Rhode Islanders are free to choose electricity from a wide variety of competing companies. Some of these offer lower rates, while others focus on greener energy or long-term price stability as their key selling points. Rhode Island has done an outstanding job of bringing the benefits of aggregation to municipal facility accounts through REAP, a program run by the League of Cities and Towns. However, as of yet no community choice programs for residential and small business customers have been formed.
CCA was enabled in Rhode Island through the Utility Restructuring Act of 1996. The Act was amended in 2002 by House Bill 7786 to give municipalities the ability to set up “opt out” programs. Before 2002, less than 1% of customers had chosen alternative electricity providers.
The Rhode Island Energy Aggregation Program (REAP) is operated by the Rhode Island League of Cities & Towns and serves 34 of Rhode Island’s 39 municipalities and four school districts with savings of over $28 million since REAP’s inception in in 1999. A REAP spokesperson indicated that they are considering greening their power mix through an upcoming RFP in 2018.
According to a 2014 interview in the Valley Breeze newspaper with Daniel Beardsley, who was then the Executive Director of the League, REAP works with consultants and experienced energy attorneys to issue requests for proposals to various companies that are authorized by the Public Utilities Commission to sell electricity in Rhode Island. After soliciting and reviewing the bids, the League interviews three or four companies, selecting one that they think will be a good provider of electricity based on price, stability of the company, and its ability to work positively with municipal officials.
CURRENT AND EMERGING ISSUES
In addition to being able to choose from nearly 20 different electricity suppliers, some of which offer significant amounts of renewable energy, National Grid offers greener alternatives to its “Standard Mix.” National Grid’s three green options are New England GreenStart Value, New England GreenStart, and New England Wind.
As of spring 2018, the standard mix is Wood 1%, Wind 2%, Hydro 2%, Landfill Gas 5%, Coal 3%, Diesel 2%, Imported from sources that cannot be explicitly tracked or categorized 21%, Oil 9%, Nuclear 13%, and Natural Gas 43%.
GreenStart delivers power from new hydro (14%), old hydro (23%) wind (25%), solar (4%) sources and standard mix (35%). The New England Wind option offers electricity generated 100% by wind farms in the region.
This legislation was brought by Representative Deborah Ruggiero, and supported by green power advocates People’s Power & Light (a partner group with Mass Energy Consumers Alliance MECA), the Environmental Council of Rhode Island, and the New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC), a clean energy business association. This bill is described as removing procedural hurdles that previously prevented the implementation of aggregation in Rhode Island, and aligning Rhode Island’s aggregation law more closely with the law in neighboring Massachusetts, under which 136 communities now have such programs.
H 7786 (2002) had previously required that opt-out aggregation would require a vote by the electors of the community (see lines 14-11 through 14-15), not by the governing body of that municipality or township. H 5536 (2017) removes that roadblock to aggregation, eliminating the provision that requires individual customers to opt in to the aggregate purchase. Instead, it creates programs in which all customers in the contract area are included unless they opt out. Opting out, however, must be allowed at least every two years and without penalty.
- Rhode Island’s renewable energy standard is 11.5% in 2017, rising 1.5 percentage points per year until reaching 38.5% in 2035. The authorizing legislation was HB 7413, enacted in June, 2016.
- The controversial Block Island Wind Farm off the southern coast of Rhode Island is the first commercial offshore wind farm in the US. Construction of five 6 MW wind turbines was completed in August, 2016 and commercial operation began in December, 2016. The 30 MW wind farm’s output is equal to approximately 1% of Rhode Island’s electricity usage.
LEGISLATION (Partial List)
- The Utility Restructuring Act of 1996 (Chapter 316 96-H 8124B) was signed into law Aug. 7, 1996 and authorized CCAs
- Summary of The Utility Restructuring Act of 1996 describes the key provisions of the act
- RI General Law 45-55-13.2 (1999) allowed REAP to begin taking bids from power providers
- Restructuring Act of 2002 (H 7786, 2002 R.I. Public Laws chapter 144) was signed into law June 18, 2002.
- Summary of the Restructuring Act of 2002 describes the key provisions of the act. Note: this summary was written by a Connecticut state employee.)
- Senate bill 2841A (2010) decoupled utility profits from utility sales volume to remove disincentives to energy efficiency and demand reduction measures.
- Senate bill 877 (2017): Amends laws regarding the aggregation of electrical loads by a municipality, and requires at least one public hearing be held, for review by its residents, prior to adopting any plan, to be approved by the public utilities commission.
- House bill 5536 (2017): Amends the laws regulating the aggregation of electrical loads by a municipality or group of municipalities; requires that at least one public hearing be held for review by its residents prior to adopting any plan; then approval by the PUC.
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