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Friday, October 25, 2013

Green energy for less

By TIM FAULKNER/ News staff

EDITOR'S NOTE: federal tax credits for renewable energy are scheduled to expire at the end of this year. NOW is the time to consider green energy and energy efficiency before the tax credits go away.

Prices are dropping for renewable energy in Rhode Island. The latest round of fixed-pricing contracts for new solar energy projects are down between 27 percent and 45 percent since the start of the program in 2011.

The decreases are happening in the state’s distributed generation, or DG contracts program, which awards 15-year electricity purchase agreements for large wind and solar projects. The agreements aim to advance the state’s wind and solar energy sectors by providing fixed pricing, an agreement that helps the financial viability of the project.

So far, 27 contracts have been awarded since the DG program was approved by the General Assembly two years ago. Twenty-five of the projects were awarded for solar arrays. The first solar contracts were priced at 34 cents per kilowatt-hour, the latest prices are at 16 cents.

The program seems to be achieving its goal of increasing wind and solar development across the state. Projects have been built or approved to be built in 15 cities and towns.

The latest are in Warren, Johnston, Pawtucket and Glocester, and all are solar projects. For the first time, a 500-kilowatt commercial-scale food digester was awarded a contract for a proposed project at the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown. Only two contracts have been awarded for new wind turbines, in North Kingstown and one under construction in Coventry.

The latest round of contracts was delayed by changes to the program approved this year by the General Assembly, which set caps for all contract prices.

Efforts to extend the DG program beyond 2014 failed in the General Assembly this year. An advisory committee created by the law in 2011 held its first meeting this summer. It is considering proposals to extend the program beyond next year.

Last month, the state Economic Development Council (EDC) approved an economic impact study of the project. The report is due to the General Assembly by March.