A bill introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly in early February would require that 100% of the state’s electricity be offset by renewable energy by 2030, making the state’s renewable energy goals the most aggressive in the country, according to local clean energy advocates. If passed, the legislation would require suppliers to offset 20% more non-renewable electricity in the next three years.
The bill relies on Renewable Energy Certificates, which electricity providers would be required to purchase in order to offset energy supplied from non-renewable sources like fossil fuels. RECs, which correspond to renewable energy produced by a company, are tradable certificates which are produced and sold throughout the New England power grid, which includes Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
If passed, the bill will not affect Rhode Island’s reliance on non-renewable sources directly, according to state Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, a Democrat from Jamestown and Middletown who is co-sponsoring the bill. Instead, the REC system, which the bill would utilize, increases the profitability of renewable energy plants, allowing them to sell their energy and RECs, while forcing electricity providers that rely on natural gas and oil to buy RECs or contribute to a renewable energy development fund.
“It doesn’t shut down our gas plants, but what it does is it provides a major, major financial incentive for renewable energy development,” said Justin Boyan, president of Climate Action Rhode Island, a group which advocates for clean energy and a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels.
The bill does not guarantee that all of the state’s energy will be renewable in 2030, according to Kai Salem ’18, a policy coordinator at the nonprofit environmental advocacy group Green Energy Consumers Alliance. Instead, it would ensure that the state is paying for equivalent amounts of renewable and non-renewable energy. For instance, for every one megawatt hour of energy supplied by natural gas, utility services would be required to purchase one megawatt hour’s worth of RECs, Salem said. This process acts as the “accounting system” for energy in the state, according to Ruggiero.
“Basically, we would buy a Rhode Island-sized chunk of renewables in New England,” said Christian Roselund, a senior policy analyst from Clean Energy Associates, a group specializing in solar cell and energy storage use, during a hearing on the bill March 10.
The bill would amend Rhode Island’s Renewable Energy Standard, which previously mandated that the state increase the percentage of total electricity sales from renewable energy sources — or offset them using RECs — by 1.5% each year until 2035.
The proposed legislation was introduced Feb. 2 and was referred to the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The companion bill in the Senate is co-sponsored by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.
The bill was held for further study following the March 10 hearing, but according to state Rep. David Bennett, a Democrat from Cranston and Warwick who is the committee chair and co-sponsor of the bill, holding legislation for study is routine.
At the hearing, Deborah Ruggiero spoke about the potential long-term ramifications of the bill and the importance of creating green jobs.
“At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves, ‘What is the environmental legacy that we want to leave to the generations that are coming behind us?’ ” Deborah Ruggiero said. “What is the environmental legacy we are leaving for our children and our children’s children?”
The RES was last amended in 2016 in legislation also co-sponsored by Deborah Ruggiero. In 2020, former Gov. Gina Raimondo issued an executive order setting a 100% renewable energy goal by 2030.
Deborah Ruggiero said she is seeking to amend the RES again to ensure that more ambitious climate goals become law. Deborah Ruggiero cited the growing number of offshore wind projects in Rhode Island and Massachusetts as evidence that achieving more aggressive goals is possible.
The bill is part of a broader push in the legislature to make Rhode Island carbon neutral. The Act on Climate, which was passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly last year, requires that the state reach carbon neutrality by 2050, The Herald previously reported.
But the Act on Climate did not specify how Rhode Island would reach its carbon neutrality goal. The RES bill would be “a major step” toward carbon neutrality by 2050, Boyan said. On its own, the proposed bill would achieve roughly two-thirds of the Act on Climate’s 2030 goal of reducing emissions by 45%, according to Boyan.
“We know that we have to get carbon pollution out of all sectors of our economy. The path to doing that … goes through the electricity sector,” Boyan said, noting that the electricity supply was easy to start with due to its centralization in several large companies.
A variety of supporters attended the March 10 hearing, including Boyan and about 50 supporters from Climate Action Rhode Island — though their numbers dwindled to around 25 in the hours that the bill was deliberated.
Salem told committee members that the bill would be a “landmark” piece of legislation and asked the lawmakers to be its “ambassadors.”
This bill “is the number one thing we can do to meet our Act on Climate goals,” said Salem.
“We’re petrified, we read the science,” Boyan said at the hearing. “There’s a lot of passion behind this bill. … I believe it goes hand in hand with (the) Act on Climate.”
The bill faced no opposition at the hearing from legislators or the public.
At one point, Bennett told the crowd, who were mostly cloaked in green shirts labeled “Act on Climate,” “I just want to let everyone know that there’s nobody against this bill, everybody is for this bill.”
The chairman’s statement was followed by a round of applause.
The bill “is probably the best bill in my committee right now,” Bennett told The Herald the following week. “It’ll get the most accomplished.” Bennett added that he hopes to have the bill out of committee by mid-April.
Boyan said he believes the bill may eventually cause a decrease in electricity prices overall by incentivizing more electricity generation, particularly of renewable energy.
The bill failed to pass last year, but Boyan remains cautiously optimistic that this year will be different. “Compared to a lot of other bills that we’ve supported,” he said, “this one checks the boxes in terms of having the right supporters.”
Jacob Smollen is a Metro editor covering city and state politics and co-editor of the Bruno Brief. He is a sophomore from Philadelphia studying International and Public Affairs.