R.I. ranks seventh in energy efficiency

Contributing Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2012

The 2012 American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s report card has ranked Rhode Island the seventh-most energy efficient state in the country, adding to the state’s impressive record of energy-related accomplishments. Since the passage of Rhode Island’s Comprehensive Energy Conservation, Efficiency and Affordability Act of 2006, the state has seen significant improvement in energy efficiency and has been ranked among the top 10 most energy efficient states for the past four years.

Despite its small size, the Ocean State is quickly distinguishing itself as a leader in intelligent energy policy, said Dan Sosland ’80, president of Environment Northeast, a nonprofit that provides data-based recommendations to overcome environmental challenges while promoting sustainable economies. “Rhode Island has become a model of how a state can address high energy costs,” he said. 

Rhode Island’s willingness to approach energy challenges from multiple avenues that explore a variety of options and resources “deserves tremendous credit,” Sosland said, adding that consumers are ultimately “saving all the money that a more expensive energy option would cost.” 

If fully implemented, the Energy Efficiency Program Plan for 2012 is expected to bring consumers $785 million in economic benefits, wrote Abigail Anthony, ENE’s Rhode Island director, in an email to The Herald. In addition to saving on energy costs, the plan is predicted to create 13,800 jobs and increase Rhode Island’s gross state product by $1.53 billion.

A distinct component of Rhode Island’s legislation has been “aggressive savings targets,” said ACEEE Senior Policy Analyst Ben Foster. But the 2006 law did more than just set ambitious savings goals – it also established a least-procurement cost that mandates National Grid focus its investment in “low-cost energy efficiency first, and buy expensive energy supply second,” Anthony wrote. 

Because of these standards, “Rhode Island utilities do really well in terms of their energy efficiency investments,” Foster said. 

The state is also pursuing more efficient combined heat and power systems for commercial consumers such as industrial facilities, hospitals and universities. These CHP systems capture heat that is a by-product of generating electricity and would otherwise be wasted and use it productively, Anthony wrote. Because of this, CHP can generate electricity and thermal energy at efficiencies of up to 85 percent, compared to an average electric generation efficiency of about 33 percent, she added.

The 2006 law also created a stakeholder body called the Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council, made up of a diverse group of stakeholders, primarily consumer representatives. The EERMC bridges the gap between lawmakers and consumers by ensuring “that electric and natural gas consumers realize the benefits of energy efficiency,” Anthony wrote. Specifically, the 2012 efficiency plan is projected to save 5.1 million megawatt-hours of electricity and 13.2 million MMTBU of natural gas. 

Massachusetts earned the number one spot on the ACEEE report card for the second year in a row. Anthony noted that lessons from states’ successes are shared to facilitate collective improvement. “ENE has worked in Connecticut and Massachusetts to establish policies and stakeholder processes modeled on the successes of Rhode Island,” she wrote. 

As with any system of categorization, states are evaluated on multiple variables before they are ranked, Sosland said, noting that Rhode Island has a very strong core model with all of the most important elements. But there is still room for improvement in certain areas, most notably transportation. 

In the future, Rhode Island is looking to maintain and improve its position as a leader in energy efficiency, Anthony wrote. There “are several exciting new activities spanning both energy efficiency and renewable energy,” she added. 

Such initiatives are crucial because “Rhode Island’s energy and economic future depends on clean energy,” Sosland said.

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