Energy

R.I. Municipalities Expand Access to Renewable Energy

Community-choice aggregation allows a municipality to procure electricity in bulk, with the goal of increasing the renewable content of the electricity used by the community. (istock)

The cities of Providence and Central Falls and the towns of South Kingstown and Barrington recently received approval from the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to expand access to renewable energy electricity at competitive rates.

Community-choice aggregation (CCA), also known as municipal-energy aggregation and community-electricity aggregation, allows a municipality to procure electricity in bulk for residents and businesses, with the goal of increasing the renewable content of the electricity used by the entire community while keeping the supply rate stable and affordable.

The four municipalities are the first in Rhode Island to partake in the program. Advocates say it’s a major step toward energy democracy, as each municipality’s plan sets out a vision to provide competitively sourced and cleaner electricity. Together these municipalities, with some 80,000 households, represent nearly 20 percent of all Rhode Island residences.

For Providence, Central Falls, South Kingstown and Barrington, the CAA process started in 2019, when the city and town councils approved the development of aggregation plans. The municipalities retained New York City-based consultant Good Energy to help them develop their individual plans, obtain the required regulatory approval and launch the programs.

Providence identified CCA as a crucial component of its 2019 Climate Justice Plan and as a pathway to implement energy democracy. The city worked with a diverse group of community advisors to solicit input and feedback on the plan.

“By procuring our own electricity,” Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said, “we believe the program can reduce cost for our residents while simultaneously sourcing more and more renewable energy, contributing to the health of our community and our planet.”

Central Falls, in July 2019, was the first municipality to authorize plan development and, last July, was the first to submit a plan to the PUC for review.

“Through electricity aggregation, Central Falls is looking to increase the amount of renewable energy used by the community and to achieve an affordable and stable electricity supply for our businesses and residents,” Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera said. “The significant investments we’ve made in increasing the tree canopy and green stormwater infrastructure throughout our city are helping to mitigate the effects of climate change, and now we’re getting right to the source of the problem by choosing clean energy over fossil fuels.”

South Kingstown joined Providence and Central Falls in the initial procurement of an aggregation consultant, which placed a strong focus on both financial and environmental goals, according to Good Energy.

“Our goal is to empower people to make choices that are good for the planet, with the added benefit of the potential to save South Kingstown residents money on electricity bills,” South Kingstown town manager Rob Zarnetske said. “For a community threatened by sea-level rise, this approval is an important step in the right direction.”

With support from its Resilience and Energy Committee, Barrington moved swiftly to develop the program plan, solicit public input and submit the final version to the PUC.

“Barrington is one of the most susceptible municipalities in Rhode Island to the impacts of sea-level rise,” Barrington town manager Jim Cunha said. “It is time for Barrington residents to step up and do everything in their power to combat this environmental crisis. The approval of the community aggregation program is an important step in the right direction.”

With the PUC approvals, the four municipalities are ready to procure bids for electricity supply after which they will launch extensive education and outreach campaigns. The programs may launch as early as this fall, according to Good Energy.

Good Energy also has been selected by Portsmouth and Newport to develop their aggregation plans to be submitted to the PUC for review in the upcoming months.

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