Government

Bill Would Increase Rhode Island’s Renewable Energy Standard Over Next 10 Years

PROVIDENCE — State lawmakers are eyeing increases in the Renewable Energy Standard, a move that could prove a windfall for renewable energy projects.

Under legislation (H7277) introduced by Rep. Deb Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, the standard would be raised incrementally every year until it hits 100 percent after 10 years. It is a move desperately needed as the state grapples with meeting the emissions reductions required by last year’s Act on Climate legislation and reels from the collapse of the regional Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI).

“This bill supports renewable energy growth, it reduces the greenhouse gas emissions for the Act on Climate goal, which is 45 percent carbon emission reduction by 2030, so they kind of work together,” Ruggiero said.

Rhode Islanders shouldn’t worry about ditching their diesel generators and gas snowblowers just yet. Despite its title, the legislation doesn’t ban fossil fuels or require an intensive switch to solar. Under the current Renewable Energy Standard, electric utilities and providers selling electricity to customers in Rhode Island are required to offset 14.5 percent of any megawatt-hours sold with carbon offsets.

Utilities offset the carbon produced from electricity by buying renewable energy certificates (RECs), with one certificate representing a megawatt-hour of renewable energy generated.

“I like to describe them as virtual certificates — think cryptocurrency,” Ruggiero said. “They’re traded across New England to help each state reach its renewable energy standard.”

According to the latest available data from the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, electricity suppliers generated 7,601,633 megawatts of electricity in 2019, and were required to buy 1,102,266 megawatts worth of RECs. For the third year running, most of the new RECs went toward wind-powered projects.

Utilities buy RECs annually on a market, not dissimilar to most other financial products. Utility companies can also opt out and just make alternative compliance payments directly to the state’s Renewable Energy Fund, administered by the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation.

The 100 percent Renewable Energy Standard bill has received support from the Environmental Council of Rhode Island, Green Energy Consumers Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, and the Conservation Law Foundation.

“People think we’re going to be 100 percent renewable,” Ruggiero said. “This doesn’t mean we don’t have a reliance on gas and oil. It shows Rhode Island is doing its part to transition to a more sustainable electric grid and ultimately reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”

The General Assembly enacted the state’s first Renewable Energy Standard in 2004 and set a goal for 16 percent by 2019. The standard was updated again in 2016 — via a bill sponsored by Ruggiero — to a target of 38.5 percent renewable energy by 2038. Ruggerio’s latest bill would require 100 percent by 2031.

Renewable energy has greatly expanded over the past 10 years. ISO New England, the nonprofit dedicated to administering the flow of electricity throughout the region, estimated renewables were responsible for 12 percent of all power generated in 2021 throughout the grid. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in Rhode Island renewables are responsible for 8 percent of electricity generation.

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