Rhode Island General Assembly Ends 2016 Session By Passing Two Renewable Energy Bills

Jerry Elmer

On Saturday morning, June 18, at 6:00 AM, the Rhode Island General Assembly wrapped up its 2016 session after an all-night session that many observers likened to college students cramming for exams. Two bills that CLF was closely involved with were passed by both chambers in those last few hours.  It is virtually certain that Governor Raimondo will sign both into law.

S-2185 and H-7413 is the extension of the state’s Renewable Energy Standard (called Renewable Portfolio Standard in many other states) that was initially passed in 2004 (and was going to expire in 2019). This is the third consecutive year that this has been introduced into the General Assembly. CLF staff helped to draft the bill, and support came from a wide range of environmental groups and renewable energy developers, including the Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI), the Northeast Clean Energy Council, RENEW (a consortium of renewable energy developers), and Peoples Power & Light.

The bill will do two major things: (a) continue the ramp-up of the use of renewable energy in Rhode Island at an additional 1.5% per year (which was the largest incremental increases in allowed in the existing statute); and (b) fix a small, but crucially important, ambiguity in the existing law about when, if ever, the Public Utilities Commission is allowed to delay one of the annual ramp-ups. I published this blog after testifying in favor of the bill on the House side earlier during the legislative session; the blog contains links to my testimony and to a fact sheet on the bill that CLF and other groups produced for legislators.

S-2450 and H-8354 is a hodge-podge of matters pertaining to renewable energy. The bill popped up just a few hours before the end of the legislative session and was heard in Committee on the House side within a few minutes (yes, minutes) of its introduction. (I was pleased and relieved that I could change my schedule at the last minute in order to convey CLF’s support for the bill.)

This Bill does the following: (a) Extends the state’s Renewable Energy Fund for an additional five years. In the ten years that the Renewable Energy Fund has existed in Rhode Island, it has provided literally millions of dollars to solid, local renewable energy projects. (b) Expands virtual net metering in Rhode Island. You can read about net metering here; virtual net metering is where a single renewable energy project (say, a wind turbine or large solar array) can offset the electricity meters of multiple different people. Virtual net metering has proven an effective way in other states of expanding the use of renewable energy. (c) Clarifies language that third-party ownership of net metering is allowed in Rhode Island. Third-party ownership of net metering units (especially residential rooftop solar projects) is the business model of a number of solar rooftop companies that are eager to do business in Rhode Island.

The provisions of S-2450 and H-8354 had previously all been contained in a separate bill that CLF had supported (and, in fact, had helped to draft). Unfortunately, that previous bill was pulled from the House at the eleventh hour by Speaker Nicholas Mattiello due to a controversy about a completely separate (belatedly added) amendment to the prior bill. After that occurred, Representatives Deborah Ruggiero (D-Jamestown) and Aaron Regunberg (D-Providence) hastily put together this new bill that contained many, but not all, of the good provisions of the prior bill. CLF is deeply grateful to Representatives Ruggiero and Regunberg for their quick work at the eleventh hour to save a key piece of legislation pertaining to renewable energy.

On balance, this was a good year for renewable energy in Rhode Island. The principal victory was clearly the extension (and enlargement) of the original Renewable Energy Standard program, which is already being hailed by many regional and national organizations – and it is very gratifying to see CLF’s central role in this victory being widely recognized.

 

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