serve as an intermediary between customers and utilities in potential disputes. They are the agency to reach out to on any potential disputes or issues pertaining to your utility.
Below we have provided contact information for utility regulators across the country.
|District of Columbia