Rhode Island is still waiting to experience the growth in residential solar-energy adoption that’s taken place elsewhere in the country.
For the last decade, the Ocean State has offered less in government renewable energy incentives than neighboring states, keeping down demand from homeowners for rooftop units and the size of the local solar-installation industry.
“Rhode Island is an odd case compared to most states in that it had a really robust program and then the [Gov. Donald L.] Carcieri administration eviscerated it and the industry collapsed,” said Christopher Warfel, president of Entech Engineering, a renewable energy installer and designer on Block Island. “Now it is in the process of being rebuilt, but elsewhere it is a growth industry.”
Much of the renewable energy activity happening in Rhode Island involves the R.I. Renewable Energy Fund, which for the first time last year set aside a dedicated pot of money for residential-project grants.
Paid for through charges on electricity bills and alternative compliance payments by utilities, the renewable energy fund last year helped finance 89 residential projects.
But the $500,369 that went into those projects was roughly one-third of the $1.5 million allocated for small-scale solar.
“When setting allocation, we really wanted to make sure we weren’t shutting anybody out, and we really didn’t have a good indication of the level of demand from homeowners and installers,” said Hannah Morini, program manager of the Renewable Energy Fund. “We knew that $1.5 million was probably high, but we knew it would roll over to the next year.”
Starting this year, the fund has authorized the small-scale solar program for the next three years to give the industry a greater sense of predictability and permanence.
In 2014, the program will have $800,000 to allocate, with following years depending on how much the fund takes in.