R.I. lawmakers back stronger renewable energy standards

Source: Emily Holden, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, June 24, 2016

The Rhode Island General Assembly has voted to raise the state’s renewable energy standard to 40 percent by the end of 2035.

Lawmakers approved the measure over the weekend, and the governor is expected to sign it into law soon.

Mark Kresowik, a regional deputy director for the Sierra Club, called it a “great step toward ultimately getting to 100 percent clean energy in the region.”

Rhode Island’s original standard was 14.5 percent renewable energy by 2019. Set in 2004, it required 3 percent renewables by 2007 and was set to rise 1.5 percentage points each year until 2020, although the state Public Utilities Commission did delay the target for one year.

Renewable power advocates said increasing the standard puts Rhode Island closer to its goal of 80 percent clean energy by 2050.

Larry Chretien, executive director of People’s Power & Light, which is based in the capital, Providence, said the new standard will give investors certainty about locating projects in the state. And he said upping renewable standards in the Northeast will help states that are overly dependent on natural gas to diversify the power mix.

Advocates said they are now looking to neighboring states that have not yet raised their standards.

Massachusetts is weighing whether to increase its standards — currently set at 15 percent by 2020 and then 1 percentage point per year, equaling 25 percent by 2030. Kresowik called the state’s standard “one of the weakest in the region.”

The Massachusetts House recently passed a bill to require procurement of more offshore wind power and hydropower. The Senate is expected to release its own draft legislation soon, and environmental groups hope lawmakers will consider raising the renewable energy standard to 2 percentage points per year, or 35 percent by 2030.

In Maryland, lawmakers passed a bill to increase renewable standards to 25 percent by 2020, but the Republican governor vetoed it. Legislators are expected to challenge that veto.

In Connecticut, standards would plateau in 2020.

Meanwhile, advocates are urging the Northeast’s nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to raise its annual carbon cuts from 2.5 percent per year to 5 percent per year, but some member states are unlikely to sign off on that level. States are meeting privately tomorrow to discuss the future of the program.

Rhode Island lawmakers this week also extended a charge on electric bills that funds state agencies that support renewable power projects. But they turned down a measure to extend a feed-in tariff program to promote distributed power projects like rooftop solar. That program, however, will not expire until 2019.