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 Rhode Island House and Senate both voted Wednesday to pass companion bills to 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 bills passed today would add a new 160 megawatts in coming years to the program's current 40 megawatts. The legislation is expected to be conveyed to Governor Chafee shortly for his signature.
"This bill is breakthrough for clean, local 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."
"We thank the legislature and Governor Chafee for expanding this program," said Priscilla de la Cruz, marketing director for People's Power & Light, a clean energy advocacy group. "For the next several years, we will see more zero emission renewable energy projects built in Rhode Island, displacing fossil fuels from out of state and creating jobs for Rhode Islanders."
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. (Note: Rhode Island is part of the northeast power grid whose collective generation is made up of 51.5% fossil fuels, 33% nuclear, 8% renewables, and 7.5% hydroelectric.)
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.
"The extension of Rhode Island¹s distributed generation program is a significant success for the state and its clean energy industry," said Peter Rothstein, President of the New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC). "The clean energy industry is one of the fastest growing, innovative sectors driving economic growth in Rhode Island and New England and this legislation will assure that Rhode Island reaps the economic, energy and environmental benefits that come with that growth."
With the current DG program set to expire in 2014, Rhode Island lawmakers are taking the opportunity to build on recent success with an ambitiously expanded program. In addition to adding 160 megawatts to the program, the legislation––H7727 in the House of Representatives, sponsored by Rep. Ruggiero (Jamestown), and S2690 in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Sosnowski (South Kingstown)––will create a new class for residential-scale solar projects, allowing individual property owners to collect an incentive for producing renewable energy.
"In addition to boosting solar installations within the city and across Rhode Island, we believe the DG bill will allow us to hire more employees as the industry picks up," said Eric Beecher, owner of Sol Power, a Providence-based solar installation company.
"CLF is delighted that the DG bill has passed in the General Assembly, and we commend Governor Chafee for his strong support of this legislation," said Jerry Elmer, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. "We believe that the new law will have the desired result of vastly expanding renewable energy in Rhode Island, and creating a strong and robust solar industry in our state."
"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. "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. This legislation 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 (Nov 2013)
 ISO New England, Energy Sources in New England (2013)