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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Moving RI energy into the green

Marion Gold, director of the Office of Energy Resources, is
reworking the state energy plan. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)
By TIM FAULKNER/ News staff
PROVIDENCE — Energy projects have moved quickly in Rhode Island ever since Marion Gold took over at the Office of Energy Resources (OER) this summer.

So far, she has aggressively sought improvements to the state’s new renewable energy program, expanded options for energy efficiency and is pushing for additional green initiatives, such as electric vehicles.
Renewable energy

On Wednesday, the OER held its last of five public meetings — only one was required by law — to propose new rates for the landmark distributed generation contracts program in 2013.
The distributed generation program, which offers long-term electricity purchase agreements for new solar and wind projects, added pricing for hydroelectric power and anaerobic digestion. Hydroelectric projects aren't expected in the next two years, but setting aside electricity contracts for water power is intended to encourage development of this energy source. Anearobic projects are expected next year, according to state officials.
Since the program began in December 2011, solar energy has dominated the renewable energy contracts awarded by National Grid. Fifteen have gone to solar projects; one for a wind turbine. To encourage more wind development, the OER suggested raising ceiling prices for new contracts by 26 percent to 16.8 cents per kilowatt-hour. Solar, by contrast, dropped its ceiling price between 10 and 14 percent to between 24.9 and 29.9 cents per kilowatt-hour.
This proposed pricing must be approved by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC). A decision is expected by the end of January.
“We’re really excited and hope the PUC approves the prices,” said Karina Lutz of People’s Power & Light, a buyer of renewable energy credits. The distributed generation program, she said, “shows it’s really working for these projects.”
At the inaugural meeting between the OER’s renewable energy coordinating board and the energy efficiency council, Gold announced that her office is reviewing the state’s existing renewable energy law to entice development of hydro-power generation and anaerobic digestion.
A separate review will examine expanding tax credits for renewable energy projects. A study of Rhode Island's net-metering laws and renewable energy standards will be included, along with potential revisions to include offshore wind power and large-scale hydroelectric projects.
Gold also noted that she has been encouraging Gov. Lincoln Chafee to expand the program that finances energy efficiency projects to include renewable energy projects.
Energy plan

Gold is overseeing a revision of the state’s energy policy, which includes setting 10- and 20-year targets for renewable energy, transportation and alternative fuels, such as biofuels. The project, directed by a 20-member advisory board, intends to complete work by summer 2013, when it will be integrated into official state planning.
“I’m hugely pleased to see this. It’s a huge step forward for the state,” said advisory board member Seth Handy, an attorney specializing in renewable energy.
Gold acknowledged that goals for climate change reduction were missing from the project. She noted, however, that anticipated budgets cuts to state agencies won’t be an impediment. “I think it’s a pretty darn good plan. We have the people in place, but we can always do better," she said.
Green projects
At the Nov. 27 meeting, Gold announced that the state Department of Administration aims to include electric vehicles in the state’s vehicle purchase program. Details haven’t yet been announced.
Proposals are in the works to include funds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to support small-scale renewable energy projects.
Abigail Anthony of Environment Northeast explained that Rhode Island has several ventures with National Grid. A “non-wired” pilot program is slated for the Tiverton/Little Compton area. It aims to address electricity demand in the fastest-growing region of the state. Rather than spend money to expand traditional “poles and wires,” the project looks for voluntary participation from large energy users to cut their usage through retiring outdated air conditioner and refrigerators and installing energy efficient windows. Central AC units would also be remotely operated to tweak usage during peak hours of demand. Combined heat and power units and solar arrays also are being considered.
“Rhode Island is really a leader in the region and the country on this,” Gold said of the project.