Three renewable energy bills passed unanimously in RI General Assembly | Conservation Law Foundation

Three renewable energy bills passed unanimously in RI General Assembly

Jerry Elmer

A package of three major new renewable energy bills has just passed both houses of the Rhode Island General Assembly unanimously.  Taken together, the bills will give Rhode Island one of the best and one of the most coherent sets of renewable energy laws in the country.  Over the past three months, CLF staff have worked extensively with the leadership of both the RI House and the RI Senate on drafting the actual language of these major bills.

One bill addresses what is called “net metering.”  Net metering occurs when an electric customer’s meter can run not only forward but also backward.  Net metering is important to individuals and companies that have small renewable projects (like solar panels on the roof of a home) because net metering often makes the difference between those projects being economically viable and being non-viable.  Until now, net metering law in Rhode Island was a shambles:  for example, some renewable energy technologies qualified for net metering but (for no apparent reason) other did not qualify; moreover, many portions of the law were so vague (or incoherent) that no one was sure what they meant, and there was even litigation challenging net metering by alleging that Rhode Island net metering law conflicts with federal law.  The newly passed statutes fix all those problems.  The new law makes clear that net metering is available to all renewable technologies, gives a generous price to renewable energy generators, and outlines exactly the boundaries between Rhode Island and federal law.

Another of these bills addresses “distributed generation.”  The DG Bill seeks to fix an unforeseen problem in an earlier renewable energy law, the Long-Term Contracting Statute (LTC Statute) that the General Assembly enacted in 2009.  Long-term contracts are especially important to renewable energy developers because such long-term contracts enable the developers to get financing for their projects.  The LTC Statute turned out to have one unexpected problem.  It worked very well for large companies, like Deepwater Wind, that wanted to develop and build utility-scale projects.  But the LTC Statute was not so good at helping smaller developers that were unable to afford an army of lawyers to negotiate individual contracts with the utility.  The  DG Bill solves this problem.  The DG bill carves out a portion of the long-term contracting obligation created in the 2009 LTC Statute and sets that portion aside just for small, local projects (like a town that wants to put up a single wind mill at its Town Hall).  In order to obviate the need for that (expensive) army of lawyers, the DG Bill creates a very simple, standard contract for developers of small, local renewable energy projects.  Basically, the law says:  If you have a small, local renewable energy project, you do not need to negotiate your own contract with Grid; instead you can automatically get a standard, short, easy-to-understand two-page contract.  The DG Bill also sets a standard price for such small renewable energy projects — the price is set by a board and is designed to be high enough so that such small projects are economically viable, but low enough so that the public is not forced to over-pay for renewable energy.  The big, utility-scale projects can still be built; but the DG bill will now make it easier for smaller projects also to be built.

The third bill in the set makes it easier for renewable energy developers to connect to the electricity grid by setting a timetable and prices for such interconnections.

CLF worked long and hard on this package of renewable energy legislation, and we are very gratified to see its success in the General Assembly.  We were also pleased to see the package of bills highlighted in the lead editorial of the Providence Journal on June 21.

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