Incentives and Deregulation for R.I. Renewables

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Several bills from the Senate’s “Grow Green Jobs R.I.” legislative initiative offer incentives and deregulation measures for Rhode Island's expanding renewable-energy sector. 

Thermal energy
For the purposes of a new renewable-energy bill, thermal power would mean biofuels, geothermal and solar thermal energy. Biofuels include biodiesel heating oil, which blends traditional heating oil with used cooking oil.

Newport Biodiesel is probably the most recognized thermal-energy business in Rhode Island. The company is enjoying rapid growth during its 10th year and is now the third-largest biodiesel company in New England, with 30 employees. Its familiar white tanker trucks collect from 3,000 restaurants and food providers across southern New England. In 2015, the company processed 2.3 million gallons of biodiesel. It aims to process 3.6 million gallons this year and 6 million gallons within two years.

Geothermal uses buried pipes or tubes to generate electricity, or regulate heating and cooling. Large geothermal power plants produce power from hot springs close to ground level. Smaller commercial and residential geothermal systems manage building temperature by harnessing the moderate temperatures of the soil lying a few feet underground. Cranston-based Taco Inc. is a major producer of geothermal valves.

Solar thermal is best known by it solar panels that produce hot water, primarily for homes. The Viessman Group manufactures thermal solar panels and has its U.S. headquarters in Warwick.

Marion Gold, commissioner of the state Office of Energy Resources, said the legislation would create incentives for the up-and-coming thermal-energy sectors and the local companies that support them.

The bill is expected to be revised and may not pass this year.

Some sparks
A modified version of last year’s fireworks bill was heard briefly during a Feb. 23 House Judiciary Committee hearing. The latest bill would prohibit aerial or display fireworks between midnight and 7 a.m. The penalty is a $75 fine.

Injuries and complaints about noise have increased since the state legalized Class C fireworks such as sparklers and fountains in 2010. Birds also suffer from the sound of late-night fireworks, according to wildlife experts.

Although bottle rockets, Roman candles, commercial displays and firecrackers are illegal without a permit, there are few penalties for their use.

Solar flare
Two other bills from the Senate’s initiative to promote the green economy were heard Feb. 23 by the Senate Committee on Commerce.

A bill to create a single, statewide permitting process for solar installers was met with resistance by Sen. Frank Lombardo III, D-Johnston, and Sen. Hannah Gallo, D-Cranston. Lombardo, owner of a heat and air conditioning installation business, said other contractors, such as plumbers, want the same statewide permitting program.

“To take the solar industry and put them above other industries is a problem I have,” Lombardo said.

The bill is supported by the Office of Energy Resources.

Burdensome regulations
Without naming any specific regulations, Sen. Stephen Archambault, D-Smithfield, spoke in favor of a bill that would instruct the Office of Regulatory Reform to reduce burdensome regulations within the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the Coastal Resources Management Council and the Department of Labor and Training.

The regulations must apply to plant-based businesses, or those that focus on farming, landscaping, golf, cemeteries, wineries, sod farms, florists, masonry and grocery wholesalers, according to the bill.

More incentives
Building on the recent Brookings Institute report on the Rhode Island economy, four senators introduced a resolution instructing the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and DEM to create incentives that encourage seafood and agriculture businesses to expand or move to Rhode Island.