Under Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (“PURPA”)1 and section 292.207(b) of the Commission’s regulations, a small power production Qualifying Facility (“QF”) cannot exceed 80 megawatts (“MW”) at a single site.2
Broadview Solar, LLC (“Broadview”) is developing a combined solar photovoltaic (“PV”) and battery storage facility in Yellowstone County, Montana. The facility includes a coupled array of solar PV panels with a gross capacity of 160 MW of direct current (“DC”) electricity and a battery energy storage system with the capacity to discharge 50 MW of DC electricity for up to 4 hours. The facility also includes 20 inverters with a maximum output of 82.548 MW of AC electricity. After accounting for facility loads and losses totaling 2.548 MW, the maximum net output of the facility is 80 MW of AC electricity.
Broadview filed three notices of self-certification and one application to the Commission for QF certification of the facility. In September 2020, the Commission denied Broadview’s QF certification application. In reaching that decision, the Commission focused on the nameplate capacity of the solar PV array rather than the combined maximum net output of the Facility that can be provided to the point of interconnection. The maximum nameplate output of the solar panels was 160 MW, far exceeding the 80 MW statutory limit for QFs, thus, the Commission denied Broadview’s application.
Last week, the Commission reversed this decision, in a 3-2 decision, finding that its analysis of the term “power production capacity” as it relates to QF certification should be measured on what the facility can actually produce for sale to the interconnected electric utility. The Commission emphasized that PURPA requires the Commission to consider the output of the facility as a whole, rather than simply focusing on the output of one of portion of the facility, such as the solar PV panels.
Commissioner Danly dissented, reiterated his view that PURPA requires the Commission to consider the power production capacity of a facility, not its delivery capacity to the grid. Commissioner Danly criticized the Commission’s findings as introducing a new standard that deviates from Commission precedent. A majority of Commissioners disagreed, finding that four decades of longstanding precedent have consistently measured QF power production capacity at the point of interconnection.
Moving forward, this decision signals that the Commission will take a holistic view of a facility’s operations in determining its power production capacity for QF certification purposes. This development creates optionality for hybrid facilities pairing solar PV panels with battery energy storage systems, as long as the output of the facility at the point of interconnection is no greater than 80 MW. It is also evidence of the Commission’s continued efforts to incorporate hybrid and paired facilities into its existing regulatory framework.
A copy of the Commission’s order can be found here.
1 16 U.S.C. §§ 796(17), 824i, 824a-3.
2 16 U.S.C. § 796(17)(A)(ii); 18 C.F.R. § 292.204(a)(1) (2020).
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