Review and Assessment of Grid Modernization Plans in Minnesota

Minnesota Department of Commerce
Project ongoing.

Synapse was hired by the Minnesota Department of Commerce (Department) in 2020 to provide technical support to the Department in its engagement in Xcel Energy’s grid modernization cost recovery rider proceeding. As an adjunct to its work in this proceeding, Synapse developed a technical primer for the Department covering the range of common grid modernization investments and a benefit-cost analysis guidance document (“Guidance Document”) that included recommended grid modernization proposal filing requirements and an evaluation framework that recommended approaches to preparation and review of grid modernization benefit-cost analyses. The Synapse team, with support from its partner Wired Group, conducted training for the Department’s staff on grid modernization foundations, and the Guidance Document was subsequently filed in the rider docket. Synapse also filed comments with cost recovery and consumer protections recommendations.

The Department subsequently hired Synapse to engage in two additional proceedings where grid modernization was at issue: Xcel Energy’s Integrated Distribution Plan (IDP) proceeding, where the Company was seeking certification for proposed distribution automation (DA) and microgrid projects, and Xcel Energy’s general rate case, where it sought recovery of investments in FLISR and DA (having moved its DA proposal from the IDP proceeding to the rate case). Synapse filed comments in the IDP proceeding and formal written testimony in the rate case. Ben Havumaki appeared as witness in the rate case, and the Commission ultimately accepted several of his recommendations, including not granting Xcel’s DA proposal for lack of necessary supporting information, and instituting customer protections including cost caps, reporting metrics, and performance-incentive mechanisms. The Guidance Document was filed in all three grid modernization proceedings. As part of an agreement between the Department and Xcel Energy, Synapse met with subject matter experts from the Xcel Energy on several occasions to review the recommendations of the Guidance Document and discuss ways to improve the Company’s approach to benefit-cost analysis for grid modernization.

As a final component of its longstanding engagement with the Department, Synapse plans to produce a series of webinars introducing the Guidance Document and best practices in grid modernization benefit-cost analysis as part of the Department’s grid modernization investigation docket.