Last Updated May 6, 2015
Public Benefits Fund
Eligible Renewable/Other Technologies:
Rhode Island's Public Utilities Restructuring Act of 1996 created the nation's first public benefits fund (PBF) for renewable energy and demand-side management (DSM). The Rhode Island Renewable Energy Fund's (RIREF) renewable-energy component is administered by the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation (Commerce RI) formely known as the Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC), and the fund's demand-side management (DSM) programs are administered by the state's electric and gas distribution companies, subject to review by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
Rhode Island's PBF is supported by a surcharge on electric and gas customers' bills. Initially, the surcharge was was set at $0.0023 per kilowatt-hour (2.3 mills per kWh) and applied only to electric utilities. That funding supported both renewables and DSM programs. The law was amended in 2002 by establishing separate surcharges for renewables and DSM. The adjusted surcharge for renewables -- set at $0.0003 (0.3 mills) per kWh -- and the adjusted surcharge for DSM programs -- set at $0.002 (2.0 mills) per kWh -- was initially scheduled to remain in effect for 10 years, beginning January 1, 2003. The annual budget for the renewables fund during this 10-year period was approximately $2.4 million. Beginning January 1, 2007, Rhode Island's gas-distribution utilities were required to include a surcharge of up to $0.15 per decatherm delivered. Legislation enacted in May 2011 (H.B. 5281) removed the specific surcharge amounts for electric and gas DSM programs. The PUC and utilities will determine appropriate surcharges. The bill also extended the duration of the overall fund to January 1, 2018.
Per the most recent amendments to the program, the RIREF supports four program areas: Small-Scale Solar, Commercial Development, Pre-Development Feasibility Studies, and Early Stage Commercialization. Each of the program areas are allocated minimum of 20% of the REF's income. Renewable-energy systems eligible for support from the RIREF include facilities in the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL) control area that generate electricity using solar, solar thermal, solar space-heating, wind, wave, tidal, ocean-thermal, geothermal, hydro or sustainably-managed biomass resources. In addition, co-firing systems are eligible for funding, as well as fuel cells and microturbines using renewable fuels. Projects and activities directly related to implementing eligible renewable-energy projects in Rhode Island also are eligible.
H.B. 7806 (2008) directed the RIEDC to integrate and coordinate the state's renewable-energy policies -- including the RIREF, the Rhode Island Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) and the state's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) policy -- more effectively. For more information, see the RIEDC's 5-Year Strategic Plan (2009-2013) for the RIREF.
Legislation (H.B. 7806) enacted in July 2008 authorized the RIEDC to integrate and coordinate the state's renewable-energy policies more effectively. This law required the RIEDC to create the Municipal Renewable Energy Investment Program, using the lesser of 50% or $1 million collected annually from the 0.3 mill per kWh surcharge for renewable-energy programs. This program provided grants of up to $500,000 per project for municipal renewable-energy projects. The RIEDC created a second grant program, the Nonprofit Affordable Housing Renewable Energy Investment Program, using the lesser of 10% or $200,000 collected annually from the 0.3 mill per kWh surcharge for renewables programs. In addition, the rules established by RIEDC provided funding (around $200,000 per year) to support pre-development consultant and technical feasibility studies. These programs took effect January 1, 2009, but these sections of the law were repealed in June 2012.