Transmission charge ruling on small scale projects in Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission has ruled that behind-the-metre renewable energy systems are exempted from the "back-up rates" that previously covered all on-site generation, a decision that comes just in time to encourage students at three different universities with plans to erect wind turbines. The change is part of a five-year rate settlement with Narragansett Electric, the state's major power provider. Previously, the company had required small scale on-site generators to pay transmission and distribution charges for the electricity generated, even if they did not send that electricity onto the grid. Now, up to 3 MW of generation can be produced on-site without incurring those costs. While Rhode Island does not have high-level wind resources, developers had considered projects in the state. None were economically viable because Narragansett Electric insisted on the so-called "back-up" payments, says Erich Stephens, of the non-profit People's Power and Light, which intervened in the rate application. Now, he says, small scale wind power projects at various stages of development by students and faculty at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island University and Johnson & Wales University can move forward. "This decision sets the stage for them," he says. "The motivation for all these schools is education as much as saving money." The utility commission's decision also calls for the implementation of a distributed energy working group in the state. "What we need to do is gather information and try to really understand the costs and benefits of on-site generation in Rhode Island," says Stephens.