Energy

Hurdles High for Rhode Island Wind and Solar Companies

PROVIDENCE — A committee of renewable energy experts was surprised to learn that many of its members, along with other Rhode Island developers of wind and solar energy, weren’t licensed to install solar-energy projects in the Ocean State.

“Right now, everyone in this room cannot do solar,” said Bob Chew, a veteran of the Rhode Island solar industry, at a recent meeting of the state Renewable Energy Coordinating Board.

Chew, a member of the board that helps shape the state’s renewable energy policies, learned that completed wind and energy project were likely installed without an electrician’s license — a fact that might delay future solar and wind projects, even those that may have been recently approved by the state’s distributed generation contracts program.

According to the state Department of Labor and Training (DLT), a company installing any sort of electrical generation device must have at least one master electrician. At the very least, the master electrician must serve as an elected officer of the company. Only journeyman electricians can install the equipment. The electrician certification also is required for a solar and wind company to advertise and bid on a project, as well as to solicit customers.

According to the DLT, only two companies are licensed to install solar energy projects in Rhode Island.

Chew said he discovered the requirement while researching ideas to grow the state’s listless wind and solar sector, in particular the small businesses that install renewable systems on homes and small businesses. “We have virtually no solar industry in Rhode Island,” he said.

Many in the room, like Chew, noted they relied on certified electricians to connect a solar project to a building’s electrical system. Members said they didn’t realize they needed to employ licensed electricians to install PV panels on a building.

“It’s hard to get an electrician who wants to climb on a roof,” Chew said.

Chew raised the licensing issue in order to underscore the many barriers to the struggling small-scale solar industry, a sector that is thriving in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut. Both of those states don’t require an electrician’s license to install solar and wind projects. They also offer grants and other incentives for small wind and solar projects — incentives that appear to be working.

Massachusetts recently reported an 11 percent increase in green-energy jobs in 2012. Currently, 71,523 employees work for 4,995 renewable energy firms in Massachusetts. The Bay State is generating 143 megawatts of solar energy; Rhode Island generates 1.3 megawatts.

Meanwhile, Rhode Island has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country at 10.7 percent; Massachusetts has an unemployment rate of 6.3 percent.

Approval for a new solar or wind project can take up to six months in Rhode Island, Chew said. In Connecticut, it takes about two days.

Chew relocated one of his solar companies to Connecticut because of the favorable financial incentives. Last year, Rhode Island passed legislation to set pricing for larger wind, solar and hydroelectric energy projects. At the same time, a tax credit for new small-scale wind, solar and geothermal systems expired.

Richard Licht, director of the state Department of Administration, which oversees the Office of Energy Resources, said he would speak with Gov. Lincoln Chafee about endorsing legislation that modifies the requirement for an electrician’s certification.

Paul Ruducha of the Providence Energy Group said many renewable projects might have to come to a halt until the law is changed. “It would be a year from now before anyone in this room can do business,” he said. 

“I guess,” Licht responded.

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  1. This article exposes a big hurdle that keeps R.I. in the dark age. I believe thermal solar has a similar caveat with plumbers ( pipe fitters ) having control over installations. Although I respect both professions and agree there input is needed on installations the present rules stifles if not stops many solar installations in R.I. A win for dirty fuel and a loss for R.I. citizens.

  2. There is a reason people need to be licensed to work with 600 volts DC! You cant hire someone to wire your house with 120volt AC so why should the state lower standards for more serious work? Keeping professionals with proper RI licensing will keep good jobs in RI other wise the walmarts of solar will come into RI with out of state workers, do the big projects and leave. Solar companies need to bite the bullet and hire electrical professionals who know what they're doing. Ive seen some dangerous PV work done in RI. Its not going to help the industry if someone is killed during an installation or a kid climbs on a improperly fenced system in a public space.

  3. Mr. Burroughs the present system does not work. Look at the amount of systems installed in R.I. As the article states , “It’s hard to get an electrician who wants to climb on a roof” same for Plumbers ( pipe fitters )with thermal solar. We need to revamp regulations. Protection of associations interest without a willing work force to readily install solar is criminal. f you have worked with solar at all you know this is a huge problem. Let's start a new concept and work together to resolve this issue.

  4. Please check the laws and let us know how the differ between Mass & RI. Most states require and electrician to work with electricity. I'm sure the Brotherhood of Electrical workers could give you the particulars. My daughter in law is a master electrician, has a business and must be licensed for every state she works in. My son is also an electrician.

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