Aug 24, 2020

Lessons from a Midwestern non-wires alternative pilot

Rabi Vandergon, Jenny Edwards, Josh Quinnell, PhD., Jon Blaufuss

This paper was presented at the 2020 Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings.


The use of distributed energy resources as a method to defer infrastructure investments was initially led by states such as Vermont, New York, and California. Between the coasts in Minnesota, the non-wires alternative approach is rapidly emerging in both utility planning and regulatory frameworks. Coinciding with these developments is Minnesota’s first non-wires alternative pilot led by a partnership between the Center for Energy and Environment and the largest investor-owned utility in the state, Xcel Energy. This paper explores findings from this pilot and how they mesh with an evolving integrated distribution planning requirement for Minnesota’s regulated utilities.

Minnesota poses a challenging utility landscape for non-wires alternatives. Low avoided distribution costs and abundant land create specific difficulties for cost-effective non-wires projects. This paper discusses the pilot project from planning through implementation. We analyze forecasted distribution projects, customer demographics, substation and feeder data, and customer utility data. We explain the demand-side measure selection process, largely focused on energy efficiency, and the techniques used to procure energy efficiency and demand response participation in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. We highlight barriers and solutions around load forecasting and planning horizons, silos and internal incentive mechanisms, and marketing techniques. We illustrate findings from the use of existing system-level demand response resources at the distribution level. We finish with a look to the future —assessing the statewide potential for non-wires alternatives under an evolving utility business model and regulatory framework.