SALEM, OREGON, March 14, 2024 – A ruling by the Oregon Public Utilities Commission on March 8, 2024 significantly improves the state’s interconnection rules by incorporating best practices for the review of renewable and energy storage projects. 

The rules, which govern how distributed energy resources (DERs)—like solar and energy storage—can connect to the electric distribution grid, are the product of a collaborative working group process and include an array of recommendations proposed by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC). 

The ruling is noteworthy for several reasons, including that it: 

  • Streamlines and modernizes how clean energy projects are screened for potential grid impacts when requesting interconnection; 
  • Recognizes that some clean energy projects limit the amount of power they export to the grid, or do not export at all, and tailors review processes accordingly and specifies the acceptable methods for systems to limit their export;
  • Adopts a pathway to incorporate updated standards for the use of smart inverters into Oregon’s interconnection rules, and a deadline by which interconnecting systems will need to use smart inverters. This is important because smart inverters offer grid support benefits that enable the grid to accommodate higher levels of renewable energy with fewer equipment upgrades.

Many of the adopted practices are based on recommendations developed by IREC and a team of expert partners under a multi-year project called “BATRIES,” which aimed to reduce cost and time barriers to the safe and reliable interconnection of energy storage with support from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office.

In addition to modernizing Oregon’s interconnection rules and bringing them in line with national best practices, the ruling is notable for the high level of agreement between the diverse parties that contributed to the revision process, including utilities, clean energy industry groups, and IREC, an independent public interest intervenor. 

“IREC applauds the Oregon PUC’s ruling, which will streamline the interconnection of clean energy projects. In particular, establishing a timeline and process for the use of smart inverters will have significant impacts in enabling Oregon’s grid to accommodate more renewable energy with fewer costly upgrades,” said Radina Valova, IREC Regulatory Vice President. 

Recognition of Non- and Limited-Export Projects, and Acceptable Export Controls

A key improvement in the new rules is the recognition of a class of clean energy projects called non- and limited-export projects. These types of systems use controls to limit whether or how much electricity is sent to the grid, which can allow energy storage to both avoid grid impacts and provide grid benefits. When interconnection rules are not updated to align with this functionality—made possible by newer technologies—export-limiting projects often face barriers to interconnection because review processes may be based on inaccurate assumptions about how these systems will operate. Enabling this functionality is essential to capturing the benefits of energy storage in particular.

The new rules recognize export-limiting capabilities, establish appropriate review processes for them, and specify a list of approved methods for controlling power export. These changes will make it easier for export-limiting projects to connect to the grid while maintaining grid safety and reliability.

Modernized and Streamlined Screening for Clean Energy Projects

The updated rules also include several improvements to how projects are screened for potential grid impacts. The changes will ensure that screens reflect the realities of how systems operate, rather than relying on unnecessarily conservative practices. For example, export capacity—the amount of power a system will send to the grid, limited by export controls—will now be used in some screens, instead of nameplate capacity, which reflects the total amount of power a system could export without export controls. Additionally, larger projects can now qualify for streamlined reviews, especially if they employ export limitations.

Other notable changes include the replacement of a conservative screen known as “15% of peak load,” a rule of thumb that can result in projects being unnecessarily flagged for more in-depth review processes, with a more precise screen (90% of minimum load in “fast track” screens, 100% in supplemental review). This will enable more projects to avoid time-consuming reviews while still ensuring grid safety and reliability. Additionally, an intermediate review option was created for projects that do not pass an initial screening so that they do not have to go directly to a full system impact study (a significantly lengthier review).

A Pathway, and Deadline, for the Use of Smart Inverters

The new rules also establish a timeline and pathway for the use of smart inverters in Oregon. Inverters are a key component in renewable energy systems; smart inverters have advanced functionality to sense conditions on the grid and modify a DER’s operation to support the stability of the grid (among other functions). The use of smart inverters can enable the grid to accommodate significantly higher levels of DERs with less need for costly upgrades. 

These functions are governed by a technical standard, IEEE 1547-2018; before this ruling, Oregon’s interconnection rules referenced a prior version of IEEE 1547 that was more than twenty years old. Led by IREC, working group participants reached consensus on a pathway and timeline for implementing the updated IEEE 1547-2018 standard and enabling the use of smart inverters in Oregon. This process drew upon IREC’s Decision Options Matrix for IEEE 1547™-2018 Adoption, a tool developed to guide regulatory commissions, utilities, and other DER stakeholders through the decisions involved in implementing this important technical standard.  

Starting on June 1, 2024 all DER systems applying for interconnection in Oregon will be required to utilize smart inverters that comply with the requirements of IEEE 1547-2018, a related technical standard. This forward-looking policy will position the state to successfully incorporate more renewable energy on the grid at a lower cost. 

The revised interconnection rules adopted by the Oregon Public Utilities Commission align the state’s policies with national best practices for clean energy interconnection. The updated rules better recognize, and enable, the capabilities of modern renewable energy technologies. 

They will streamline the deployment of clean energy projects, while maintaining grid safety and reliability.

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About IREC: The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) builds the foundation for rapid adoption of clean energy and energy efficiency to benefit people, the economy, and our planet. Its vision is a 100% clean energy future that is reliable, resilient, and equitable. IREC develops and advances the regulatory reforms, technical standards, and workforce solutions needed to enable the streamlined integration of clean, distributed energy resources. IREC has been trusted for its independent clean energy expertise for 40 years, since its founding in 1982. For more information, visit www.irecusa.org or follow IREC on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

MEDIA CONTACT:

Gwen Brown, Interstate Renewable Energy Council, 650-423-1090, [email protected]