The General Assembly has a unique opportunity this session to pass legislation that is both pro-business and good for the environment. Companion bills pending in the House and Senate (H.5775, S.760) would allow companies to access “virtual net metering.” In essence, virtual net metering is a policy construct that allows National Grid customers to access renewable energy sources like solar or wind, without having to put solar panels or wind turbines on their property. Instead, the renewable generation equipment is located offsite, but the customer receives credits that net against their energy bill (hence the name “virtual net metering”) just like a customer with rooftop or on-site solar does.
Under current statute, only some non-residential customers – such as municipalities, universities, schools, hospitals and non-profit organizations – can benefit from virtual net metering. Despite paying into the state’s clean energy programs, Rhode Island businesses are unable to access off-site renewable energy sources, which would help reduce their electricity bills and help fight climate change.
Rhode Island commercial and industrial customers typically pay among the highest electricity rates in the country. In January, the Ocean State had the second most costly electricity in the United States at 17.12 cents per kilowatt-hour for industrial customers. And for commercial customers, the situation is not much better – they paid 18.39 cents per kilowatt-hour in January, ranking #3 behind only Hawaii and Alaska. Rhode Island is undertaking a portfolio of power sector reforms to up-end this cost paradigm with increases in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and grid modernization initiatives. Virtual net metering will be one key component for businesses unable to serve their energy needs with onsite renewable energy.
The legislation currently under consideration will help Rhode Island achieve its clean energy goals while attracting new commercial and industrial customers seeking to reduce their energy costs and meet sustainability commitments. That is critically important to us. Also vital for thoughtful and responsible renewable energy growth are proposals for smarter renewable siting policies and more comprehensive local ordinances, contained in separate legislation filed this session (H.5789, S.661). If the virtual net metering and renewable siting legislation are enacted into law, businesses will be able to reinvest their energy savings into other areas of their operations, such as purchases of new equipment and workforce expansion and training, and communities can be sure that future projects will target preferred siting areas and better protect the Ocean State’s important natural resources.
This is pro-business and pro-environment legislation that would place Rhode Island on equal footing with other nearby states. Massachusetts has one of the most successful virtual net metering programs in the country, with more than 300 megawatts of commercial virtual net metering – and Massachusetts still has lower electricity rates than Rhode Island. To date, at least 15 states have virtual net metering programs that allow commercial and/or industrial customers to participate.
Rhode Island is a national leader on clean energy, but clearly lags behind when it comes to lowering the barriers for businesses that want to do their part. It’s well past time for the expansion of virtual net metering, and we are grateful legislators are considering just that.
Peter Rothstein is President, Northeast Clean Energy Council (NECEC). NECEC includes the Northeast Clean Energy Council (a nonprofit 501(c)6 business member organization) and NECEC Institute (a nonprofit 501(c)3 focused on industry development, innovation, policy development and communications initiatives).