by Jeff St. John
October 23, 2018

Over the past several years, a handful of states — California, New York, Hawaii, and most recently, Nevada — have taken on the challenge of integrating distributed energy resources like rooftop solar, energy storage and plug-in electric vehicles into the way utilities plan for and operate their distribution grids. Now it’s Minnesota’s turn.

On August 30, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved its Integrated Distribution Planning Requirements for Xcel Energy, the state’s biggest utility. This IDP framework orders Xcel to start the work of building systems to value DERs’ contribution to the grid serving its 1.3 million customers.

By Nov. 1, Xcel is required to file an IDP plan that includes a ton of data on its distribution grid and the DERs connected to it, as well as its best available forecasting for local load growth and DER proliferation over the next 10 years. It will also be asked to provide a 5-year “Action Plan” for “distribution system developments and investments in grid modernization based on internal business plans,” one that includes DER forecasts, hosting capacity analyses, and a “non-wires alternatives analysis” that represents the state’s first foray into DERs to replace traditional grid investments. 

The PUC will have until June 2019 to accept or reject the plan, giving parties involved in the process some time to comment and suggest alternatives. Meanwhile, it has established separate dockets for the rest of the state’s rate-regulated utilities to come later.

“We’re really pleased with the results overall,” said Allen Gleckner, director of energy markets for Fresh Energy, a nonprofit that’s closely involved in Minnesota energy policy. Fresh Energy has been involved in the IDP since it was launched in 2016 as part of the PUC’s broader grid modernization initiative. The concept behind it was, “if we’re going to be tackling the distribution grid, and updating it to handle new grid edge technologies, then distribution planning should be our first big place to dig in,” he said.

And as a first effort, “It’s actually really comprehensive,” he said. “Our biggest focus now is, how do we take these requirements and translate them into plans and a stakeholder-regulatory process that drives meaningful outcomes.”