State senators discuss green job growth in Rhode Island

Source: By PHILIP COZZOLINO, Narragansett Times • Posted: Monday, February 1, 2016

Last Week, Providence President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed hosted a roundtable discussion of a legislative action and corresponding legislation to help grow Rhode Island’s green business sector. The plan discussed by state senators intends to promote job growth in environmentally-conscious industries and establishments. Despite RI’s recent lackluster job growth, emerging green industries in the state have created a significant amount of jobs in percentages that put other, more traditional industries to shame. The action plan, entitled “grow Green Jobs RI,” addresses a variety of industries, including: renewable energy, home energy conservation, construction of environmentally sound infrastructure, agriculture, seafood and recycling.

“Between 2014 and 2015, Rhode Island’s clean energy sector grew by 6.6 percent, creating 613 new local jobs, far exceeding the state’s overall employment growth of less than 1 percent over the same period” the action plan reads. “Currently, Rhode Island’s clean energy economy already supports 9,832 jobs across 1,295 business establishments and has seen significant growth relative to overall employment growth in the state.”

The action plan details a number of initiatives to expand the workforce and green economy of Rhode Island. The plan recommends the Department of Labor and Training’s new ‘Real Jobs RI’ program to partner with green industries to identify training needs for existing jobs for which there is a skills gap. The plan also suggests bringing the green initiative to the state’s higher learning educational establishments by suggesting new degree programs, particularly at the associate’s level, in various applied sciences fields such as solar technology installation, wind turbine maintenance, engineering, pest control and organic gardening.

Also recommended in the action plan is the motion to extend the Renewable Energy Standard, which has provided annual increases in the amount of electricity generated by renewable resources. The RES is currently planned to cap in 2019 at 14.5 percent, but the legislation from Grow Green Jobs RI proposes extending it until 2029 with continued annual increases. The participating senators would also like to see Rhode Island’s renewable Energy Growth program be expanded from the time it is slated to expire in 2019 until 2029. The program, which is designed to increase in-state generation of renewable energy, requires National Grid to contract with small, renewable energy facilities. According to the action plan, the REG program has been very successful, and is expected to create 250 in-state jobs and increase state tax revenue by over $1 million a year.

“Jobs are being created in the clean energy sector of our economy at six times the overall rate of job growth. There is tremendous potential to build on this strength and maximize opportunities for job creation in emerging green industries,” said President Paiva Weed. “The bills generated through this action plan will help remove bureaucratic hurdles for green industries, incentivize growth in those industries, and better equip Rhode Islanders with the skills they need to succeed in the green sectors of our economy.”

The matter of solar power is also addressed in the action plan. Currently in Rhode Island, solar power comes at a costly installation price. The action plan seeks to do away with these barriers and make solar power a more realistic option for RI families.

“The U.S. Department of energy estimates that up to 64 percent of the total expense of a solar project installation is in soft costs, such as permitting, inspection, fees, labor and financing,” the action plan reads. “The Grow Green Jobs RI action plan recommends a streamlined permitting program that removes unnecessary regulatory barriers, resulting in a predictable and less costly process for solar developers. It recommends the establishment of statewide property tax standards for small residential and commercial solar projects, so that costs are predictable. The Senate action plan recommends a state rebate program for the installation of renewable systems.”

Joining in the roundtable discussion Tuesday was state senator Susan Sosnowski (D – Dist. 37 South Kingstown and New Shoreham) who was extremely excited about the legislation.

“Rhode Island should be heavily focused on the green economy because that’s where we’re shining,” she said in a phone interview with the Narragansett Times. “Agriculture and aquaculture are doing very well despite some of the regulatory hoops they have to jump through.”

Established in 2012, the Local Agriculture and Seafood Act provided economic development grant programs to increase the competitiveness of Rhode Island agriculture products and seafood. The action plan recommends the continuation of these programs.

In South Kingstown, much is being done to increase the green economy, says Sosnowski.

“As part of the Real Jobs RI program, the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association is collaborating with the town of South Kingstown to have a pilot job training and placement initiative, working with lower-income youth in our community to develop these skills and designs, installation and operation, and maintenance of green infrastructures,” she said.

Senators taking part in the discussion included: Senate President Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence), Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere (R-Dist. 38, Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown), and Senators William J. Conley, Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket), Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton), Mark W. Gee (R-Dist. 35, East Greenwich, Narragansett, North Kingstown, South Kingstown), Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence), Frank Lombardo III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston), John A. Pagliarini, Jr. (R-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton), and V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, New Shoreham, South Kingstown).