By BRIAN P. D. HANNON/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — A renewable energy bill passed by the House of Representatives would expand opportunities for community power sharing and provide greater access to residents with limited green electricity options.
The bill (H5327 Substitute A) would make 30 megawatts of electricity available, on top of 30 megawatts already allocated through a community net metering measure passed by the General Assembly in 2016.
Community net metering enables groups of residential electricity customers to partner on renewable energy installation and share credit on their bills for the resulting power. The technique provides renewable energy to renters and others without suitable properties for solar or wind generation and to groups wishing to pool their resources and invest in small-scale green-energy installations.
The state Office of Energy Resources reported Rhode Island had around 2,150 distributed renewable energy systems with about 100 megawatts of solar, wind and hydropower capacity as of December 2016.
Rhode Island is among the 10 states using the least amount of energy per dollar of its gross domestic product, but also garnered 91 percent of its net electricity from natural gas in 2019, according to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“Expanding opportunities for community net metering is a way to encourage more renewable energy development while also making the financial benefits of it available to more people,” bill sponsor Rep. Brandon Potter, D-Cranston, said in a statement.
Rhode Island’s limit for community net metering is lower than other states in the region. Maine’s program enables unlimited metering, while New York allows 2,000 megawatts, Massachusetts provides 1,500 megawatts and Connecticut offers 175 megawatts.
The bill also would allow regulators to require up to half of new installation sites to be at landfills, brownfields and buildings — sites that have already been disturbed in some fashion — rather than in forests or open spaces.
The legislation was passed to the Senate, where Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, has sponsored a companion bill (S0472).
The House measure would ensure at least 35 percent of the community metered capacity is allocated to low- and moderate-income participants to help reduce their electricity costs, Potter said.
“I’m particularly proud that this bill ensures that low- and moderate-income Rhode Islanders are included, because the economy of our future needs to be both green and inclusive,” Potter said. “This is an effort to help ensure that the transition to clean energy is a just transition.”