Rhode Island is turning up the dial on its renewable energy program.
State lawmakers last month approved a new, expanded version of the “distributed generation” program that should more than triple the electricity produced by renewable sources annually over the next five years.
Distributed generation, the system that directs utilities to purchase power produced by customers, was first launched as a pilot program in Rhode Island in 2011.
Over the last four years, state officials say the system has worked, but acknowledge it hasn’t operated on a scale that measures up to other states or would result in a thriving local renewable energy industry.
Within the growing American solar industry and businesses that work with it, Rhode Island is known as something of an also-ran because of comparatively modest incentives.
With the pilot program expiring this year, Rhode Island needed to settle on a new energy strategy and in the bill approved by the General Assembly, decided on a larger version of a mostly similar system.
While the current distributed generation program required utility National Grid to procure 40 megawatts of electricity from renewable sources between 2011 and 2014, the new program calls for an additional 160 megawatts of power from those sources between 2015 and 2019 on top of the current renewable portfolio.
The types of renewable energy eligible for the program remain the same – solar, wind, small-scale hydroelectric and anaerobic digestion.
Residential projects, which aren’t included in the current program, will qualify in the new system, potentially providing a major boost to people interested in putting solar arrays on their houses.
Along with another bill passed this session that loosens some of the licensing restrictions on who can perform solar installation work, state officials hope the change gets the Rhode Island renewable industry moving.
“We expect a much larger renewable energy business presence in the state,” said Chris Kearns, program development chief at the R.I. Office of Energy Resources. “Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont have robust renewable energy markets, and this will allow significantly more projects to compete here.”