This summer, during the hottest July on record, over 1,000 Rhode Islanders had their electricity service shut off. These residents—unable to pay bills 25 percent higher than last summer—were left without AC or electricity for days of extreme heat, causing heat-related illnesses and exacerbating existing health conditions. Facing longer and hotter summers due to climate change, Rhode Islanders, especially those with underlying health conditions, have a dire need for air conditioning. But more AC usage alongside ongoing energy rate hikes means higher bills, and with higher bills comes the risk of shut-offs, leaving vulnerable Rhode Islanders without electricity when it is most critical.
Emily Koo, who was Providence’s Director of Sustainability during much of the development of the PCE program, pointed to the importance of taking control back from the utility:
“Communities are in the driver’s seat here and will continue to pursue the dual goal of lower cost, higher renewables for its customers in its electricity procurement,” she said. “This separation of supply is a great example of removing a responsibility from the utility so that it better aligns with state and community goals to address climate pollution and lower consumer costs.”
Many residents are concerned by the dissonance between the dirty tricks and the purported clean energy goals of the biggest renewable supplier in the country, their potential future supplier. So how and why was such a company chosen? And should it change how we understand municipal aggregation in Rhode Island?
The first question is simpler to answer. Koo put it bluntly: there wasn’t much of a choice. The buying group of municipalities put out a Request for Proposal (RFP), inviting any energy suppliers licensed to work in the region to bid to procure energy for the program; after initial vetting by Good Energy on the financial viability of the proposed suppliers, they were left with bids from two companies. One was NextEra; the other remains confidential.
Ultimately, Jamie Rhodes explains, it came down to a decision between two fundamentally different pricing models. Given the needs of the program—the necessary balance of lower prices and renewable options—Koo told the Indy that the buying group of municipalities decided that, of the two, NextEra best balanced these factors.
Municipal aggregation in Rhode Island is a truly important shift, a step toward enabling Rhode Islanders to have more agency over their energy system, toward acknowledging the power in collectivity. With NextEra in the mix, this program is far from ideal. But it’s what we have, and it’s better than what we had before. The development of local renewables is real and important; the costs of energy remain lower than RI Energy and will hopefully continue to drop.
And as Emily Koo said, these large energy companies, even involved as they are in dirty nationwide politics, “can also be driven to serve the needs of certain communities.”
To read the full article from the Indy, click here.