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Distributed Generation: Doomed by Deployment Details?
The industry makes strides, but messy issues like air quality and building codes could be showstoppers.
Progress in California's initiative to set guidelines for the deployment of distributed generation took a shift as 2000 came to a close. Activity moved from the California Public Utilities Commission to the California Energy Commission, with the CEC's release of two DG reports: one addressing permit streamlining under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), released Dec. 20, and the other addressing interconnection rules, released Nov. 7.
Permit streamlining, with its "not-in-my-backyard" entanglements, and issues concerning interconnection of DG to the grid-arguably the most glaring lightening rod in the DG regulatory debate historically-are two important facets in a complex regulatory picture. The new reports indicate progress on both issues, and in particular it looks like smooth sailing ahead for permit streamlining. Most stakeholders say they are satisfied with the results of the process that produced the streamlining report. But many issues remain to be resolved.
"[CEQA permit streamlining] is all part of a bigger piece of the pie," says Manuel Alvarez, manager for regulatory affairs at Southern California Edison. Clearly, much needs to be sorted out on the subject of DG, a fact underscored by the CPUC's decision to "subcontract out" to the California Energy Commission the investigations on CEQA review and interconnection.
And in the future, look for a new focus on building codes and limits on DG emissions-the issue that most stakeholders now agree is the true hot button.
Interconnection: Big Systems, Big Headaches
The lack of uniform interconnection standards long has been a sticking point for DG deployment. Industrial users seeking to install larger units especially decry the problem.
"The utilities have just made you dance around and write a blank check and take up a lot of your time, and it's just been a very difficult process," says Karen Lindh, principal at Lindh & Associates, a consulting and government affairs firm that represented the California Manufacturers & Technology Association in the CEC's DG working group. "And then all the utilities were different to boot, and so if you had multi facilities in the state, you couldn't draw any lessons learned from [for example] putting something in Northern California down to Southern California because everything was totally different."
(For a comprehensive report on interconnection problems for distributed generation, see "Making Connections: Case Studies on Interconnection Barrieres and Their Impact on Distributed Power Projects," National Renewable Energy Laboratory, July 2000, at www.eren.doe.gov/ distributedpower/barriersreport/.)
Now in California, with the issuance of "Supplemental Recommendation Regarding Distributed Generation Interconnection Rules" , the CEC took a step in answering some major interconnection questions-at least for smaller generators. That report, which standardizes interconnection rules for all utilities for smaller generators and sets time lines for implementation, was approved by the CPUC on Dec. 21.
Even though the approval only applies to smaller generators such as those with residential applications, Lindh is encouraged by the progress. "It makes it affordable because you know what the costs are going to be," she says. "That's now a part of the interconnection rule.