Agencies ask, what makes a solar site 'preferred?'

Several state agencies are seeking clarity from the Public Utility Commission on what qualifies certain solar projects for preferential treatment under new renewable-energy rules put in place in recent years.

The rules say the most common type of solar projects (called "net-metered") that are large enough to produce more than 500 kilowatts must be built on so-called "preferred sites."

What precisely defines a preferred site isn't clear, according to a request that the Natural Resources Board, the Department of Public Service and the Agency of Natural Resources recently submitted to the Public Utility Commission. The three agencies have asking for a workshop to define the term.

One type of preferred site is unused quarries and gravel pits.

Since January, developers have sought to build net-metered solar projects in these "disturbed pits" more often than they have at almost any other type of preferred site, according to the petition.

But it's unclear what exact portions of a pit like this are considered "disturbed" for the purposes of net-metering permits, the petition states. Access roads and areas where vegetation must be managed both may fall under that description, but the rules don't yet spell out whether that's actually the case, the petition states.

These pits are meant to be former mineral extraction sites as well, but it's not entirely clear how applicants must demonstrate that mineral extraction lawfully took place on a site, or how to show that this extraction has fully ceased at such a site, the petition says.

It would be easier for the Public Utility Commission to simply meet with the few relevant state agencies and to conduct a workshop, according to the petition, than it would be to require each applicant to litigate their particular circumstances until a body of case law has been established, the petition states.

The three agencies submitted their request to the PUC Dec. 18. The commission has not yet ordered hearings on the subject.


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