BI leading the state in renewable energy

Thu, 08/05/2021 - 5:30pm

One of the last pieces of legislation to sneak its way through the Rhode Island General Assembly’s 2021 session was a bill allowing for an increase in net metering for the Block Island Utility District and Pascoag Utility District in Burrillville.

Formerly, under state law, net metering programs, whereby those with solar or wind-generating systems may be compensated, or credited for the amount of electricity they produce, were limited to three percent of the utility’s peak power usage. That limit was achieved a couple of years
ago on Block Island. The new legislation allows the utilities to set their own peaks.
The passing of the legislation was only the first step. Now BIPCo must file a tariff with the RI Public Utilities Commission for a new policy. The BIUD Board of Governors has made the new tariff the subject of many recent meetings, quietly working out and compromising with solar installers and members of the general public in order to formulate a policy that everyone can live with for at least the immediate future. (The
tariff is subject to review annually although the last revision went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.) Once the docket is filed with the PUC, there will be the usual proceedings, including a period for public comment.
There is currently a healthy waiting list of customers who want to be included in a net metering program and participation is “available to all customers regardless of consumer class,” meaning the program is not just for residential customers any more.
Highlights of the proposed tariff include an increase from the allowed three percent to ten percent of BIPCo’s peak usage. This will free up about 250 to 300 kilowatts of additional capacity.

As the intent of net metering was never to allow for a cottage industry such that those with large solar systems could profit off of it, systems are limited to “125 percent of the annual consumption of the account that system is connected to.”

Under the former net metering tariff, of which current participants are grandfathered in until such time as they replace or upgrade their systems, customers were credited at the “full retail rate.” This included not only the actual cost of electric power, but the cost of distributing it, even though the customer was still utilizing the distribution system. The new tariff will exclude certain items related to the distribution system and overhead from the credit. This will ensure that customers without their own generation systems will not be subsidizing those who do install them.
Each system will be required to have two separate meters, one for the customer’s consumption (electricity use) and one for their generation (amount produced by the solar or wind system). The usage and generation will be reconciled monthly and any resulting excess of generation over consumption will be credited to the account. There is no cash payout. If the monthly bill is negative, it will carry forward to the next month. According to the proposed tariff: “If a credit is maintained for more than two years, the member/consumer will forfeit the credit balance.” In other words: “Use it or lose it.”