In a sudden turn of events, last week National Grid submitted an unopposed motion to the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission to withdraw its distribution rate reform proposal. The utility had been required by legislation to identify potential rate reforms in light of the increasing amount of distributed generation, like solar photovoltaics (PV), that will be connected to the grid. In July 2015, National Grid submitted a proposal – summarized here – that included a tiered customer charge for residential and small commercial and industrial customers and an access fee for standalone distributed generation.
The proposal was roundly rejected by intervenors in the proceeding. The Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (the State’s ratepayer advocate) and thirteen other parties collectively had seventeen expert witnesses testifying against the rate reforms proposed by National Grid. (An overview of Acadia Center’s concerns and why withdrawing the proposal is a good thing is available here.) This lack of support and the parties’ interest in a more comprehensive discussion regarding rate reform were cited in the utility’s motion as reasons for withdrawing its proposal.
On January 19, the Commission unanimously approved National Grid’s motion. They concluded that all requirements under the law have been met and decided not to approve any new rates at this time. However, Chairperson Margaret Curran noted that the electricity system is expected to change in the coming years and this is just the beginning of the conversation. As such, the Commission will open one or more dockets by February 25, 2016 to review the changing distribution system.
While National Grid’s decision to walk away from its proposed reforms is a victory for Rhode Island, it is unclear what this means for Massachusetts. The utility has made a similar tiered customer charge and access fee proposal in that state; however, the significant opposition faced in Rhode Island may give them pause for thought. Public hearings will be held across Massachusetts starting in mid-March.
Leslie Malone is a Senior Analyst, Climate & Energy and Canada Project Director working from Acadia Center’s Providence office. She works on distributed and large-scale renewable energy and transmission policy as well as energy efficiency and carbon pricing issues in the U.S. and Canada.