Providence–– With concern growing about Rhode Island's energy dependence on out-of-state fossil fuels––and the associated environmental and public health consequences of dirty air and global warming pollution––the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would extend and expand Rhode Island's cornerstone renewable energy program. The DG (distributed generation) program allows renewable energy projects to be built in Rhode Island and connected to the grid; the new legislation would add a new 160 megawatts in coming years to the program's current 40 megawatts.
"This bill means a breakthrough for Rhode Island renewable energy, especially solar," said Channing Jones, Campaign Director with Environment Rhode Island. "The sun gives us the resources we need to create jobs and supply our energy right here on our own rooftops, and it's time for Rhode Island to step up and join the nation's solar leaders."
Rhode Island lags in solar energy production compared to other Northeast states, ranking second-to-last among northeast states in per capita solar capacity , with roughly 98% of the state's power generation coming from gas , an out-of-state fossil fuel that creates air pollution and contributes to global warming.
However, since becoming law in 2011, the DG program has been responsible for important renewable energy projects across the state, including the solar arrays at the East Providence landfill and at North Kingstown’s Quonset Business Park, for a total of 28 new projects for solar and two for wind power. The DG program’s success is evident in its over-subscription: with 70 applications for 30 projects, renewable energy developers have been lining up out the door.
With the current DG program set to expire in 2014, Rhode Island lawmakers face an opportunity to build on recent success with an ambitiously expanded program. In addition to adding 160 megawatts to the program, the proposed bill––S2690 in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Sosnowski (South Kingstown), and H7727 in the House of Representatives, sponsored by Rep. Ruggiero (Jamestown)––creates a new class for residential-scale solar projects, allowing individual property owners to collect an incentive for producing renewable energy.
"Solar power will create jobs here in Rhode Island and keep energy dollars in our local economy, all while reducing fossil fuel emissions that pollute our air and contribute to global warming," said Jones of Environment Rhode Island. "Fortunately, there’s no secret to expanding solar. With ambitious and achievable commitments from Rhode Island leaders––and smart policies and programs to back them up––we can grow solar in Rhode Island. The legislation proposed by Rep. Ruggiero and Sen. Sosnowski will play a critical role in expanding Rhode Island solar and making it more accessible to residents, small businesses, and schools."
 Interstate Renewable Energy Council, U.S. Solar Market Trends (Aug 2012)
 Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly (Aug 2013)