Summer 2022 saw many developments in environmental news. Rhode Island made a number of advances in its transition to renewable energy and was hit by drought, while an invasive insect arrived in the state for the first time. Here is some environmental news in the Ocean State you may have missed over the summer:
One hundred percent renewable energy standard becomes law
Gov. Dan McKee signed legislation in June requiring 100% of Rhode Island’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2033. The act places the Ocean State as a national leader in state-level climate policy with the earliest deadline for similar transition plans passed to date, according to a press release from McKee’s office.
The act prescribes a specified increase in the percentage of Rhode Island’s electricity supply coming from renewable sources each year, and it relies on carbon offsets to reach its goals. This means that while electricity can still be generated from fossil fuel sources after 2033, utility companies must purchase an equivalent number of renewable energy credits, which then subsidize the generation of an equal amount of renewable energy elsewhere.
Another piece of legislation signed into law in July will require the generation of between 600 and 1,000 megawatts of energy capacity from offshore wind farms. The law will help Rhode Island move toward its aspirations of becoming a leader in offshore wind development.
“Already home to the first offshore wind farm in the country, this procurement establishes Rhode Island as a leader in the blue and green economies,” said Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos in a press release. “This procurement has the potential to power 340,000 homes each year and will create hundreds of well-paying jobs. Our goal to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2033 is the most ambitious in the country but projects like this will ensure we get there.”
Alongside these pieces of legislation, Erica Hammond, the lead organizer at Climate Jobs Rhode Island, a climate and labor advocacy group, emphasized a law signed in June instituting labor standards for renewable energy projects greater than three megawatts. The standard “requires that workers are paid the prevailing wage with a significant incentive to hire workers in apprenticeship programs,” Hammond said.
The act also requires projects receiving public money or tax incentives to enter a labor peace agreement, which is a contract between an employer and unions, Hammond added.
Ocean State hit by severe drought
Despite recent downpours, Rhode Island is suffering a severe drought as of Aug. 30, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-run U.S. Drought Monitor.
The drought is expected to continue into September, said Robert Megnia, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. Severe drought is the third most extreme level out of five, according to the drought monitor. And 53% of the state is going through an extreme drought, the U.S. Drought Monitor’s second-highest classification.
Droughts in the region are “fairly uncommon,” Megnia said. “Typically in southern New England in general, it’s pretty hard to get drought conditions.”
“The weather patterns that we see are no doubt climate related,” said Ken Ayers, chief of the Division of Agriculture and Forest Environment at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. He added that the rapid oscillations between significant drought and significant precipitation are indicative of the changing climate.
State and federal agencies are coordinating relief for farmers, Ayers said. The drought’s severity led the United States Department of Agriculture to declare a drought disaster for Rhode Island several weeks ago, triggering authorization for relief money to go to affected farmers.
RIPTA rolls out first fleet of electric buses
The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority unveiled the first 14 buses of its new electric bus fleet in mid-August, with more set to arrive in the coming months. The vehicles are the first electric buses RIPTA has operated, according to an Aug. 16 press release.
The electric buses will replace the diesel buses on the R-Line, according to the press release. The R-Line runs north-south through Pawtucket, Providence and Cranston and is RIPTA’s largest line by ridership.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that each bus will save up to 135 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, according to the release.
In addition to reducing RIPTA vehicles’ contributions to climate change, the buses will have environmental justice benefits, lowering emissions on a corridor where “many low-income and diverse communities have been affected by air pollution,” the release said.
Air pollution in Providence disproportionately affects low-income people and people of color in the I-95 corridor that the R-Line traverses, The Herald previously reported.
Invasive lanternfly arrives in Rhode Island
The spotted lanternfly, an invasive pest that has plagued eastern states for years, has arrived in Rhode Island. The insects can cause crop damage and harm deciduous forests, Ayers said.
State officials at RIDEM are “watching closely” to track the pest’s spread after a lanternfly population was discovered in North Smithfield, Ayers said. In addition to monitoring lanternfly populations, the state will work to exterminate them when they are found, especially next winter, he added.
Although officials are doing their best to control the spread, “it’s a tall order,” he added.
RIDEM is also requesting that residents assist in the effort to control the insect’s spread.
“We’re asking the public to help us out,” Ayers said. For people who find a spotted lanternfly, “let us know about it, and then, frankly, destroy it.”