PJM proposes reforms for its generator interconnection queue

PJM Interconnection (PJM) is asking FERC to approve changes to the way it processes its generation interconnection queue. The changes outlined in the filing submitted Feb. 29 are intended to “relieve bottlenecks in the interconnection queue and provide for greater certainty and transparency,” PJM said (Docket ER12-1177-000).

The grid operator plans three main reforms to its current process: extending the time for each queue cycle from three months to six months, revising provisions concerning modifications of interconnection requests for projects that seek to reduce size beyond a specified amount, and an alternate queue process for projects of 20 MW or less.

PJM currently clusters projects in queues defined by three-month periods. At the end of the three-month period, the grid operator is required to begin feasibility studies for the projects in the queue. When the feasibility study for a given project is complete –  typically in 90 days, according to the filing – the applicant has 30 days to decide whether to move to the system impact study and maintain their place in the queue. 

That creates a timing overlap during which feasibility studies will have begun for a subsequent queue before previously studied projects are required to decide whether to move forward. If the earlier project decides to withdraw – and PJM says 87% of the megawatts that entered into a feasibility study agreement withdraw prior to going into service – then subsequent projects have to be restudied, creating a ripple effect and increasing workload on study staff, a PJM spokesperson told TransmissionHub March 1.

“That creates a lot of uncertainty in the planning process and it makes it very difficult for developers to know when his or her project is going to go forward,” the spokesperson said. A longer period of time in which to begin the feasibility studies would create more certainty for developers, the spokesperson added.

The second reform would add a “material modification” element that would require projects seeking to reduce their power output by more than 15 percent after the commencement of the feasibility study “slide to the beginning of the next queue so as not to completely lose ground, but also to reduce the need for restudies to remaining projects in its original queue cluster,” according to the filing. At present, projects that request reduction in size retain their current queue position.

The third reform establishes an alternate queue for projects of 20 MW or less. PJM’s analysis shows that there are a vast number of such smaller projects in the queue, making up approximately 66% of recent queue volumes. Many of those projects are likely to drop out after the feasibility study or system impact study phases, PJM said. Further PJM has also found that typically these projects connect to distribution-level facilities, but are seeking interconnection through PJM’s process because they wish to participate in PJM’s wholesale markets.

Because in most cases the smaller projects do not require network or local upgrades, withdrawal by interconnection customers in the alternate queue should have no impact on other projects in the alternate queue or in the queue for larger projects. This in turn should mitigate the number of restudies in the main queue, PJM said.

The reforms grew out of PJM’s stakeholder process, through which a task force was established “to address stakeholder-raised issues concerning the need to provide more consistent and realistic assessments of costs associated with queue projects, to ensure more timely completion of project studied within the queue, and to achieve greater transparency into the interconnection process,” PJM said.

PJM is seeking a May 1 effective date for its queue reform proposals.