September 8, 2021

Solar developers, utilities reach agreement regarding interconnection applications for community solar

Photo Credit: CoCreatr cc

While community solar interconnection applications cannot fully be processed until the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission adopts rules next spring, the three investor-owned utilities are accepting interconnection applications from developers hoping to build a community solar array following a complaint from the Renewable Energy Industries Association.

While these applications can still be submitted, the developers will not necessarily have any advantage by submitting their application early.

Community solar projects are small arrays that provide electricity to subscribers, many of whom are unable to install rooftop solar. That includes renters, people who live in apartments and low-income households.

In June, the PRC ordered the investor-owned utilities to provide notice to the developers, including posting on their websites, that stated the rules are not complete and the applications cannot be processed at this time.

The utilities went further and added language stating that applications would not be accepted. This same language was also included in a notice posted on the PRC website.

Related: PRC says community solar projects cannot be approved until rules are completed

But REIA filed a complaint with the PRC alleging this violated both federal and commission rules and policies.  REIA represents 24 solar developers and, in its complaint, it stated that the utilities not accepting the applications made it so those developers could not begin their interconnection studies.

“The June 15 Order did not authorize the Electric Utilities to decline to accept interconnection applications from generators who may be intending to be community solar facilities,” the complaint states.

REIA further argued that the Community Solar Act, which became law this year, does not require the developers to apply as community solar facilities. Instead, they can apply for interconnection at this point and later have the application for community solar status considered based on the rules that the PRC has yet to adopt.

The investor-owned utilities reached an agreement with REIA in August to change the language in the notice and continue accepting the applications.

The new language in the notices will state that: “No NMPRC community solar rules are currently in place. For this reason, utilities will not accept or record applications to become a community solar facility whose output the utility is legally obligated to acquire. It is also not known whether there will be NMPRC interconnection rules specific to community solar facilities.”

However, the notice will also inform developers that the utilities are accepting interconnection applications “irrespective of any community solar program” and that acceptance of the interconnection application does not mean the project is eligible for the community solar program. Nor does filing such an application early on provide any advantage to a developer in terms of consideration.

“Customers applying for interconnection application prior to the promulgation of such rules bear the risk that the NMPRC’s rules could render the facility ineligible for the community solar program; or require filing of a new interconnection application under the community solar rules to participate in the program,” the new notices state.

The PRC approved an order on Wednesday stating that REIA’s complaint has been satisfied. The commission was not sure if the notice with the language stating applications would not be accepted was still posted on the PRC website, however it instructed the PRC staff to remove it if it is.

Related: Community solar workshop touches on bill credits, customer eligibility

At the same time, PRC counsel Russell Fisk said these applications cannot yet be approved by the utilities because the rules for community solar are not in place and applicants cannot possibly anticipate exactly what the final rules and regulations will look like.

The commission will issue the final rules by April. One of the unanswered questions that the PRC will have to determine is how many megawatts of community solar capacity each of the investor-owned utilities can have within its service area.