‘Flicker’ disagreement could delay Minnesota community solar

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‘Flicker’ disagreement could delay Minnesota community solar

November 2, 2016

A dispute with Minnesota’s largest utility over a technical standard could delay several of community solar projects in the state.

Developers say the issue of “flicker,” or power fluctuation, has been a chief roadblock in getting projects off the ground. Those who have brought cases before Minnesota regulators include Sunshare, GreenMark Enterprises, LLC and Sunrise Energy Ventures.

Other solar companies have expressed concern and are likely to have their projects subjected to a second study by Xcel Energy.

It’s a complex issue involving how power being created by solar farms will impact the grid when clouds roll over and voltage sags, or increases as the sun appears. That kind of fluctuation could degrade electrical distribution services in areas near community solar.

Initially Xcel employed a flicker standard of 1.5 percent, basing that on research developed in the utility industry in the 1920s.

Xcel has agreed to restudy as many as 37 community gardens potentially impacted by flicker at a 2 percent threshold, according to Lee Gabler, who oversees the program for the utility.

The utility is restudying 16 projects that will generate 71 MW and will have results by the end of 2016. Another 13 projects with 61 MW could be restudied but currently have a dispute with Xcel that is being examined by a third party arbiter known as the “independent engineer.”

Another eight projects with 33 MW could have to be restudied based on the outcome of the independent engineer’s report.

The reason for the large number is due to the impact one project may have on another proposed garden using the same interconnection hub, Gabler said.

Some developments further back in the queue may have to be reconsidered due to issues that arise from projects in front of them in line, he said. Generally projects with signed interconnection agreements are moving forward and will not be restudied, Gabler noted

Although many community solar companies have concerns over the flicker debate they understand Xcel’s mandate to maintain a reliable grid for their customers and the region as a whole.

Martin Morud, founder and owner of TruNorth Solar, said Xcel “has a right to design and maintain its infrastructure to keep it reliable and safe.”

While TruNorth is building solar gardens it has a diverse group of clients that includes schools and community centers who want rooftop solar. The flicker problem mainly centers on community solar, and that’s just part of his business, he said.

Though he’s sympathetic to companies hurt by flicker, Morud believes improved energy storage and electricity management tools may eventually help the situation in the future.

Jamie Borell, chief operating officer for Innovative Power Systems, has community gardens going live this year in part because they had no flicker issues. But two community solar installations collectively producing 5 MW each may not get built – or see a reduction in size – due to problems with flicker, he said.

“Flicker is an issue that is going to cost us,” he said. “We will likely end up losing multi-megawatts because of (flicker). If it were studied under a more realistic set of requirements we feel they (the projects) would get built.”

The flicker problem “came out of the blue,” he said. Xcel has legitimate concerns over fluctuations, Borell said, but he believes that by the time a higher threshold is allowed next year plenty of larger projects will have died while waiting for the change.

SOURCE:  Midwest Energy News


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