To the Editor:
Grid reliability is critical to Rhode Island’s economic, energy and environmental future. Homes and businesses need a steady and affordable supply of electricity. Expansions like the $250 million Rhode Island Reliability Project are intended to help ensure that supply (as described in Ms. Baffoni’s June 15 article), but these projects are also expensive. Annual expenditures in New England this year are five times higher than what they were in 2000, and utilities have planned for an additional $4.75 billion in investments.
The good news for local ratepayers is that Rhode Island is taking a lead role amongst states in New England and adopting important and innovative steps to address reliability concerns using potentially cleaner, less expensive and smaller scale alternatives. These “non-wires alternatives,” or NWAs, include options such as energy efficiency, demand response, smart grid technologies and small scale, clean distributed generation. They can replace or defer the need to construct new distribution infrastructure. In this way, NWAs also address concerns over land use impacts of new T&D lines.
In early 2012, the R.I. Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved National Grid’s “System Reliability Procurement Plan” designed to defer the need for a new $2.9 million substation feeder in the Tiverton and Little Compton region by at least four years. The pilot project will use targeted energy efficiency to reduce peak energy consumption and could generate over $6 million in benefits to customers due to lower energy costs and deferred construction costs.
Rhode Island’s nation-leading investments in energy efficiency can also have a huge impact on reducing the amount of future T&D expenditure needed. New England’s regional electric grid operator, ISO-NE, recently released a new energy forecast that incorporates Rhode Island’s ambitious energy efficiency investments. The forecast projects that Rhode Island’s energy use will decline rather than increase due to more efficient use of electricity. A similar forecast for Vermont and New Hampshire has caused state regulators to cancel 10 planned transmission upgrades, saving an estimated $259 million.
Ensuring that electricity is delivered reliably and in a way that maximizes consumer and environmental benefits is critical to our state’s future. With new technologies and approaches available, Rhode Island has an opportunity to usher in a new system that is clean, secure and affordable for all consumers. The R.I. PUC, Division of Public Utilities, National Grid, ENE, and the Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council are taking important steps to deliver a reliable electric system at lower cost.
The writer is the R.I. Director of ENE, a regional non-profit organization that researches and advocates for innovative policies that tackle our environmental challenges while promoting sustainable economies. Dr. Anthony represents environmental interests on the R.I. Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council.