National Grid Backs Down on New Fees

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

WARWICK, R.I. — National Grid has withdrawn its proposal for new fees that were intended to help recover money lost on wind- and solar-energy incentives.

Last July, National Grid asked state regulators for permission to increase fees for all electricity customers, to recoup an anticipated drop in revenue through Rhode Island’s Renewable Energy Growth, or RE Growth, program. The incentive program, which was expanded by the General Assembly last year, is considered one of the most attractive in the country due to its generous payment plan.

RE Growth credits solar and wind customers for the electricity they generate against the electricity they use, and they help offset some of the monthly charges. Electricity produced beyond the monthly use is awarded to customers in cash.

National Grid proposed two fees. The first was an increase in the customer charge on all electric bills. For residential customers, a $5-a-month fee would have been converted to a tiered charged based on electricity use. This proposed new fee varied from $5.25 to $18 per month.

For commercial use, the proposed fee was $10.50 to $26 per month. Customers with renewable-energy systems were asked to pay the transmission charge on their electric bills, which on average cost between $10 and $20 monthly.

Another fee applied to stand-alone wind turbines and solar arrays. An electric power-based fee would have been accessed according to the electric capacity of the project. For instance, the fee on a 1-megawatt solar array amounted to about $2,500 a month. The fee initially applied to existing and future renewable-energy projects regardless of the incentive program, but was later changed to exempt existing projects.

Opponents of the proposed charges said the benefits of new renewable-energy systems help National Grid decrease costs. Added renewable energy, they argued, reduces distribution expenditures and delays the need to find new sources of electricity. Wind and solar developers said the fees would also impede the state’s fastest-growing energy sector.

The Conservation Law Foundation, Acadia Center, the New England Clean Energy Council and the Narragansett Bay Commission all opposed or expressed concern about the proposed fees. They filed to intervene in a proposed docket with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers.

National Grid told ecoRI News that it withdrew the proposed fees Jan. 19 after considering recommendation from the intervenors and the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers.

The PUC and National Grid expect to revisit the cost impacts of the RE Growth program and other renewable-energy programs in the near future.