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Texas PUC hands rooftop solar a win with vote against regulation

Texas utility regulators have approved measures aimed at accommodating the growing market for distributed generation, or DG, such as rooftop solar panels.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas on Dec. 16 said companies like SolarCity Corp. and Sunrun Inc. that lease rooftop solar systems, rather than end-use utility customers, can sign interconnection agreements with utilities. At the same time, regulators refused to require such companies to submit to commission regulation.

Regulators said they wanted to avoid restricting customers' "preferences with respect to DG arrangements."

The Solar Energy Industries Association and the Texas Office of Public Utility Counsel, or OPUC, said the measures "appropriately recognized the realities of the current DG market in which the end-use customer may not be the best party to be the non-utility signatory to the Interconnection Agreement."

SEIA added that the measures would give developers who own assets additional business certainty and encourage investments, and the OPUC said they would better protect customer rights and remove potential barriers to adoption.

A group of utilities, including Oncor Electric Delivery Co. LLC and American Electric Power Co. Inc. subsidiaries AEP Texas Central Co. and AEP Texas North Co., argued against the measures, saying only end-use customers should be allowed to sign interconnection agreements since only they can request interconnection and are responsible for electrical equipment behind the meter.

NRG Energy Inc. wanted companies that sign interconnection agreements in place of end-use customers to have to register as retail electric providers, a designation that would have carried certain operating requirements and obligations to comply with customer protection rules.

Regulators declined the request, saying the purpose of an interconnection agreement is to "ensure the reliable interconnection of DG to a utility's system, not to regulate the relationship between the end-use customer and other entities associated with the DG facility."

In addition to the owner of a distributed generation asset, interconnection agreements can be signed by the owner of the premises where the system is located and the person who holds the rights to the energy that an asset generates, regulators ruled.