On Wednesday, May 25, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) made several changes to the state’s rules governing how distributed energy resources (DERs), such as rooftop solar panels and energy storage systems, connect to the state’s electric distribution grid. The revisions to Illinois’ interconnection rules include a number of positive developments that will streamline the interconnection process and reduce the time and cost to connect clean energy to the grid. They will also make it easier to utilize energy storage and provide increased transparency about interconnection review results. 

The changes reflect current best practices established through a collaborative research and policy project by utilities and clean energy advocates that resulted in a toolkit of solutions for improving the interconnection of energy storage projects (“the BATRIES Toolkit”). As one of the first states to incorporate these energy storage interconnection best practices, Illinois continues its role as a leader in climate change solutions. These changes build upon the landmark Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) Illinois passed last year, one of the nation’s most comprehensive state climate and energy laws.

“These interconnection governance changes are necessary for the future of our energy grid and set the stage for groundbreaking programs promised by CEJA,” said Will Kenworthy, Regulatory Director at Vote Solar. “The ICC’s changes enable the renewable energy projects from CEJA to easily integrate into the grid and provide clean, reliable energy for all.”

These improvements resulted from the engagement of several public interest groups including the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), Vote Solar, and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “These cutting-edge updates to the interconnection process in Illinois will make it possible to add more renewable energy to the state’s grid and offer a model for other states that want to lead the way to a clean energy future,” said IREC Regulatory Vice President Radina Valova. 

“Illinois is taking another step towards its clean energy future by improving how solar and storage on homes and businesses connect to the grid,” said Toba Pearlman, Senior Attorney & Renewable Energy Advocate at NRDC. “These revisions save time and money for customers connecting to the grid while balancing grid safety.”

One of the key changes establishes protocols for utilizing some of the unique characteristics of energy storage that will make it possible for the state’s grid to accommodate higher levels of renewable energy. That’s because, when paired with energy storage, DER projects can limit the amount of energy they send onto the grid (“non-export” and “limited-export” projects). The amount of electricity a project will send to the grid is a key factor in whether it can interconnect without the need for lengthy study or costly equipment upgrades to ensure grid safety and reliability. Projects that export less or no electricity to the grid are less likely to cause issues. 

Because energy storage is a newer technology, most interconnection rules do not yet recognize the possibility of limiting export or have guidelines for handling such projects. The revised Illinois interconnection rules now recognize limited- and non-export projects and establish different review approaches that reflect a project’s limited export amount, where appropriate, when assessing potential grid impacts. 

There are several other noteworthy developments in the revised interconnection rules, including: 

  • Improvements to the way projects are “screened” for potential grid impacts, which will result in fewer projects being required to go through time-consuming and costly study processes before being approved to interconnect. 
  • Requirements for utilities to provide greater information transparency to interconnection applicants, including details on grid constraints that prevent their projects from proceeding as designed, and more detailed cost and timeline estimates. 
  • A new pathway for developers to modify their pending DER projects in response to information on grid constraints, allowing them to improve their likelihood of approval without having to withdraw and reapply, as has historically been the case.

All of these changes are expected to allow more projects to successfully interconnect and to increase the pace at which renewable energy can be added to Illinois’ distribution grid. 

“This will put more renewable power on the grid faster and cheaper, while still maintaining safety and reliability,” said Environmental Law & Policy Center Staff Attorney Erica S. McConnell. “The people of Illinois want clean power. We want it for our climate, for our public health, and as a way to take control of our energy bills. These rules will make that happen more quickly, efficiently and safely.”

While an excellent starting point, one area where the changes fell short of public interest groups’ recommendations is in regard to data reporting requirements for the state’s utilities. The Commission declined to require more detailed reporting requirements that would help the Commission and interested stakeholders ensure the interconnection process is functioning well and that utilities are delivering on their required obligations. Lack of data on utility performance metrics in the interconnection process is a common problem that prevents accountability and improvements. 

IREC, Vote Solar, ELPC, and NRDC applaud the Commission’s ruling and the resulting improvements in interconnection policy in Illinois that will enable faster growth of clean energy resources in the state. Several other additional changes were included that are not discussed in detail here; the partners are available for comment. 

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 has been trusted for independent clean energy expertise for nearly 40 years, since its founding in 1982. For more information, visit www.irecusa.org or follow IREC on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook

About ELPC: ELPC is the Midwest’s premier environmental legal advocacy organization. We use the power of the law and strategic advocacy campaigns to create climate change solutions, advance clean energy, protect public health, and preserve the Midwest’s wild and natural places. For more information, visit www.elpc.org

About NRDC: NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

About Vote Solar: Vote Solar works state by state to repower our communities with sunshine and build a thriving clean economy with affordable solar energy for all. We use a winning combination of deep policy expertise, coalition building, and public engagement to help build a strong, just, and inclusive 100% clean-powered future. Learn more at https://votesolar.org/ and follow us on Twitter @VoteSolar.