By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
WARWICK — An exclamation point was added to Rhode Island's new renewable energy legislation last week with the final approval of several key provisions by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
Prices for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources were set by the PUC so that applications for new projects can move ahead before the end of the year. Those projects likely include proposed energy systems in the late stages of planning, such as a solar array project in East Providence.
The PUC approved numbers, at least through the end of 2011, that apply to wind and solar (photovoltaic) projects seeking what are referred to as distributed generation contracts. Solar arrays generating up to 0.5 megawatts of electricity have a ceiling price of 33.35 cents per kilowatt-hour. Solar with a capacity for generating up to 1 megawatt of electric generation have a ceiling price of 31.60 cents. Solar with a capacity of 2 megawatts has a price of 28.95 cents.
Wind turbines with a target capacity of 1.5 megawatts have a ceiling price of 13.35 cents per kWh.
The annual targets for distributed generation contracts increase annually to 40 megawatts:
2011: 5 MW.
2012: 20 MW.
2013: 30 MW.
2014: 40 MW.
The prices would be paid to the developer by National Grid for a 15-year fixed term, allowing builders of the projects to forecast their revenue and overall building costs, as well as qualify for financing. The electricity is also sold as renewable energy certificates, or RECs, which are bought on an open exchange to fulfill demand for renewable energy and lessen reliance on fossil fuels.
These rates, however, will be reviewed and possibly changed every four months by a 10-member committee appointed by the governor. The process intends to keep rates competitive without driving up costs for National Grid customers.
The committee has yet to be created, perhaps slowing applications for renewable projects looking to get underway in early 2012.
Finding a replacement for the recently retired Kenneth Payne as director of the state Office of Energy Resources also is seen as critical for guiding the program in the months and years ahead.
Karina Lutz, the former director of People's Power & Light, a nonprofit offering green energy to consumers, was a strong advocate for the legislation. Lutz and other proponents believe the program will create jobs through growing "small" wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric development in the state.
"The whole point is basically designed to get the best prices for the consumer for the type of renewable energy that we want," Lutz said.