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R.I. Senate OKs bill renewable energy bill

Rhode Island’s major power company would be required to buy renewable energy for at least 10 years at a time under a proposal adopted unanimously Tuesday by Senate lawmakers.

Democratic leaders in the General Assembly have said the proposal will spur the construction of renewable energy projects in a state with just a single, small wind turbine located beside a Portsmouth abbey. New England residents already pay some of the most expensive electricity bills in the nation because the region is dependent on expensive natural gas.

Bill supporters say the proposal is designed to fix a problem holding back green energy projects: a lack of large customers willing to buy the power. The bill will affect National Grid, the state’s largest electricity distributor, which supports the proposal.

Without a big customer willing to pay for wind or solar energy over the long run, banks and investors will not fund renewable energy projects, said Matt Auten, an advocate for the nonprofit group Environment Rhode Island, which supports the bill.

“They have to demonstrate to their banks and creditors that there’s a market for their power,” Auten said.

Republican Gov. Don Carcieri has clashed with Democrats in the General Assembly over how to stimulate the renewable energy market. Carcieri’s spokesman would not say whether the governor will oppose the bills. Republican lawmakers want to amend a similar proposal in the House so it forces state regulators to consider the effect on consumer prices before approving a project. The bill has not yet passed in the House.

“We want to be greener, but we can’t afford to have Rhode Island rates go up,” Republican Rep. Victor Moffitt said.

Democratic lawmakers previously rejected Carcieri’s proposal to create a state power agency that could serve as a large-scale buyer. Instead, the current bills would shift that responsibility to National Grid, which serves about 500,000 customers in Rhode Island.

Under the legislation, National Grid would be required to sign enough contracts with renewable energy developers by 2013 so it could eventually use wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable energy systems to meet about 9 percent of the state’s electricity needs.

The contracts could last for up to 15 years or more, if the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission consents. National Grid would not have to sign any agreements it considered “commercially unreasonable,” although lawmakers have not closely defined that term.

At least six other states, including Connecticut, have adopted similar rules forcing electricity distributors or other large power buyers to enter into long-term contracts with green power developers, according to a 2008 report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

By Ray Henry

Associated Press


3 June 2008