By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo pledges to beef up her environmental initiatives if she’s elected to a second term.
During an Aug. 7 press event at the downtown Providence headquarters of Deepwater Wind, Raimondo spoke about growing jobs and manufacturing in the offshore wind industry. But she also promised to “pursue” binding and enforceable reductions in carbon emissions.
Raimondo’s Vision for a Clean Energy Future doesn’t offer specifics on emission targets or how they will be imposed.
ecoRI News wasn’t invited to the press event, but in a story by Rhode Island Public Radio, Raimondo said the state’s use of renewable energy was less than 5 percent when she took office and is on its way to 40 percent by 2020.
Raimondo’s media team was unable to provide a full explanation of the numbers, but achieving 40 percent will likely be wiped out if the nearly 1,000-megawatt fossil-fuel power plant proposed for Burrillville is built by its target date of 2022.
Building the Clear River Energy Center or any other new fossil-fuel power plant, no matter how efficient, simply can’t happen, according to reams of climate research. A recent report published by IOP suggests that in order to avoid a 2-degree Celsius global increase in temperature all existing proposed power plants must not be built.
“Even if all currently planned projects are immediately suspended, up to 20 percent of global fossil-fuel generation capacity would still have to be stranded (that is, prematurely decommissioned, underutilized, or subject to costly retrofitting) if humanity is to meet the climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement,” according to the May report.
In June, Raimondo announced Rhode Island’s participation in the United States Climate Alliance. So far, 16 states and Puerto Rico have agreed to advance the goals of the Paris Agreement, such as reducing carbon pollution and cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
The proposed Clear River Energy Center is expected to emit about 2.8 million tons of carbon dioxide annually when burning natural gas and diesel fuel. That output excludes more potent emissions from extraction, transportation, and storage of natural gas.
The developer, Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, argues that the power plant will displace more-polluting energy from facilities that run on oil and coal. But the Clear River Energy Center could operate for 50 years, well past the time when most climate experts say the energy sector should be free from fossil fuels.
Also, the accounting method used by Invenergy to calculate the emission reductions relies on regional consumption of electricity instead of a model that calculates Rhode Island’s independent production of power. Consumption-based accounting spreads the climate emissions across the six New England states, making it much easier for Rhode Island to achieve emission-reduction goals.
Thus, according to Timmons Roberts, an expert witness in the Burrillville power-plant siting process and professor of environmental studies at Brown University, “Climate change is an emergency. Using consumption-based accounting provides an excuse to avoid responding to the emergency in the ways that we need to respond.”
Roberts said he would like to see Rhode Island focus on reducing emissions from the transportation sector, the second-largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the state. One option, he said, is to revive Rhode Island’s participation in the the 11-state Transportation & Climate Initiative, a collaboration that develops ways to curb emissions across all parts of the transportation sector.
Raimondo’s energy plan, however, seeks a buildout of shipping infrastructure, including 100 acres at the Port of Quonset to expand offshore wind development. This plan coincides with new funding for developing a new marine highway for shipping containers between Rhode Island, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Newark, N.J.
Raimondo’s second-term policy proposal on renewable energy indirectly addresses climate change by increasing infrastructure, manufacturing, and jobs that support the offshore wind energy.
“Rhode Island has a long, proud history of leading in manufacturing expertise and innovation. Just as we once led the country in jewelry, textiles, and other legacy manufacturing, we will once again lead the way in growing and sustaining the manufacturing industry and workforce so necessary to the successful deployment,” according to the governor’s energy plan.