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Gov. Chafee signs Rhode Island renewable energy laws

Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee held a press conference with state leaders at Sandywoods Farm in Tiverton on Thursday to sign four renewable energy bills into law, as well as to see the construction of a wind turbine on site.

Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee signed four bills at Sandywoods Farm in Tiverton on Thursday, all which are aimed to foster the generation and use of renewable energy in Rhode Island. The bills were approved by the General Assembly earlier this year.

Three of the four bills are aimed to diversify Rhode Island’s energy-generating resources, promote grid connectivity, properly distribute generated renewable energy and encourage economic development.

The first bill (2011-S 0457A, 2011-H 5939 A) limits net-metering to renewable energy projects connected to meters and where using power is located in the same complex as the renewable energy. It allows the customer, who owns an energy-generating system, to connect to the grid and receive retail credit for at least a portion of any excess electricity they create.

According to Kenneth Payne, administrator at the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, this change is meant to prevent developers from over-sizing their projects and then forcing National Grid to purchase their energy product at the retail price rather than the negotiated wholesale rate.

Payne said net-metering will let the energy-generator make their own demand.

“And if you generate a surplus, you can sell it to the grid,” he said. “That means it’s bankable. That means you don’t have to pay a risk premium.”

Payne said the preliminary numbers look very favorable and that they’ll look to “finally” seal prices by the end of the month.

“So, we’ll have a great financing scheme for the people who want to do renewable energy and put it into the grid,” he added.

This law does exempt municipal projects from that provision, in accordance with federal law. It also limits the net-metered arrangements to offset energy use by the producer, and there will be no limit on the number of accounts that can be offset.

Customers who generate more energy than they use will be eligible through the law to participate in the proposed distributed generation long-term contracting program. The law also raises the statewide cap of total net-metering from 2 percent of peak load to 3 percent, which removes the tiers of caps on projects and requires any net-metered project by “right-sized,” and be no larger than 5 megawatts.

The second bill (2011-S 0723 Aaa, 2011-H 6104Aaa) concentrates distributed generation, such as small-scale generation, all over the grid, rather than only large-scale power plants. It allows small-scale producers who do not meet net-metering guidelines to enter into 15-year contracts with National Grid, using a standard contract and a set price.

“This legislation can foster small businesses in the energy sector,” said Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston, Warwick), who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Jamestown, Middletown). “It’s a way for someone with open space – farmers, for instance – to get into the industry with a small solar panel installation or a turbine, and contribute to the local, clean generation of energy while keeping everyone involved.

The third bill (2011-S 0721A, 2011-H 6222Aaa) is aimed to reduce delays in renewable energy projects by setting timelines for National Grid to complete engineering studies for connecting projects to the grid.

“This package of bills will catapult Rhode Island into a leadership role in renewable energy,” said freshman Rep. Christopher Blazejewski (D-Providence, East Providence), who cosponsored that bill. “It’s important to no longer rely exclusively on fossil fuel.”

The fourth bill (2011-S 722, 2011-H 5938) establishes a Renewable Energy Coordinating Board at the state, which will develop and recommend strategic renewable energy plans for the state.

“The board, with the cooperative effort of the agencies it brings together, will lay the plan for renewable energy that will serve our state in the coming years,” said Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed (D-Newport, Jamestown), who cosponsored that bill.