By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — The Senate is expected to vote April 5 on three key bills that have the backing of Senate leaders and renewable-energy advocates. Bill 2185 is part of the Grow Green Jobs RI package of bills put forth by Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed in January that support renewable energy, agriculture, waste management and other “green” sectors in the state.
Bill 2181 adds an additional 400 megawatts of renewable electricity to the Renewable Energy Growth (REG) program and continues the incentive for more than 10 years. The REG program provides a set price for the purchase of electricity from small-scale solar projects.
The latest bill extends the state Renewable Energy Standard (RES) until 2035. The program mandates the amount of renewable energy that flows to Rhode Island electricity customers. This energy is generated from both in-state and out-of-state wind, solar, hydro, biogas and wood. The program is considered a driver of new renewable-energy projects in the region.
Currently, less than 10 percent of the electricity delivered to National Grid customers is from renewables. This bill would extend the RES program until 2035, with an annual increase of 1.5 percent.
Despite high carbon dioxide emissions, wood-fueled power is permitted in Rhode Island’s RES program. However, Massachusetts and Connecticut restrict wood power in their RES efforts. In 2013, woody biomass accounted for more than half of the green power delivered to Rhode Island. Preliminary 2014 numbers show that 30 percent of the Rhode Island RES portfolio came from wood.
A companion House bill is still being reviewed in committee.
The legislation is opposed by the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association. The industry group presumes that energy costs will rise as more renewables are added to the power mix. Electricity is typically one of the highest expenses for manufacturers.
Several waste-management bills were heard by the Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture on March 30 but none passed to the Senate floor. Another Grow Green Jobs RI bill would expand the state composting law to all schools and research institutions by 2024. It also would require compliance by all businesses, including restaurants, regardless of the volume of compostable material they generate.
Rhode Island's current composting law took effect this year. It mandates that high-volume food entities ship their organic waste to a farm, composting facility or anaerobic digester. An exemption is permitted if no compost facility is within 15 miles or if the cost to haul the food scrap is more than disposing of traditional waste. Currently, most schools are exempt from the law.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-Providence, said expanding the composting law would create jobs and reduce the state's waste stream.
The bill is opposed by the Rhode Island Hospitality Association. Lanette Boisselle, a lobbyist for the trade group, said many restaurants lack the space for collecting food scrap.
“The industry is very interested in it; we just feel it’s probably not the appropriate way to go about it,” Boisselle said.
The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), operator of the Central Landfill in Johnston, is neutral on the legislation. A recent analysis revealed that 17 percent of trash coming into the landfill is vegetative food scrap, while 15 percent of commercial waste is food scrap. The landfill will run out of space in about 22 years, according to the report.
RIRRC will soon begin looking at long-term waste disposal options such as expanding the landfill, shipping waste out of state, finding a new site for a landfill, or incineration.
The Grow Green RI initiative includes several changes to RIRRC. One bill would add the secretary of commerce to RIRRC’s board of commissioners. Another bill would grant RIRRC the right to assess penalties of up to $1,000 for recycling violations.
A third bill would remove the state recycling goal of a 35 percent recycling rate and instead focus on the existing 50 percent diversion goal targeted for 2025. Sarah Reeves, RIRRC’s director of public policy, programs and planning, said the intent is to have a single, more attainable target. Standalone recycling goals, she said, are more difficult to achieve because materials such as plastic bottles have become thinner and lighter while heavier items such as paper are less common. Thus, the overall volume of recyclable items reaching the state recycling center has increased, while the weight has dropped.
“A different measure of program success needs to be developed, and RIRRC has begun those conversations with cities and towns,” Reeves said.
A bill asks RIRRC to issue a report by the end of 2017 showing the economic impact and jobs created by achieving the 50 percent diversion rate.
The intent is to show the impact of garbage on the economy, Reeves said. “We think it’s pretty big.”