A package of bills now entering Rhode Island’s General Assembly could help create both large and small renewable energy projects around the state by making them more financially attractive to a variety of players, from big developers to individual communities and homeowners.
“This package of bills addresses the climate change emergency in a serious and constructive way,” says Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) staff attorney Jerry Elmer.
One bill formulates how National Grid, the state’s main power supplier, will negotiate long-term contracts with renewable energy providers. The bill creates an incentive for the company to use renewable sources by rewarding it with a 4 percent increase in profit on green energy as opposed to energy from conventional sources.
“It aligns the utility’s interest with the public interest,” says Elmer, who has worked closely on the bill. “We have changed Grid from a reluctant partner to a cooperative partner that now has a vested interest in seeing renewable energy projects succeed.”
Long-term contracts are what developers need to secure financing for big renewable projects. “They can literally take the contract to the bank,” says Elmer.
The bill, S2849, was introduced by Senate president Joseph Montalbano and Block Island’s senator, Susan Sosnowski March 12. A matching bill, H7916, was introduced by House Majority Leader Gordon Fox February 26.
National Grid was already required by the state Public Utility Commission to make long-term contracts for renewable energy, but the company had resisted. This bill, by meeting the company’s concerns, is the final piece in the puzzle, says Elmer. “It fixes a big problem in the state’s renewable energy standard,” which says that an increasing amount of the electricity available in the state must be from green power, says Elmer. He is optimistic that lawmakers will approve it.
The bill could make energy bills go up by a couple of cents per customer in the first year or two, Elmer says. But long-term, it should mean savings because the price of energy from renewable sources like wind turbines is expected to remain stable, while the price of fossil fuels continues to rise.
After years of battling, he adds, it’s remarkable to see National Grid aligned with conservation groups over the issue.
Related bills could speed efforts
CLF supports two other bills now moving through the legislature. One, H7806, was introduced in the House the same day. It aims to take some of the money now in the state’s kitty for renewable energy projects and share it with towns and municipalities around the state.
Under the bill, towns could apply for grants to build windmills or other renewable systems starting this November, and the state give out up to $500,000 a year. Starting January 2009, half the money from a power bill surcharge now being collected for the state renewable energy fund would be diverted to this municipal fund, up to $1 million a year.
Communities like Barrington and Portsmouth are actively looking at putting up municipal wind turbines right now, says Elmer, and could be first in line for the money.
For individual homeowners, a bill now in the Senate could have the biggest impact by making small renewable installations pay for themselves more quickly. The bill, S2594, was introduced by Sosnowski February 26. It would require National Grid to raise the cap on the amount of net metering it allows, from 1 megawatt a year to 3.5 megawatts.
Net metering refers to the system of giving homeowners credit for any surplus energy they generate and sell into the system.
Net metering means homeowners not only find they have to pay for less electricity, says Elmer, but also find that their meter on occasion “runs backward.” Being able to sell power back allows people to recoup costs “much faster” after installing a small turbine or photovoltaic system, he says.
By Pippa Jack
17 March 2008
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