PJM’s Interconnection Rule Is a Good Start

New projects are coming in five times faster than PJM is able to finish them—the need for reform is clear.

A proposal from grid operator PJM Interconnection is designed to start working through the backlog of wind and solar projects trying to connect to the grid. Yesterday, NRDC and others told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that it should not only approve this plan but also put in place new federal rule changes that could solve this problem nationwide.

PJM—the nation’s largest grid operator—is seeking to break a logjam that’s preventing thousands of wind and solar power projects from getting built. When a new generator wants to connect to the grid, engineering studies need to be done to make sure the transmission system can handle it and identify any upgrades that need to be built. PJM’s process to do this was designed to handle small numbers of large power plants, but the process basically collapsed when faced with a large number of smaller renewable and storage projects.

And there really are a large number of these projects. Right now, there are almost 2,300 projects waiting on these studies, totaling more than 250 gigawatts (GW) of new energy. For comparison, PJM’s all-time peak load was 166 GW. Three-quarters of those projects are renewable or storage. To be sure, most projects that are proposed don’t actually get built for one reason or another. Even so, it’s clear there is enough renewable energy tied up in the queue to dramatically reduce PJM’s greenhouse gas emissions.

New projects are coming in five times faster than PJM is able to finish old projects. The backlog is so severe that, in February, PJM said it would not accept new applications for grid interconnections.

PJM agrees the current process isn’t working. To fix this, it has proposed major changes to its review process that would let it study projects in large clusters rather than one by one. The new rules also encourage developers to withdraw projects that are less likely to get built, avoiding time-consuming do-overs when projects drop out. PJM says its stakeholders, which include utilities and transmission owners, “overwhelmingly” support the initiative.

In comments filed today with FERC, we and other public interest groups support these changes.

While the changes would start to clear the interconnection backlog and enable PJM to meet the need for clean power created by states’ clean energy initiatives, interconnection remains a huge problem. Even if PJM’s reforms work as planned, projects still face delays of up to seven years while waiting for the technical studies to figure out how they can connect to the power grid.

In June, FERC began a process to rework its rules to usher in needed changes to the grid. The goal is to improve the interconnection process, provide greater certainty to project developers, and prevent discrimination against new generation.

The need for reform is clear. PJM is facing record-high energy prices this summer and other grid operators are warning of possible power shortages. The projects that have been stuck in utility review limbo could be providing low-cost power. Along with improvements in transmission planning, interconnection reform will go a long way toward transforming the grid in the way we need. Beyond approving PJM’s proposal, FERC should go even further with broader reforms that:

  • Impose binding deadlines for project reviews.
  • Require planning for future generation and new demands like electric vehicles, while also preparing for extreme weather. 
  • Require utilities to plan for transmission to meet the renewable energy goals set by state law.
  • Improve efficiency and transparency in reviewing new interconnections, especially by providing the information developers need to understand where the grid can accept new projects.
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