North Carolina issues conflicting orders on Duke's interconnection rules

Last week proved to be a roller coaster for Duke Energy, as the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) issued conflicting orders on the interconnection restrictions it wants to impose on solar developers.

The most recent orders leave the dispute over the new interconnection rules unresolved. The utility is trying to institute what Duke has labelled a “stiffness test” — a requirement that new solar installations don’t overly burden distribution lines.

The commission’s rulings last week, issued only two days apart, indicate that it is of two minds when it comes to the new rules.

On Nov. 1, the NCUC approved a settlement agreement between Duke and seven solar developers, including the state’s largest developer Strata Solar, saying “the commission is satisfied that Duke is taking appropriate steps to ensure electric service to retail customers is not degraded due to the operations of newly interconnected generation facilities. Therefore, the commission finds there is no need for additional action at this time.”

But on Nov. 3, the commission issued two separate orders in the cases of complaints by developer O2 emc about its Wadesboro Solar, Bear Poplar Solar and Salisbury Solar projects, finding in both orders that Duke “is in violation of the commission’s interconnection procedures.”

It also ordered DEC “to immediately complete the system-impact study for each project and comply with all other deadlines, enforces the maximum of $1,000 per day in penalties for non-compliance with the interconnection procedures from the date of the complaint.”

Lastly, the commission entered “an order enjoining DEC from requiring complainants to select one of DEC’s options during the pendency of this complaint proceeding, and enjoining DEC from withdrawing complainants’ [three] interconnection requests from the interconnection queue during the pendency of this complaint proceeding.”

Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless said the utility had not responded to the O2 emc complaints at press time. But he dismissed the idea that Duke is trying to slow solar’s growth in North Carolina.

“[Duke has] 900 MW of solar that has worked its way through the queue and will be connected as soon as it is built,” Wheeless said. “With more than 500 pending projects in North Carolina, I’m sure there are examples where developers feel the process is going too slow — but our track record of bringing on new solar is impressive.”

While Wheeless’ contention about the amount of solar Duke has installed and the number of projects it has in the pipeline are undoubtedly true, it should be noted that those numbers are not mutually exclusive with a strategy to make it more difficult for individual installers to interconnect with the grid Duke maintains.

The utility argues burdens on distribution lines can cause power to other customers to fluctuate wildly and, in some cases, go out completely. Not surprisingly, critics say Duke’s claims are nonsense and are merely a way to slow the state’s explosive solar growth, which puts it only behind California as the largest solar market in the country.