On July 7, 2016, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed into law several bills that will help advance the deployment of renewable energy resources. These bills are welcome developments that signal the state’s commitment to the growth of renewable energy and a clean energy economy, and lay the groundwork for expanding community energy projects and advancing solar and other distributed energy resources through incentive programs and good rate design. Key provisions in each of the bills are summarized in this post.
- H-7413A/S-2185A — This bill extends the Renewable Energy Standard (RES) from 2019 to 2035 and ramps up National Grid’s renewable energy obligation from 14.5% to 38.5% over that period. Significantly, by extending the RES, Rhode Island policymakers place the state in a leadership position and reaffirm its long-term commitment to advancing the deployment of renewable resources. The new law also requires the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to review the adequacy of renewable resources every 5 years beginning in 2019 and allows the PUC to delay all or part of the implementation requirement until it determines that resources are available to meet the legislative requirement.
- H-8354A/S-2450B — This bill makes a number of changes that affect distributed energy resource development in Rhode Island. Distributed energy resources, like rooftop solar photovoltaics, are a new and growing part of our energy system. These local, clean energy resources will help diversify the energy portfolio, create in-state economic opportunities, and reduce pollution and associated health risks.
- The bill extends the Renewable Energy Fund from 2017 to 2022, providing grants to reduce the up-front cost of renewable energy projects for residents and businesses in Rhode Island.
- It also expands virtual net metering, which allows multiple customers to share power from a single renewable energy system that is not physically connected to their meter(s). Previously, only public, multi-municipal, and farm projects were allowed to virtual net meter. Under the new law, residential customers and qualified low and moderate income housing developments are eligible for “Community Remote Net Metering.” Output from these community projects are credited at the full retail rate (net of the RES charge) up to the sum of average usage, and excess credits are valued at the standard offer service charge. The Community Remote Net Metering program is currently capped at 30 MW as of December 31, 2018, but the PUC has the authority to extend the program.
- The bill creates an opportunity to promote small- and medium-scale shared solar facilities and larger (>250 kW) community remote distributed generation systems through the Renewable Energy Growth (REG) program — a performance-based incentive program. The bill allows the Distributed Generation Board to propose to the PUC to allocate annual MW goals under the REG program to community remote distributed generation systems. These projects may also receive a higher incentive rate of up to 15% more than the ceiling price for a comparable non-community project. The bill also allows the utility to propose rules and tariffs for shared solar facilities.
- It clarifies that third party ownership and third party financing arrangements for eligible net metering systems and community remote net metering projects as well as projects enrolled in the REG program are allowed. This is significant because it allows companies that lease solar systems to operate in the state. In response to the passage of the law, SolarCity said that it anticipated expanding from 20 employees in Rhode Island to somewhere between 75 and 200.
- Furthermore, renewable energy resources used in residential systems or employed by a manufacturer are exempt from property tax. This means that, for example, a homeowner would not be penalized for installing a solar PV array through higher property taxes resulting from their property’s increased value.
- H-8180/S-2174 — This bill amends the “Rhode Island Regulatory Reform Act” to establish a state-wide solar permitting process. A consistent and streamlined permitting process can help improve the cost effectiveness and timeliness of the interconnection process for renewable resources. In this case, the Office of Regulatory Reform will be advised by a task force comprised of the Commissioner of the Office of Energy Resources, at least five municipal representatives, and a representative from a clean energy regional business association. No later than December 31, 2016, the Office of Regulatory Reform will submit a report with recommendations for a permitting process for small residential and small commercial roof-top solar projects. The Office of Energy Resources is then required to propose legislation to establish the state-wide solar permitting process no later than January 31, 2017.
- H-7890/S-2328 — This bill expands the role of the Governor’s workforce board to include in the state career pathways system, a workforce training program(s) that would fill skill gaps and create employment opportunities in the clean energy sector.