Providence Lags Behind Most Other ‘Solar Cities’

By ecoRI News staff

With concern growing about Rhode Island’s dependence on out-of-state fossil fuels — and the associated environmental and public health consequences of these fuels — Environment Rhode Island recently released a report that provides a comparative look at the growth of solar power in major American cities. The report rates Providence a “solar beginner” — No. 39 out of 57 cities ranked.

“State policy will play a key role in turning Providence into a leading solar city,” said Channing Jones, campaign director with Environment Rhode Island. “With the cost of solar coming down, there’s growing support for solar power as a mainstream energy solution with widespread benefits for our health, our economy and the environment.”

The 63-page report also highlighted the benefits of solar energy, including:

Solar energy avoids pollution. Energy from the sun reduces air pollution that contributes to urban smog and global warming. It also helps save the massive amounts of water that are normally consumed during the cooling of fossil fuel-burning power plants.

Solar energy protects consumers. Since solar has no fuel costs, it can protect us from the rising cost of fossil fuels.

Solar energy helps the economy. Solar jobs in Rhode Island grew 62 percent last year.

“To build a more sustainable future for our city, we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” City Council member Seth Yurdin said. “Promoting clean, safe and renewable energy sources, like solar power, will both improve our environment and create new economic activity here in Providence.”

With more than 200 times as much solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity installed in the United States today compared to 2002, much of that growth has come in America’s cities, according to the report.

The report took principal cities from the 38 states shown to have installed more than a negligible amount of solar energy and compares the capacity of all solar PV installations within the limits of the 57 chosen cities, as of the end of 2013. Los Angeles ranked first nationally in total installed solar PV, with 132 megawatts, while Honolulu ranked first in per-capita solar, with 265 watts installed per person. Providence compares with 4 watts per person.

The report comes as state lawmakers consider legislation to expand renewable energy with the Distributed Generation Growth bill, which would quintuple the size of Rhode Island’s cornerstone renewable energy program. The distributed generation (DG) program allows renewable-energy projects to be built in Rhode Island and connected to the grid.

Since becoming law in 2011, the DG program has been responsible for important renewable energy projects across the state, including 28 new projects for solar and two for wind power. The proposed legislation would add a new 160 megawatts in coming years to the program’s current 40 megawatts.

“There’s no reason for Providence to remain a solar beginner,” said Priscilla De La Cruz, marketing and membership director with People’s Power & Light, a Providence-based renewable-energy advocacy group. “We need to pass the Distributed Generation Growth bill.”

With the current DG program set to expire this year, Rhode Island lawmakers face an opportunity to build on the recent success with an ambitiously expanded program, Jones said. In addition to adding 160 megawatts to the program, the bill, sponsored by Rep. Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, and Sen. Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, would create a new class for residential-scale solar projects, allowing individual property owners to collect an incentive for producing renewable energy.