Distributed Energy Resources

FERC clarifies determination of 80-MW capacity cap for QFs

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on March 18 revised its policy for measuring the power production capacity of certain resources seeking to be qualifying facilities (QFs) under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA).

At its monthly meeting, FERC reversed a split decision in a September 2020 order denying Broadview Solar LLC’s application for certification as a QF under PURPA.

The Commission reinstated its longstanding “send-out” analysis, which determines a facility’s power production capacity based on the electricity that it can actually deliver to the interconnecting electric utility.

“Today’s order restores a common-sense understanding that QF status should turn on the power production capacity of a facility as a whole, not the capacity of any individual component part,” FERC Chairman Rich Glick said in a statement. “The primary benefit of QF status afforded under PURPA is the right to sell power to a chosen utility, so the amount of power that a QF can actually transmit to the utility should be the touchstone of our analysis.”

Broadview’s facility involves a coupled array of solar panels with a gross capacity of 160 MW of direct current (DC) electricity and a 50-megawatt battery energy storage system.

The maximum output of the project’s 20 invertors, which convert the DC electricity into alternating current, means that only 80 MW can be produced and transmitted to the interconnection with NorthWestern Corporation’s transmission system.

In the September 2020 split decision, FERC concluded that Broadview’s project did not qualify as a small power production QF because the 160 MW capacity of the project’s solar array exceeded PURPA’s 80 MW limit.

This case provided the Commission the first occasion to interpret how PURPA’s limitation on a facility’s “power production capacity” applies to a facility such as Broadview’s, which has a large array of solar PV cells but is physically incapable of producing more than 80 MW of power for delivery to the purchasing utility. In setting aside the prior order, FERC concluded that it erred by departing from PURPA, its own regulations and precedent.