Environmental Journal: Bill charts R.I.’s renewable energy future 

Source: By Bob Thayer, The Providence Journal  • Posted: Monday, February 9, 2015

An employee of SOLBRIGHT Renewable Energy looks out over a solar array being installed in East Providence in September 2013.
PROVIDENCE — Supporters of Rhode Island’s Renewable Energy Standard — which sets annual targets for the amount of power the state gets from wind farms, solar arrays and the like — say it’s the backbone of local efforts to spur the development of new sources of energy.

By putting in place a mandate, the law creates a demand for renewable energy that wouldn’t otherwise exist to the same extent. The law, its backers say, is crucial if Rhode Island is to do its part to reduce the carbon emissions that are driving climate change.

Under legislation being considered in the General Assembly, the standard, which is set to expire in four years, would be extended to 2035. Doing that will bring certainty to an industry that creates jobs and tax revenue for the state, said Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, the Jamestown Democrat who introduced the bill.

“Why is that important? Because we have a number of developers who are planning on projects and they need to know now if they are going to make a 15-, 20-year investment in these projects,” Ruggiero said at a recent hearing before the House Corporations Committee.

“If there’s no standard, will they invest in Rhode Island or will they go to another state?” she added.

The standard was put in place in 2004 and required National Grid, the state’s dominant electric utility, to gradually ramp up the amount of renewable power it buys, from an initial 3 percent of total supply to 16 percent by 2019. Twenty-eight other states, including all of New England except Vermont, have enacted renewable energy laws — though the percentages differ.

Rhode Island has been able to meet its targets in most years. Last year, the state Public Utilities Commission suspended a 1.5-percent increase required by the law because of a shortfall of renewable energy on the market. But that is expected to be an isolated event. The state’s use of renewable energy is currently at 8.5 percent of total electric supply and is now set to reach 14.5 percent in 2019.

If the bill passes, the standard would require the state to continue making increases, resulting in a goal of 38.5 percent of total use by 2035. The extension has won support from the Conservation Law Foundation, the Sierra Club of Rhode Island and the New England Clean Energy Council. The Energy Council of Rhode Island, which represents manufacturers and other large users of electricity in the state, is opposed.

Much of the opposition to renewable energy centers on its higher cost when compared with power generated from fossil fuels. Interestingly, as Jerry Elmer, an attorney with CLF’s Providence office, pointed out in his testimony to the Corporations Committee, the recent hike in electric rates for National Grid customers in Rhode Island would have been slightly higher if not for renewable energy.

That’s because National Grid will be able to re-sell at a profit the energy and tax credits it buys under long-term contracts from solar arrays in Rhode Island and other renewable projects in New England. The net effect is a credit of 32 cents on the typical monthly residential electric bill, according to documents filed with the PUC.

Among the supporters at the hearing was Ken Payne, former adviser to the state Senate and the retired head of the state Office of Energy Resources. He said that Rhode Island has slowly developed a “very decent” clean-energy sector.

“The fundamental building block was the passage of the Renewable Energy Standard,” he said.

‘A sea change’

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, one local conservation group wants people to show their love for the world’s oceans.

Sailors for the Sea, a Newport-based nonprofit, is asking boaters to take its “NT3 Pledge,” which stands for “No Trash. No Trail. No Trace.”

You can do it on the group’s website (sailorsforthesea.org), where you’ll be asked to pledge to reduce your plastic trash by using reusable water bottles and bags; reduce your carbon trail by using petroleum-free cleaning products and copper-free bottom paint; and reduce your carbon trace by not idling your engine and by installing a renewable source of energy.

The group is urging boaters take the pledge in response to new revelations about the extent of ocean acidification caused by carbon emissions. When oceans absorb too much carbon, their chemistry changes and marine habitats are threatened.

Sailors for the Sea aims to get 1.2 million boaters, or 10 percent of the community, to sign the pledge to reduce their impact on the climate.

“We believe it’s time for a sea change,” R. Mark Davis, president of Sailors for the Sea, said in a statement.

More recycling options

A Clean Water Action program to recycle used compact fluorescent light bulbs was featured in this space a couple weeks ago. The nonprofit environmental group set up the initiative to give Rhode Islanders more options to dispose of fluorescent bulbs and prevent the mercury inside them from getting into waterways.

Although I mentioned in that column that some big-box hardware stores accept fluorescent bulbs for recycling, I neglected to say that the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation does, too.

Since its creation 15 years ago, Resource Recovery’s Eco-Depot has accepted all sorts of hazardous household waste, including paint, rechargeable batteries, fertilizer, automotive fluids — and fluorescent bulbs.

That doesn’t mean you can just toss used bulbs or any other hazardous materials in your recycling bins with empty cans and bottles. Eco-Depot is free, but it’s an appointment-only service that’s open on certain Saturday mornings at Resource Recovery’s location at 66 Shun Pike Rd., Johnston, and at special off-site pickups that rotate around the state.