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October 6, 2016 CT Green Guide

Report: Eversource faster for solar interconnections

Contributed photo An installer from Bloomfield's C-Tec Solar works on a roof. Installers' experiences can vary from utility to utility, as shown in a new report, and from town to town.

United Illuminating took more than twice as long as Eversource last year to approve pre-and post-construction applications for developers to interconnect solar arrays to the grid, according to a new survey conducted by EQ Research.

UI took an average of 71 days 一 24 for the pre-construction application and 47 days for the post-construction approval, which is also referred to as “permission to operate,” according to the report, released Tuesday.

Meanwhile, EQ said Eversource’s Connecticut operation averaged 30 days for those application processes 一 18 for pre-construction and 12 for permission to operate.

EQ said it collected data from 38 solar installers covering 62 utilities in 20 states. That was nearly double the number of utilities covered in its inaugural report in July 2015, which did not include data from UI.

It also emailed surveys to utilities, which revealed that the number of solar interconnection applications are growing in Connecticut. Eversource reported 2,305 applications for 2015, up from 1,022 the year before. UI reported 424 applications for 2015, while no data was reported for 2014.

Long interconnection times frustrate customers, make them miss out on savings they would have realized, and add soft costs for installers, EQ said.

Eversource’s average interconnection time ranked 28th for pre-construction and sixth for permission to operate, compared to the other utilities in the survey. Meanwhile, UI ranked 44th and 32nd, respectively.

EQ reported several differences between the two Connecticut utility companies that may explain the difference.

Installers reported to EQ that UI requires more reviews during the process and always requires a witness test, something Eversource waives after a contractor demonstrates proficiency. Eversource also allows electronic signatures from installers, while UI doesn’t, the report said.

UI spokesman Michael West disputed the report's finding that UI doesn't allow electronic signatures. West said safety is a priority in the interconnection process.

"..speed is important but safety is even more important and we never compromise safety for speed," West said.

While utilities are a major factor in how quickly a solar array gets built and connected to the grid, another factor is local zoning and permitting rules.

A town-by-town ranking released this summer by a group at Yale University found that some Connecticut communities take more than 30 days to issue a permit for a solar project, and fees vary widely.

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