Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Gov. Gina Raimondo wants to ramp up the amount of homegrown and out-of-state renewable energy flowing to Rhode Island.
In a challenge issued Feb. 5, Raimondo set a target of 400 megawatts of wind, solar, biomass and small-scale hydropower used in the state by the end of summer.
Raimondo said Rhode Island’s vulnerability to sea-level rise and other climate-change threats played a part in issuing the challenge, but so did President Trump. When Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, Raimondo joined other cities and states in promising to meet the accord’s carbon-reduction goals.
“When the Trump administration wanted to open the pathway to offshore drilling off of our coast, we said, 'Hold on a minute. Not in our backyard.’”
In a phone conversation with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about his offshore-drilling plan, Raimondo said told Zinke, “Not on our watch. The people of Rhode Island don’t want this drilling.”
Raimondo said she is still waiting for Zinke to follow through on his promise to meet with her in Rhode Island.
With the energy objective, National Grid will collaborate with the state Office of Energy Resources to acquire the electricity from a developer and deliver the power to Rhode Island. The renewable power can be generated locally or from outside the state. It can also be part of a multi-state power-purchase agreement.
Last year Raimondo set a goal of increasing the state’s renewable energy use by 10, to 1,000 megawatts. Since then, renewable power generated within and delivered to Rhode Island has increased from 100 to 230 megawatts. The 400-megawatt goal is not in addition to the 1,000 megawatts, but a near-term target to hasten renewable energy development.
Raimondo said the renewable-energy goal doesn't replace the need for the nearly 1,000-megawatt fossil-fuel power plant proposed for the woods of Burrillville. She noted that the drop in the cost for renewable energy may play a role in the Energy Facilities Siting Board's decision to approve or deny the natural-gas/diesel project.
“It will all go into the soup of the analysis of the siting board,” she said. “[If] we don’t need it, if the prices there isn’t competitive, if there are health, safety or environmental issues that can’t be mitigated, than that (project) won’t go forward.”
The governor's energy challenge was announced during a meeting with Raimondo, state energy commissioner Carol Grant and Macky McCleary, administrator of the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers.
Grant said Rhode Island’s renewable-energy sector is growing rapidly thanks to attractive incentives. Since 2014, the number of state solar companies has increased from six to 48. She said bids for the 400-megawatt target will favor price, not whether the project, workers or developer are in Rhode Island.
Jamie Dickerson, an analyst with the renewable-energy policy and advocacy group New England Clean Energy Council, attended the press event and gave his approval to the plan. The 400-megawatt challenge, he said, was large enough to attract bids from top-tier energy developers and expand innovative technology such as battery-storage systems.
Some Rhode Island renewable-energy statistics were released at the event:
• More than 5,000 green jobs since 2014, a 66 percent increase.
• The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranked Rhode Island No. 3 in the nation for energy-efficiency programs and policies.
• After the launch of a virtual net-metering program in 2011, the program has expanded to include private and public schools, nonprofits, federal government buildings, and hospitals.