I frequently hear that Iowa’s electric cooperatives are asked why interconnection policies or agreements vary from cooperative to cooperative. The answer is simple: They don’t. What may vary is the buyback rate of the excess generation and the application forms that a member-owner completes as part of the interconnection process.

Some electric cooperative member-owners may be wondering what an interconnection agreement is, when it’s needed and why it’s so important.

An interconnection agreement is a legal contract for the connection of a distributed generation facility – such as a solar energy or wind generation system – to your electric cooperative’s grid. Under Iowa law, an interconnection agreement must be in place for any such system. The agreement specifies the location, size, cost, manner of payment, terms of operation and respective responsibilities of the cooperative and the distributed generation facility owner.

In Iowa, every electric cooperative must adhere to all applicable federal and state policies when working with a member-owner to connect distributed generation to the grid. The interconnection agreement between the cooperative and the member-owner is developed to ensure that proper communication and protections are in place before connection of the facility to the grid. Consideration also is given to established requirements for installation, maintenance, metering, switching, liability insurance and who is required to pay the costs of interconnection.

Electric cooperatives and their member-owners must all adhere to the same basic set of guidelines as outlined by Iowa law. Those guidelines are adopted from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers standards, the Iowa Electrical Safety Code and the National Electrical Code.

To ensure your safety and that of your fellow cooperative member-owners and co-op linemen (and to comply with Iowa law), you must notify your electric co-op if you intend to install a distributed generation system. With any type of distributed generation system, maintaining the safety, stability and reliability of the overall grid is the utmost priority. 

Because every cooperative system is managed locally and operates solely to serve the unique needs of its member-owners, some interconnection forms and programs to buy back excess energy may vary. What one cooperative can handle on its system in terms of size and type of system may be different than a neighboring cooperative. This also impacts the amount the cooperative pays the member-owner for any excess energy that’s sold back to the cooperative.

It’s worthwhile to note that if you’re considering a home distributed generation system, it’s a multistep process and the interconnection agreement is just one essential component. Your process should begin with talking to your local electric cooperative, as you undertake significant analysis and fact-finding, and then move to a careful evaluation of the information you’ve learned.

Ethan Hohenadel is a regulatory data analyst for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives in Des Moines. 

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