A New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) administrative law judge (ALJ), in a March 15 ruling, directed Niagara Mohawk Power d/b/a National Grid to supplement the record in PSC “Case 10-T-0080” with the company’s evaluation of its proposed Lasher Road substation using certain non-wires alternative(s) (NWA) suitability criteria.
As noted in the ruling, National Grid last August filed an application seeking to amend the certificate of environmental compatibility and public need that authorized it to build the existing 115-kV transmission line from Spier Falls to Rotterdam. The requested certificate amendment would authorize National Grid to build and operate the Lasher Road 115-kV/13.2-kV transmission switching and distribution substation; associated 115-kV line connections; and an approximately 140-foot-long gravel access road off the former Finley Road (collectively referred to as the facility).
The facility, the ALJ added, would tie into National Grid’s existing Line 1, Line 2, and Line 302.
An informational forum and public statement hearing was held on Dec. 19, 2016, in Ballston Spa, N.Y., and a procedural conference was held in Albany the next day. National Grid, state Department of Public Service (DPS) staff, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets (Ag & Markets) said that, at that time, they were not requesting an evidentiary hearing and that there were no known issues of disputed fact. At that time, the ALJ added, the only outstanding issues that were identified were those raised by the DEC in comments filed in October 2016, concerning invasive species management. DEC stated its expectation that those issues could be resolved without an evidentiary hearing.
The ALJ also said that SolarCity, on or about Jan. 19, requested party status in the matter and submitted comments. National Grid on Jan. 20 was granted an extension of one week to confirm whether, in light of SolarCity’s comments, it continued to hold the view that there were no issues of material fact that would warrant holding an evidentiary hearing.
National Grid on Jan. 27 indicated that it was aware of no issues that would require an evidentiary hearing, and separately filed a partially redacted and updated response to a previous staff request for information. The ALJ added that the updated response indicated, in part, that National Grid used its February 2011 NWA guidelines to reach its determination that solar – of typical magnitude – and demand-side management would not be a viable alternative to the proposed transmission project.
The ALJ added that SolarCity asserts that by pursuing the traditional approach to planning, and not going through the new process using NWAs and/or leveraging competitive opportunities as mandated by the PSC and as outlined in National Grid’s Distribution System Implementation Plan (DSIP), National Grid’s actions in the proceeding are not aligned with the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceedings. The DSIP is described as “the vehicle by which improved planning and operations will be defined and implemented,” the ALJ said.
As noted on the DPS’ website, the REV initiative will lead to regulatory changes that promote more efficient use of energy, deeper penetration of renewable energy resources, and wider deployment of distributed energy resources, such as micro grids, as well as storage.
The ALJ said that SolarCity contends that National Grid’s proposed project lends itself to exploring opportunities for industry participants to meet load needs on-site. SolarCity argues that National Grid should be required to provide its justification and analysis for determining that distributed generation does not address reliability and thermal issues, is not sufficient to meet anticipated demand, and is not a viable alternative, the ALJ said.
Before National Grid filed its Article VII amendment application, numerous regulatory changes had occurred as part of the REV proceedings. In particular, the ALJ added, the PSC in April 2016 issued a guidance order that outlined several steps – including the DSIP filings – and actions that would be taken as part of the transition, begun in 2015, from “the historic model of a unidirectional electric system” to a more dynamic model of an electric grid that would increasingly rely on distributed resources.
National Grid and other utilities were directed to file individual initial DSIPs and a joint supplemental DSIP, the ALJ said, noting that National Grid’s individual initial DSIP states that the company considered “hundreds of projects for potential NWA solutions,” but that the capital projects considered had not passed the initial screening process for one of several articulated reasons, including having need dates that were “too immediate.”
The joint supplemental DSIP states that the interim approaches to suitability criteria that had been identified in the initial DSIPs had been refined and expanded as a common platform on which the utilities can base their individual implementations of NWA suitability criteria, the ALJ said.
SolarCity, in its comments, is disputing whether National Grid has or can demonstrate need – and timing of need – for the facility and its conformance with long-term plans for expanding the state’s electric grid, specifically as those plans have been articulated in the REV proceedings and in National Grid’s initial DSIP.
The ALJ added that while National Grid’s Jan. 27 updated response provides what could be sufficient explanation and response to SolarCity’s comments as to need and timing of need for the facility, it seems to obfuscate National Grid’s position on whether it concurs with the assertion that processes articulated in the guidance order and the DSIPs apply to the project.
Indeed, the ALJ said, the Jan. 27 updated response suggests that National Grid may have employed outdated guidelines when determining that the proposed project could not be mitigated, delayed, or eliminated by deploying NWA or distributed energy resources.
The ALJ said that need and conformance with long-term plans for expanding the state’s electric grid are among the required findings that the PSC must make if it grants the requested amendment, and it is therefore important that National Grid adequately address whether such issues reasonably are subject to dispute by clarifying whether its transmission and distribution projects were properly assessed for their potential to be impacted by distributed energy resources.
The ALJ said that National Grid is to supplement the record with its evaluation of the proposed Lasher Road substation using the NWA suitability criteria that is set forth in the November 2016 supplemental DSIP. The ALJ said that within two weeks after National Grid responds, SolarCity is invited to indicate whether it requests an evidentiary hearing; identify the issues it contends must be addressed at such a hearing; state whether it intends to submit testimony on such issues; and supplement its request for party status to address how granting its request will contribute to the development of the record, or otherwise be fair and in the public interest.