Utility District’s new net-metering policy explained

Mon, 06/06/2022 - 9:30am

In 2019, the Block Island Utility District (BIUD) reached the state-mandated three-percent cap on net metered projects and was forced to shut down the net metering program. Reaching the cap was accelerated by the creation of the Block Island Solar Initiative. They installed more than 20 systems on rooftops in one summer and used up the remaining capacity quickly. It is a phenomenal effort that has helped put Block Island on the solar map, but caught the utility off-guard.
In 2020, BIUD submitted legislation to amend the net metering statute to allow Block Island to set its own cap. Covid caused all forward progress to stop, but in 2021 BIUD was successful in lobbying the General Assembly and the net metering statute was amended. BIUD is now allowed to set its own cap. While this was happening, the Board of Commissioners worked hard on a new net metering tariff that was recently
approved by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission. It went into effect on April 1, 2022.
Some facts pertaining to the new tariffs:
- The cap has been raised from three percent of the Block Island Power Company’s peak load, to 10 percent – an increase of more than three times.
-During shoulder months, which is a low load period, that 10 percent of peak load equals approximately 50 percent of the load.
-Today, about 30 percent of the daytime winter and shoulder period’s load is served by solar power.
-Once the 10-percent cap is reached, the board may propose to increase the cap further. Each percentage increase is an opportunity to evaluate the program and how it serves Block Island. The collective goal is
to go as close to 100 percent solar during the low load periods as possible. (National Grid prohibits BIPCo from exporting electricity on the submarine cable, so the utility has to be careful when approaching 100 percent.)
-All consumer classes are allowed to connect solar – BIPCo is among very few utilities in the country that allow this.
-New projects must be metered separately, primarily so the AMI system can be used to disconnect the output if the plant is running on the diesel generators and the intermittent output on a cloudy day causes instability.
-BIUD will bill all kilowatt hours consumed at the retail rate (using the consumption meter) and will credit the solar output using the generation meter.
-The credit is based on BIPCo’s true avoided costs plus all transmission/capacity benefits.
-The rate is adjusted annually and as power costs go up, the credit will increase. Of course, the same will be true if power costs go down, the credit will go down.
-Members will be reimbursed up to $1,000 towards the cost of the second meter.
Rhode Island is one of a few states that allow regulated utilities to develop their own net metering policy and tariff. BIUD held two years of public meetings and heard from net metering members as well as non-net metering members. The board was transparent in all their deliberations and really struggled in the process to find the right answers. Two local solar developers were present at most of the meetings, and their voices were heard.
The BIUD feels that they have a good tariff that was well vetted by the members and although the program may not be as profitable for developers and installers, the board feels it is fair and continues to promote solar.
The Utility District took this on as one of its first tough tasks, spending many nights attending meetings in Providence via Zoom, lobbying to change the three-percent cap. The policy was thoroughly vetted by the PUC and approved by them this year.