Solar panels at Exeter High School in New Hampshire. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When conveyor belt manufacturer Wire Belt opened its new facility in Bedford, N.H., last fall, the company looked forward to saving money and fighting climate change with a 2,400-panel solar array installed on the roof. 

Four months later, however, Wire Belt’s solar panels lie dormant as the company waits for its utility to hook the project up to the grid. It’s an example of the often long and unpredictable interconnection delays facing large solar projects in New Hampshire and nationwide. 

Wire Belt president Jon Greer was among those who testified at a January hearing in support of state legislation that aims to streamline this connection process, a proposal that is receiving broad support from climate advocates and the business community, including companies like Wire Belt, whose monthly power bills approach $60,000. 

Sen. Kevin Avard, chairman of the Senate energy and natural resources committee, who introduced the bill, said it’s time to fix the system. 

“We just want to make sure that the people who took advantage of solar have the opportunity to utilize the good clean energy, hopefully at a lower price,” Avard said.

Currently, utilities determine their own process for approving interconnection requests for projects larger than 100 kilowatts. The bill calls for the New Hampshire Department of Energy to draft and assess rules that would create a uniform policy for all utilities to use, with the goal of making the process smoother and more predictable. 

“Right now there are no guardrails, no timelines, there’s no real obligation to hurry,” said Sam Evans-Brown, executive director of the nonprofit Clean Energy New Hampshire. “This is where, if you’re a regulated monopoly, regulators are supposed to step in.” 

Wire Belt is not the only business feeling discouraged. Russ Greenlaw, senior vice president of sales for the Associated Grocers of New England, explained at the hearing that the delays make it difficult for members to commit to spending money on solar developments when it is so unclear when they would be able to see benefits to their bottom line. 

“There’s just a complete lack of clarity and predictability around the process,” said Heidi Kroll, director of government relations for New Hampshire law firm Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell.

Widespread challenges

Interconnection issues are not limited to New Hampshire. Though each state has its own approach, the basics are the same: New renewable energy projects that want to hook up to the grid have to submit interconnection requests to the utility. The utility evaluates the project and its impact on the grid, then decides whether any upgrades are necessary to accommodate the new power source before approving it for connection. 

Residential arrays and other small projects are often approved quickly: Eversource, which serves 71% of New Hampshire’s households, expects to receive as many as 5,000 interconnection requests this year and to approve 95% of them within days. 

However, in New Hampshire and many other states, the surge in larger renewable energy developments has created logjams in this process as utilities try to figure out how much the grid can bear and how to accommodate additional power — how to balance the benefits of renewable energy supply with the strain the new generators put on the grid. 

“Interconnection is one of the biggest barriers right now to getting clean energy done,” Evans-Brown said. 

And most states do not yet have systems in place that are keeping up with these challenges. Freeing the Grid, a nonprofit initiative that grades states on their interconnection policies, found that only six states — none in New England — and the District of Columbia scored above a C. New Hampshire was among the 17 states earning a D. 

Eversource, New Hampshire’s largest utility, has a queue of just under 100 projects needing further study. Unitil, which serves about 10% of the state’s customers, has four larger projects in the waiting line — three since the fall and one since late spring — representing the significant majority of the pending load. 

New Hampshire has taken early steps to address its interconnection problem. In July 2022, the legislature asked the state to investigate and make recommendations. The resulting report, released in December 2023, concluded that there are indeed “considerable technical, operating, processing, and procedural challenges,” to adding growing amounts of renewable energy to the grid. 

The report called for the creation of two working groups — one focused on technical and engineering problems and solutions, and another for administrative and process issues — to further assess the situation and provide solutions. 

The legislation

For many stakeholders, however, this proposed approach is not nearly robust enough, prompting a bipartisan group of legislators to back the current bill. 

The original bill would have required the state to begin a rulemaking process within 45 days and adopt final rules by the end of 2024. This timeline, however, would not have been possible within the department’s rulemaking process, said Joshua Elliott, director of the energy department’s division of policy and programs. The legislation was then amended to call for “a proceeding to examine and assess draft rules to be adopted” rather than a final rulemaking. 

“The bill as introduced was not implementable,” Elliott said. “As amended, the bill both gives the department the resources to accomplish this task and a timeline that is implementable.”

Some advocates, however, aren’t convinced that the amended bill has enough specificity and force to make the needed difference. 

“It is not explicitly clear that a rulemaking is required, and it doesn’t give any deadline,” Evans-Brown said. “It was a valuable hearing — that’s a big step — but I am very skeptical that the [department] is taking this problem seriously.”

The Senate’s energy and natural resources committee voted unanimously in mid-February to recommend passage of the amended bill, and legislators are eager to see it passed and hopefully help ease a longstanding problem. 

“What’s the pause, what’s the hiccup?” Avard said. “It’s nothing complicated.”

Editor’s note: The headline on this article was updated to clarify that interconnection delays are only affecting projects over 100 kW.

Sarah is a longtime journalist who covers business, technology, sustainability, and the places they all meet. She has covered the workings of small-town government in New Hampshire, the doings of alleged swindlers and con men, and the minutiae of local food systems. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Boston Globe,, Slate, and other publications. Based in Gloucester, Sarah covers New England.