Energy

Rhode Island PUC Approves Rate Increases to Fund Energy Programs

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National Grid estimates residential electric customers who use an average of 500 kilowatt-hours a month will have an increase of 57 cents on their monthly bills. (istock)

WARWICK, R.I. — Residents can expect to see a modest bump in their utility bills this year to support energy-efficiency programs. The Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) recently approved new rates for National Grid’s energy-efficiency programs (EEP).

National Grid estimates residential electric customers who use an average of 500 kilowatt-hours a month will have an increase of 57 cents on their monthly bills allocated specifically for EEP. Gas customers using 702 therms — a therm is a unit of gas measurement — can expect to see an additional charge of $32.28 spread across the next 11 months.

EEPs in Rhode Island are funded by a line item on utility bills called “Systems Benefit Charges.” It funds programs such as free home energy audits, incentives for energy-efficient upgrades, help paying heating bills, and net metering. Local governments, state departments and educational institutions can apply for grants to fund renewable energy projects.

The total budget approved to be collected from ratepayers’ bills is $109 million from electric customers and $36.9 million from gas customers. It is a significant departure from National Grid’s original proposal of $122 million for electric programs. PUC spokesperson Thomas Kogut said there were “significant adjustments on the electric side.”

Some say the amount allocated for EEP programs is not enough.

“Energy efficiency is the single best tool we have to fight climate change and protect against wildly volatile fossil fuel prices,” said Hank Webster, state director of the Acadia Center, a nonprofit headquartered in Maine.

A 2020 market potential study of the state’s energy-efficiency programs commissioned by the Rhode Island Energy Efficiency & Resource Management Council found that to reach the maximum benefit for its programs, expenditures for electric and gas would have to be $200 million and $90 million, respectively.

“We have a lot of work to do to align programs to improve the programs for low- and moderate-income households that have high energy burdens and often deal with inadequate insulation, obsolete fossil fuel equipment, and other serious health hazards,” Webster said.

The three-member PUC indicated at its Jan. 25th meeting that it had heard much from stakeholders about equity in the programs.

“Energy efficiency and renewable energy and other programs all create opportunities for customers to become energy suppliers and benefit from providing energy supply to the utility,” commissioner Abigail Anthony said. “Customers who stand to gain the most are those who own property and can invest in [the programs.] Some of the inequitable outcomes from energy efficiency and all programs stem from decades of policies that prevented people from owning property and building wealth.”

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