NJ Senate Energy Committee Backs PJM Interconnection ‘Skip’ for Solar
Groups Protest PJM Order 2023 Compliance
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New Jersey’s Senate Environment and Energy Committee passed a bill supporters said would allow grid-scale solar projects of up to 20 MW to bypass PJM’s interconnection queue and connect to the grid through their local utility.

New Jersey’s Senate Environment and Energy Committee on June 20 passed a bill (S3308) supporters said would allow grid-scale solar projects of up to 20 MW to bypass PJM’s interconnection queue and connect to the grid through their local utility. 

The committee voted 5-0 to advance the bill, which would require electric utilities to “accept, process and approve” solar projects of 2 MW to 20 MW to the transmission and distribution system, unless the application is incomplete or the utility believes the interconnection would be “unsafe or a risk to the stability of the utility’s electric distribution or transmission system.” In those cases, the utility would have to provide the developer with recommendations on how to modify the proposal to make it complete or “reconfigure, downsize or otherwise modify” it to remove the risk. 

The bill would require the utility to “timely process any complete interconnection applications received.” The owner or developer of an approved project would be required to pay all the interconnection costs that are “identified by the electric public utility” and would be compensated for the electricity supplied by the utility, according to the bill. 

Committee Chair Bob Smith (D) said the bill, “in a nutshell, in some ways allows interconnectors to skip the PJM process.” He added, however, that he is “not 100% sure of that.” 

Fred DeSanti, executive director of the New Jersey Solar Energy Coalition, said the bill would provide an alternative to the extensive delays experienced by projects in seeking interconnection through PJM’s process. 

“We’ve got projects that are viable, that are just sitting there waiting,” he said. “And so all this bill does is, it says, ‘Hey, if the public utility has jurisdiction over the line, and if we meet all the requirements of the public utility … why shouldn’t they be able to approve it?’ We don’t necessarily need PJM at that point.” 

Joseph Gurrentz, director of external affairs for the New Jersey Utilities Association (NJUA), said one question still to be resolved is whether the bill defines the “electric transmission and distribution system to apply only to the electrical systems within New Jersey,” and therefore under the jurisdiction of the Board of Public Utilities. If not, he said, the projects could “inadvertently butt up against the jurisdiction over regional transmission infrastructure” of FERC. 

Asked for comment about the bill, PJM spokesman Daniel Lockwood said the RTO “has requirements to interconnect into the transmission system that have been approved by [FERC].” 

“Whether a prospective resource is required to follow that process depends on the size of the resource and where it wants to interconnect,” he said. “All of our states have their own interconnection processes, as some resources interconnect into the grid that is overseen at the state level.” 

Like all grid operators across the U.S., PJM has an interconnection queue clogged with proposed renewable resource projects. FERC approved a PJM proposal to overhaul its interconnection queue process in late 2022; the commission then issued Order 2023 last July, which required grid operators to revise their processes to include a “first-ready, first-served” cluster methodology, among other changes.  

PJM in May told FERC the RTO’s new commission-approved process already complies with Order 2023, as it “parallels many reforms PJM has already implemented” (ER24-2045). It argued it was eligible for “independent entity variations” under the rule. (See PJM Reaches Milestone on Clearing Interconnection Queue Backlog.) 

But on June 20, several clean energy and environmental organizations filed joint protests against PJM’s compliance filing. 

“PJM stretches the meaning of the ‘independent entity variation’ beyond any reasonable interpretation or application,” argued one group that included the American Clean Power Association. “Should the commission accept the compliance filing, PJM would completely avoid compliance with significant portions of” Order 2023. 

“The queue is so badly backlogged that PJM is not reviewing any new applications — and will not do so until 2026 at the earliest,” said another group that included the Natural Resources Defense Club. “At the same time, PJM is sounding the alarm about a reliability crisis because new generation cannot come online quickly enough to replace retiring power plants.” 

But “PJM resists reform to its interconnection process. PJM proposes very few changes to comply with Order No. 2023, and the few changes it proposes do not meet the order’s rigorous standards.” 

The RTO has not stopped accepting applications, Lockwood said, but new interconnection requests “will be studied starting in 2026 as we move the previously existing projects through the process.” 

Other State Efforts

The New Jersey bill follows other efforts by the state to improve and speed up the interconnection process for renewables as it strives to meet its aggressive clean energy goals. 

The state is seeking to install 12.2 GW of solar energy by 2030; it had about 4.85 GW of installed solar capacity at the end of April, according to the latest figures publicized by the BPU. 

The BPU on April 30 approved a package of rules designed to streamline the utility interconnection application process. Part of it included enabling applicants to get an early indication of the project feasibility and costs. (See New Jersey Opens 4th Offshore Wind Solicitation.) 

At the senate committee hearing June 20, NJUA’s Gurrentz said the organization was “not taking a position on the bill today,” but it is concerned that [it] could detract from some of the progress that’s gone on at the BPU and ship the application backlog that existed at PJM to a similar problem at home at our utility companies.” Another concern is the requirement to handle “very large” solar projects, up to 20 MW. 

“Undertaking these studies to determine the impact of such large interconnections on power quality, reliability and the stability of the electrical grid will take time, and it may divert time and resources that could be spent elsewhere,” he said. 

Gurrentz was the only person to testify in person on the bill, but it drew written expressions of support from Environment New Jersey, the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association and the New Jersey Sustainable Business Council. 

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