Pepco, the power provider for parts of Maryland and the District, takes more than a month longer to connect customers who want to use solar power to the electric utility grid than many of its counterparts around the country, according to a study published Tuesday.
The industry standard for interconnection, the process that allows customers to operate their solar systems, is 25 days, according EQ Research, which conducted the study on behalf of several solar energy providers and the trade group Solar Energy Industries Association.
But in Maryland, Pepco takes on average 76 days to connect solar users with the power grid, according to the report. In the District, Pepco takes an average of 51 days.
“Other utilities are processing far more applications in a number of states,” said Dana Sleeper, executive director of the Solar Energy Industries Association for Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. “This is a rather simple process.”
The study analyzed the 57,000 solar installation applications received by 34 utilities in 13 states and the District in 2014, and reviewed the wait times faced by consumers.
Fourth Ward resident Niva Kramek told the D.C. Public Service Commission on Tuesday that she installed solar panels on her home in August 2014. It took Pepco until November of that year to replace her home’s electric meter, which made the solar panels operational, she said. But it took another two months for Pepco to grant final approval.
“We could have turned on our net meter and started generating electricity, but we tend to follow directions,” Kramek said in testimony.
Pepco was ordered to appear before the commission Tuesday to hear customer complaints and answer regulators’ questions about the delays in granting solar panel users access to the electric grid. In the commission’s order, it cited concerns regarding Pepco’s solar connection process dating back to 2009.
In a statement, Pepco said it follows the time requirements and rules for installing solar power “to protect the integrity of the distribution system.”
“Customers should be prepared to follow an authorization and certification process that can be delayed by lapses in meeting necessary application criteria including, most importantly, the final safety inspection,” Pepco said in the statement.
Extended wait times for interconnection represent a growing tension between solar consumers, providers and installers, and traditional electric utilities, who see solar power invading their market share.
But solar providers and installers say delays in allowing homeowners to connect to the electric grid are unique to Pepco. Baltimore Gas and Electric takes 15 days on average to grant interconnection approval, which requires changing a building’s electric meter and some paperwork, according to the EQ Research report. Delmarva Power in Delaware takes 30 days.
The average wait time for Eversource power in Connecticut was five days, the shortest period in the report. It processed 336 more applications in 2014 than Pepco did in Maryland and D.C. combined.
“We don’t see this issue with any other utility we deal with,” testified Ben Breiterman, chief executive of power provider Solar Solution, which serves Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and the District.
Such ongoing problems may cause potential customers to shy away from solar power, say those within the industry.
“You have assets that installers are building and these assets are stranded there sitting on the roof,” said Brendan Reed, deputy director of policy and electricity markets at solar provider SolarCity, in an interview. “There’s revenue loss happening. But even more significantly is that it’s affecting customer experience and referrals.”