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By Sean O’Connor, Member of Newport Energy and Environment Commission

The time is more urgent than ever for our City to become a leader in resilient and sustainable energy systems. The Energy and Environment Commission, on which I am a volunteer, is working with the City of Newport to hopefully start a new electricity aggregation program for our residents and businesses with the express purpose of easing our reliance on fossil fuels. 

Community Choice Aggregation is new to Rhode Island with the passage of S877 and H5536 in the statehouse in 2017. In comparison neighboring Massachusetts has been operating these kinds of programs since 1998 with over 160 programs operating across the state. These plans allow for a base of electricity customers in a municipality to come together to find and secure competitive rates using the bulk buying power of thousands of residents and businesses. Customer’s bills still come from National Grid and they maintain the infrastructure, but the energy supply comes through new suppliers.  

Customers who have already chosen another supplier can stay with them or join this new program. Anyone will be able to opt-out of this program and stay with the default National Grid supply if they choose.

In May of this year, the RI Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved our state’s first four aggregation plans for Providence, Central Falls, South Kingstown and Barrington. Those programs aim to start within six months. 

In the draft Newport plan, we will be offering different energy supply products including one that will maximize savings for low-income customers and any who choose that. There will be two options with 50 and 100% renewable electricity and customers who sign up for those options will be supporting the development of more renewable energy resources in Rhode Island and New England. Most options will include a small Resiliency Fee, likely ½ a penny or less into the electricity rate, that Newport will be able to use in a restricted fund for local projects that decrease our use of fossil fuels and supporting local green energy jobs. The aim is to include this resilience fee while still securing an overall competitive rate—and quite possibly a better rate—than the default National Grid supply rate. 

On July 21, the City Council held a workshop to understand the program You can find the video on the city website. Now they need to bring it back up for discussion. Once it passes Council with a public hearing, it will go before the Public Utilities Commission for approval. Ultimately, bringing the plan to life will include significant public outreach and a process for the City to vet new electricity supply rates and only move forward if it brings in competitive rates that will meet our goals. 

We’re facing a climate crisis and have a front row seat here on our Newport coast: the faster we get off natural gas and other fossil fuels, the better. We need your voice letting the Newport City Council know that you care about expanding options to bring renewable electricity into Newport’s customer base and asking them to bring the plan up for further discussion, public hearing, and approval. Thank you! 

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