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Distributed resources raise important electrical code jurisdiction questions

With the growth of emerging technologies and distributed energy resources, questions about the applicability of the National Electrical Code and the National Electrical Safety Code to DER projects are starting to emerge and need to be addressed, said Mike Hyland, senior vice president, engineering services, at the American Public Power Association.

Hyland, who made his remarks on Feb. 14 in Washington, D.C., at the winter meetings of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, said a more engaged approach by state utility regulators could help to bring clarity to this gray area.

Hyland was joined by Jorge Camacho, a staff member with the District of Columbia Public Service Commission, and Sue Vogel, senior manager, NESC IEE Standards Association, at the NARUC gathering to provide an update to state utility regulators and staff on the NESC.

Hyland, who has served as chairman of the NESC for 10 years, noted that for utility industry participants, the NESC is known as "the code," while the NEC is "what all electricians call their code. So we have these two codes that seem to meet somewhere around the meter and we're not really sure."


Mike Hyland, APPA's senior
vice president, engineering services

There is a gray area as to "who covers what" and with more distributed generation and distributed resources, "depending on what side of the meter it's connected, we could actually have different codes covering it," Hyland said.

Published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the NESC sets the ground rules for practical safeguarding of persons during the installation, operation, or maintenance of electric supply and communication lines and associated equipment. It contains the basic provisions that are considered necessary for the safety of employees and the public under the specified conditions.

In his role as chairman of the NESC, "one of the items we've tried to push for is to define who covers what," he said. "So when you have something like a solar panel on a rooftop, it seems logical that that would be the NEC and the electrician's code," Hyland said.

"But what happens when that solar panel is beside the house? What happens when the solar panel is a 550 megawatt unit in California?"

The NEC and NESC are "not aligned right now on what is a utility," Hyland said. "And we both claim that private utilities are in our respective scopes."

He said that "with utility-scale energy generation storage technologies coming around, we think it's time to really hammer this out."

Issues of local jurisdiction can come into play when it comes to sorting out questions surrounding electrical codes and distributed energy resources.

Hyland noted that Tesla "came out and said they're moving from the Powerwall in your garage to possibly energy storage at the distribution level to possibly energy storage fields that would be at a substation level. Do you imagine the local jurisdiction going in and saying they have jurisdiction over substation sized energy storage? But that's what's going on right now in solar."

So there is a "misinterpretation" that can result in construction delays, project risk and cost increases, he said.

Noting that "we're trying to actively work with emerging technologies," Hyland said that "we've reached out" to trade groups including the American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Hyland said that "we need to get everybody at the table. As the chair of the code, the one thing I fight for all the time is ‘FOBI' — I think we need to have the NESC and the NEC be fair, open, balanced and inclusive — and unless we can get everybody to the table, who is arguing for emerging technologies, especially as they grow in scale?"

When there are instances of interconnection problems, those issues could be tied to the use of the wrong code, he said.

The only entity that "may be able to take care of that" is public utility commissions, by getting more engaged in the process, Hyland said.

"We need your regulatory input because we're starting to get to that gray area of who covers what and you guys could influence this code," he told state utility regulators at the NARUC gathering.

The 2012 edition of the NESC was recently updated and the 2017 edition will be released in late 2016.