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World Observer

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New renewable energy puts a strain on an aging power grid

ByJerzy Nawrocki

Oct 24, 2021

The state Board of the Public Utilities is attempting to speed up the process of linking new solar-panel systems to distribution systems managed by municipal utilities as a first step toward modernizing an aging power grid. Long delays in linking new solar installations to the power grid have plagued the present procedure. This is due in part to the sector’s continued growth, as well as the fact that utilities, notably in South Jersey, have disconnected connections to a huge number of circuits where areas of the system have already reached capacity.

Advocates warn that unless the flaws are resolved, the issue might obstruct the Murphy administration’s clean-energy aspirations. Solar energy is expected to generate 34 percent of electricity in New Jersey by the year 2050, according to the state’s Energy Master Plan. It presently only generates 4% of the electricity consumed by businesses and residents. The project is the first in a series of steps to modernize a power grid that hasn’t been updated in decades, at a time when it’s being pushed to integrate new techniques that may help clean the air, mitigate global warming, and even lower consumer bills.

Adding connections.

“The first step in modernizing the system is to ensure that we can connect more renewable energy to the grid,” said Doug O’Malley, who works as the director in charge of the Environment New Jersey as well as a BPU supporter. “Right now, we’re completely tapped out in some parts of the state.”

The executive director in charge of New Jersey Solar Energy Coalition, Fred DeSanti, said he appreciates the state looking into the issue, but wonders why it will require until next May to resolve it. According to DeSanti, the state restructured the solar program this summer, giving solar firms 12 months to finish new installations, including resolving interconnection concerns, or risk losing financial incentives. “At the same moment, my guys are receiving letters from utilities estimating a 14-month wait,” he said. The first three meetings, according to the BPU, are intended to determine the scope and context for applicable interconnection rules and processes and will conclude in a draft report of recommendations and findings in March next year.

Updates are required.

New Jersey’s interconnection laws and practices, according to the agency, need to be updated to allow sustainable energy to be produced at a faster rate and as efficiently and effectively as feasible. These modifications include, among other things, revisions to the interconnection procedure, modernization of the utility processes for considering interconnection requests, and necessary updates to integrate interconnections with the regional transmission system, according to the BPU. They could also imply a cost reallocation between a utility and a solar developer over who pays for the interconnection upgrades. President Joe Biden’s reconciliation proposal, which includes money for grid upgrading at this stage, is also debating this issue.

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