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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It's about time!

By TIM FAULKNER/ News staff

PROVIDENCE — The first meeting of the Distributed Generation Contracts Board was held July 18, three years after the committee was created. Nevertheless, it seems the renewable energy program the committee oversees ran smoothly without the oversight.

The board was created in 2011, along with the legislation that launched Rhode Island's innovative distributed generation (DG) contracts program — a four-year pilot program that offers fixed pricing for large, utility-scale wind turbines. The term “large” is relative. Most projects are much smaller than multi-turbine wind farms, but they are bigger than solar arrays for homes and businesses.

The committee may not be in existence for long, however. The DG program expires at the end of 2014. Legislation to extend the program failed in the General Assembly this year. National Grid opposed the legislation extending the program.

The DG program is regarded as a success by the Office of Energy Resources (OER). So far, 21 solar-energy contracts and two wind turbines — North Kingstown and Coventry — have been awarded. Twelve communities have hosted projects.

Three enrollment periods are held each year. Two have been announced so far for 2013. The next round of contracts will be revealed in September.

Small-scale hydro projects and anaerobic digesters also qualify for DG contracts but none have been approved, although two are expected this year, according to the OER.

A goal of the DG program is to reduce the cost for subsidized utility rates paid to wind and solar developers. Solar rates in particular have dropped. The large solar category, in particular, has seen prices drop from about 30 cents per kilowatt-hour to 18.5.

“We’re overall seeing a decrease in prices,” said Chris Kearns, chief of program development for the OER.

During the DG program’s first three years, the pricing was largely calculated by consultants. Kearns said the OER would like the board to consider using consultants. The board also will be asked to endorse extending the enrollment period for renewable energy project applicants so that allotments awarded to unfinished projects can be applied toward other renewable efforts. The extension must be approved by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

The Distributed Generation Contracts members are Ken Payne, a creator of the DG program; Charity Pennock of the New England Clean Energy Council; Bill Ferguson of The Energy Council of Rhode Island (TEC-RI); Sharon Conrad Wells of the West Elmwood Housing Development; Samuel Bradner of Peregrine (Real Estate) Group; Thomas Teehan of National Grid; Christine West of KITE Architects; Hannah Morini of the Renewable Energy Fund; and Marion Gold of the Office of Energy Resources.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee appointed the board. Chafee must also designate a chair and vice chair. The board is scheduled to meet again in August.