Regunberg, DiPalma bill would open net metering to all

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Aaron Regunberg and Sen. Louis DiPalma would expand the state’s electric net metering program to allow “virtual” or off-site net metering by all customers, opening up access to renewable energy among more Rhode Islanders.

Net metering is a practice that allows those who install renewable energy systems such as solar panels to connect them to the electric grid and receive credit on their bill for the energy they generate. Net metering becomes virtual when the renewable energy installation is at a site other than the one receiving the credit, such as will be the case when the Town of West Warwick builds its wind turbine project in Coventry. Current Rhode Island law allows only municipalities to participate in virtual net metering.

The legislation (2016-H 7585, 2016-S 2592) would open off-site net metering to all customers, so any person, business or group could participate by investing in a renewable energy installation anywhere in the distribution system.

The measure is meant to allow greater flexibility of the distributed energy program and opens it up to people and entities such as renters or those who don’t have a good site for solar or wind generation on their own property, as well as groups who wish to join their resources and invest in small-scale green community energy installations. Similar legislation is already in place in Massachusetts.

“There are many benefits to increasing Rhode Islanders’ opportunities to participate in net metering. It can help Rhode Islanders save on their electric bills. It strengthens our green energy sector, because it will mean more systems are being installed. But perhaps the greatest advantages are that it means we generate more of our own pollution-free energy right here in Rhode Island, reducing our use of dirty fossil fuels produced elsewhere and creating a rich network of smaller local power sources to protect customers from volatility,” said Representative Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence). “This is also about equity. It will open up the benefits of renewable energy to Rhode Islanders who currently have difficulty accessing it, like low-income Rhode Islanders and renters.”

Said Senator DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton), “Our state energy plan calls for diversification of our electricity supply because our current over-reliance on outsourced natural gas is insecure, uneconomical and inconsistent with Rhode Island’s environmental policy. Flexible net metering policy that accurately compensates for customer costs and benefits is an essential tool for the scaled development that will get us to real diversification and help keep the money we spend on energy right here in Rhode Island.”

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo has included a similar expansion as part of her 2017 budget plan. The legislative proposal builds upon it by allowing the crediting of generation to any meter within the same distribution system, so the entity that controls the installation doesn’t necessarily have to control the meter receiving the credit. It also ensures that net metered energy is valued properly, accounting for all the benefits those projects provide to rate payers, as well as their costs of being connected to the utility grid. That valuation will be determined by the Public Utilities Commission.

The sponsors say their legislation is consistent with the aims of the state’s most recent State Energy Plan, published in October, which aims to shift Rhode Island away from power produced out of state by carbon-heavy fossil fuels to cleaner, locally produced alternatives, for reasons related to the costs as well as the environment. The energy plan estimates that the status quo could cost Rhode Island between $6.6 billion and $15.4 billion (8 percent to 19 percent) more in fuel costs, compared to alternative energy futures by 2035. The energy plan encourages “ambitious action to improve Rhode Island’s energy security, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability of its energy system,” which it calls “a good investment decision and a powerful economic strategy for generating long-term growth.”

The move to loosen restraints on net metering enjoys support from many corners, including the business community.

“I believe this legislation, and the willingness for the Assembly to let the free market get creative here in Rhode Island, would give birth to large-scale projects generating millions in revenue, a great new tax base and many new jobs. Let’s take the ties off of such growth,” said Peter Arpin, senior partner of Arpin Group, the international moving and storage company headquartered in West Warwick. Arpin Group has made a strong commitment to renewable energy, including founding its own research and development company to explore and produce green alternatives that can be applied to the moving industry. “We hope passing this legislation will open the doors to new systems of generating, delivering and using efficiently power in this state….Instead of being labeled a high-cost area around utilities, we could demonstrate an incredibly diverse, flexible and competitive system,” he continued.

The House bill is scheduled for a hearing March 8 before the House Corporations Committee. It is cosponsored by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown), Rep. John M. Carnevale (D-Dist. 13, Providence, Johnston), Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Portsmouth, Tiverton) and Rep. Daniel P. McKiernan (D-Dist. 7, Providence).

The Senate bill is now before the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee. It is cosponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), Sen. Stephen R. Archambault (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston) and Sen. Nicholas D. Kettle (R-Dist. 21, Coventry, Foster, Scituate, West Greenwich).