PROVIDENCE – The General Assembly is considering legislation that would encourage further development of renewable energy in the state while more strictly regulating the price of power from wind turbines, solar arrays and other similar generators.
Three bills aimed at land-based renewable energy systems were approved by legislative committees this week. They will be voted on by the House on Thursday and by the Senate next Tuesday or Wednesday.
The bills, especially one that creates guidelines for what’s known as distributed generation, would boost clean power in the state, said Chris Kearns, a lobbyist for Alteris Renewables, an installer of wind turbines and photovoltaic systems.
“It will help create a market in Rhode Island,” he said. “It’s definitely a game-changing piece of legislation.”
Distributed generation is essentially the development of small renewable-energy projects throughout the power grid. Supporters say that locating energy sources at strategic sites, such as places where electricity usage is high, takes stress off transmission lines because they can reduce the amount of power that has to be carried in from farther away. In turn, these small systems increase the overall reliability of the power grid.
The proposed legislation would create a state board that would set standard prices for distributed-generation projects, depending on what type of renewable-energy technology they use and how much energy they would produce. Putting in place set prices would bring predictability to the market.
The bill emerged from the Small Business Renewable Energy Task Force, a legislative group headed by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, Middletown, that has been working since last fall on ways to help develop clean power in the state. The bill was introduced by Ruggiero in the House and by Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston, in the Senate.
The second piece of legislation comes in response to a case before the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers that was opened after a complaint about the way a wind turbine owned by the Town of Portsmouth sells energy to the power grid. Under an agreement with utility National Grid, the town sells power from the turbine at a retail rate that is higher than what other power generators charge.
The turbine has been able to charge the higher price because it has been classified as a net-metering facility. Strictly speaking, an energy producer that qualifies for net metering must sell only excess energy to the power grid, but the Portsmouth turbine sells all of its power to the grid, using none at the public high school where it is located.
The legislation – introduced by Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, D-Providence, and Rep. John M. Carnevale, D-Providence, Johnston – would restrict projects that would qualify for net metering to those designed to provide power only on site. An excess of 25 percent could be sold to the grid, but only at a wholesale rate.
Municipal projects would be exempt from the law, but private developers who have proposed net-metering projects that would sell nearly all of their power to the grid would no longer qualify under net metering. Those projects, including ones proposed in North Kingstown and Johnston, would be able to go forward under the distributed-generation bill.
The final bill in the package would reduce delays in renewable-energy projects by setting timelines for National Grid to complete engineering studies for connecting projects to the power grid. It was introduced by Sen. William A. Walaska, D-Warwick, and Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski, D-Providence, East Providence.
The bills were approved by the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee after only brief discussion on Wednesday. No objectors were at the hearing.
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