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Lawmakers debate R.I.'s power rules

The fate of a handful of energy bills lawmakers are debating at the State House will shape Rhode Island's energy future, determining what technologies get built, how much it will cost the state's ratepayers and, to a great extent, who gets to decide. ...The bill that would potentially have the biggest impact would require National Grid to enter into long-term contracts to buy renewable energy from developers of large-scale clean-energy projects. ...Perhaps most crucially, the bill would give National Grid discretion to decide what renewable- energy sources are "commercially reasonable" - essentially handing over to the utility the power to set policy about which forms of renewable energy go forward in Rhode Island, Dzykewicz said. Carcieri hopes to rework language in the bill to address those concerns.

The fate of a handful of energy bills lawmakers are debating at the State House will shape Rhode Island's energy future, determining what technologies get built, how much it will cost the state's ratepayers and, to a great extent, who gets to decide.

"These bills are going to be really critical to what kinds of renewables get developed," said Matt Auten of Environment Rhode Island. "They essentially make projects viable or not viable."

The bill that would potentially have the biggest impact would require National Grid to enter into long-term contracts to buy renewable energy from developers of large-scale clean-energy projects.

Under the bill, National Grid would negotiate with alternative-energy sources to buy at least 5 percent of the power it distributes in Rhode Island, under contracts that would set a stable price for the electricity for 10 to 15 years.

The bill is seen by several key environmental groups as a crucial first step to get the state's dominant utility company on the side of renewable-energy developers. They pushed National Grid for years to make the concession, and worked with the company to draft the bill's language.

But Andrew Dzykewicz, who directs the R.I. Office of Energy Resources and is... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

The fate of a handful of energy bills lawmakers are debating at the State House will shape Rhode Island's energy future, determining what technologies get built, how much it will cost the state's ratepayers and, to a great extent, who gets to decide.

"These bills are going to be really critical to what kinds of renewables get developed," said Matt Auten of Environment Rhode Island. "They essentially make projects viable or not viable."

The bill that would potentially have the biggest impact would require National Grid to enter into long-term contracts to buy renewable energy from developers of large-scale clean-energy projects.

Under the bill, National Grid would negotiate with alternative-energy sources to buy at least 5 percent of the power it distributes in Rhode Island, under contracts that would set a stable price for the electricity for 10 to 15 years.

The bill is seen by several key environmental groups as a crucial first step to get the state's dominant utility company on the side of renewable-energy developers. They pushed National Grid for years to make the concession, and worked with the company to draft the bill's language.

But Andrew Dzykewicz, who directs the R.I. Office of Energy Resources and is Gov. Donald L. Carcieri's chief energy adviser, has several concerns about the bill. Among them, the 5 percent of renewable energy that National Grid would be required to buy would fall well short of Rhode Island's mandate to use 16-percent renewable energy by 2020, he said.

The bill would stabilize electricity prices only for National Grid customers, excluding Rhode Island residents who get electricity from other utilities - including those on Block Island, who pay the highest electricity rates in the country, Dzykewicz said.

At the same time, the bill does not require National Grid to buy renewable energy from projects located in Rhode Island, he said.

Perhaps most crucially, the bill would give National Grid discretion to decide what renewable- energy sources are "commercially reasonable" - essentially handing over to the utility the power to set policy about which forms of renewable energy go forward in Rhode Island, Dzykewicz said.

Carcieri hopes to rework language in the bill to address those concerns. But if that doesn't happen, the governor will continue to pursue a bill that died in the General Assembly last year which would create a state power authority, he said.

But the governor is not eager to create a new state agency, Dzykewicz said.

"If we can work with this National Grid bill, we'd much rather be able to do that," he said.

In the meantime, five state representatives last week sponsored a bill that sets the prices National Grid would pay for up to 20 megawatts of electricity generated annually by a range of renewable-energy sources.

Known as feed-in tariffs, the bill would guarantee developers up to 30-percent profit on alternative-energy projects, essentially subsidizing the production of solar energy and other relatively expensive technologies.

The legislation was introduced in tandem with a developer's proposal last week to build the biggest solar-energy project east of Colorado in Coventry, at a site that hasn't been used since 1977 when it was exposed as an illegal toxic-waste dump.

About 17 European countries have used feed-in tariffs to spur rapid growth of solar energy and other technologies, and California is about to pass its own feed-in tariff law. Proponents defend the extra cost that ratepayers are charged under feed-in tariffs on the bet that consumers will win as electricity made by the renewable sources becomes less expensive than electricity derived from fossil fuels.

Bill Fischer, a spokesman for Allco Renewable Energy Group, the New York-based company that has proposed both the solar project in Coventry and a large wind farm in Narragansett Bay, said solar projects are needed to jump-start renewable energy production in the state right away.

"Even in a perfect world, no one is sticking a pole in the ground in Rhode Island waters for seven years," he said, referring to the lengthy permitting process and not-in-my-back-yard delays associated with large wind farm projects. "What are we going to do between now and seven years to embrace renewables?"

But feed-in tariffs are vigorously opposed by National Grid. Francis X. McMahon, a public relations spokesman for the company, said every 10 megawatts of solar projects built in Rhode Island under the feed-in tariff laws would cost the company's ratepayers $12 million to $15 million.

"You just can't let anybody come in here with a project that may cost a lot more money than any reasonable business person would agree to, and then shackle us with not a 10-year, long-term contract but a mandated 20-year, long-term contract," said Michael F. Ryan, president of Rhode Island distribution for National Grid.

Auten, the director of Environment Rhode Island, said a few other bills before state lawmakers could spur municipal renewable-energy projects - in particular a "net metering" bill that would increase the amount of electricity that cities, towns and private ratepayers who erect wind turbines, solar panels and renewable electricity sources can essentially sell back to National Grid.

That bill, and another one that would earmark money in the state's renewable energy fund for renewable-energy projects by municipalities, would benefit several communities that are already planning to install wind turbines, he said.

"It isn't the case where if one of the bills passes the other five wouldn't make sense," he said. "I don't know that they're all mutually exclusive, but in terms of big projects, we think the best way to get large-scale projects built and financed in a way that's viable to consumers and viable politically is through National Grid offering long-term contracts."


Source: http://www.pbn.com/stories/...

MAR 31 2008
https://www.windaction.org/posts/14103-lawmakers-debate-r-i-s-power-rules
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