Connecticut calls on utilities to evaluate non-wires alternatives

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Connecticut has proposed a series of measures to ensure utilities consider non-wires alternatives, among them incentives, competitive bids from third parties, and a way to evaluate non-wires alternatives against traditional distribution grid investments.

non-wires alternatives

Distribution infrastructure undergoing testing. Kampan/Shutterstock.com

Non-wires alternatives — which include microgrids and other distributed energy resources  — can help save money by avoiding construction of expensive new distribution systems or upgrades. Because non-wires alternatives are generally local, clean energy, they can also be more environmentally friendly. They can either reduce electrical loads or boost energy production at a specific location.

Also known as NWAs, they are now employed by utilities in several states, among them Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. California in 2021 began looking at using distributed energy as non-wires alternatives.

In Connecticut, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) has issued the proposal as part of an ongoing investigation into utility distribution system planning (17-12-03RE07)

PURA plans to issue a decision in the coming months, said Taren O’Connor, director of legislation, regulations and communication, PURA.

What utilities would do

As proposed, Connecticut’s program would require that utilities compare distribution investments they plan to undertake against competitively bid non-wires alternatives. The goal is to recommend the option that maximizes net benefits while meeting grid needs. A program administrator would oversee the process, working as a consultant independent of the utilities and other stakeholders.

PURA also suggests incentives to encourage the use of non-wires alternatives; specifically a shared savings incentive that would give 25% of savings to the utilities and 75% to customers.

“Based on the information gathered in this docket to-date and the examples of NWAs from other jurisdictions, the authority finds that the potential for cost savings, improved service and greater environmental protection as a result of a successful NWA program is significant,” said the proposal.

Each utility would be required to submit an annual filing on January 15. The goal is to provide the information necessary for the program administrator to evaluate distribution system upgrades against non-wires alternatives.

As part of the evaluation process, PURA wants the utilities to maintain system information such as feeder and substation’s hourly and sub hourly demand, plus circuit voltage measurements at different points on the circuit, if available. The utilities may seek a protective order to exempt them from disclosing certain information.

“The authority has a preference for a public, open process when possible given the increasing level of public interest in Connecticut’s electricity grid and the dual objectives of increasing transparency and inclusivity,” the proposal said.

The utilities would also be required to make annual distribution investment filings and categorize distribution system proposals as presumptive, potential or unlikely non-wires alternatives opportunities. The filings would also include details about why each investment does or does not warrant a solicitation for non-wires alternatives. Distribution system investments above $250,000 would be disclosed in the annual filings.

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The program administrator would provide public comments about the annual utility filing, possibly including alternative recommendations for the investments that should undergo a competitive solicitation, said the proposal.

The utilities would issue the final request for proposals for the non-wires alternatives and receive the bids. The program administrator would receive the bids at the same time.

Under the proposal, any contracts finalized would be between the utility and bidder, and the utility would be responsible for execution and implementation of each contract.

Strong state for microgrids

Meanwhile, Connecticut continues to be fertile ground for microgrids with a number of projects either moving forward or already in operation.

One of the latest microgrid projects in the state is at a recreation center in Middletown that includes a heating and cooling center for low-income residents and homeless people, said Vishnu Barran, sales and business development manager for Clarke Energy USA, which is providing the microgrid. 

The recreation center is a former school that was refurbished. Under a third-party financing agreement with X-Caliber Rural Funding, the center will pay about the same as it did for energy before — but will also benefit from the resilience and cleaner energy provided by the microgrid. The base energy source is a combined heat & power (CHP) unit that provides 35 kW of electricity along with hot water. The microgrid also includes a solar PV array and energy storage that will be used for peak shaving. A gas generator will provide backup. The microgrid is expected to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 192 tons per year, the company said.

Wesleyan University campus. Photo by Vineyard Perspective/Shutterstock.com

Middletown also is home to a microgrid at Wesleyan University that was the first project to receive funds from the state of Connecticut’s microgrid grant program. Wesleyan, whose microgrid is capable of generating 3.1 MW, wants to avoid power outages like the one it experienced in 2012 for 77 hours.

And the town of Bridgeport’s microgrid that serves three key municipal facilities was  purchased last year by Scale Microgrid Solutions.

Ryan Goodman, Scale CEO and co-founder, said the system has gone into island mode several times over the last year, providing resilience for the city’s critical infrastructure facilities.

“Given the increasing number of extreme storms, that continues to be very important for places like Bridgeport,” said Goodman.

It’s also important across Connecticut, which was one of the first state’s in the nation to offer a significant amount of grant money to build microgrids. The state wants to keep the power flowing when storms or devastation hit, and cope with emergencies like the 77-hour outage that hit Wesleyan.

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