February 12, 2016

Raimondo's Budget Plan Aims to Boost Renewable Energy Systems Throughout R.I.

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In December, in a bid to cut Rhode Island’s carbon footprint, Governor Raimondo signed an executive order to acquire all the power used by state-owned buildings from renewable sources by 2025.

As part of her budget plan announced last week, the governor has put forward a set of proposals that aims to expand the development of renewable energy throughout the rest of the state.

The budget article contains three provisions that would reduce the costs of solar arrays, wind turbines and similar energy systems and make it easier to install them.

“The governor wants to be as aggressive as she can be to expand clean energy sources,” Marion Gold, commissioner of the state Office of Energy Resources, said in an interview. “The three provisions send a signal to clean energy companies that Rhode Island is a good place to invest their dollars.”

The energy proposals would:

— Extend the Renewable Energy Fund another five years beyond its current scheduled expiration in 2017. The fund, which is replenished through a surcharge on all electric ratepayers in Rhode Island that totals about $2.5 million a year, is used to support grants and loans to developers of in-state renewable energy projects.

— Expand the state’s net metering program, which allows owners of renewable energy systems to sell power to offset their total electric bill. The program would allow “virtual” net metering for off-site systems and third-party ownership of systems.

— Impose a blanket exemption for renewable energy systems from municipal property taxes, unless a community actively chooses to tax the systems.

Gold said that extending the Renewable Energy Fund is of particular importance to companies that use it to reduce the costs of developing wind or solar power, which are typically more expensive than investing in conventional sources. The fund has been used to help build a sprawling solar farm on a closed landfill in East Providence and has also supported the installation of residential photovoltaic arrays in Providence through a project directed by the West Broadway Neighborhood Association.

Probably the most far-reaching provision — and, Gold said, the most important — is the expansion of net metering.

Currently, the owner of a renewable energy system can use it only to offset the electric bill at the site at which the system is located. If, for example, a business doesn’t have room for solar panels on its rooftop or in its parking lot, it can’t put up a system elsewhere and get a credit on its bill.

“There are many companies like Walmart, Fidelity or Schneider Electric that have made a commitment to using renewable energy,” Gold said. “That’s difficult if you don’t have room on site. 

Virtual net metering will make it easier for, say, a Fidelity to put up solar panels in Smithfield and use it to offset use in Providence."

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