Energy LawAn Update on R.I. Energy Law and Policy

July 15, 20200

The Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (“OER”) is currently working on implementation of Governor Raimondo’s January 2020 Executive Order. The goal of the Executive Order is to propel the state’s energy law and policy toward meeting 100% of its electricity demand with renewable energy resources by 2030. Today, we’ll discuss renewable energy law and policy, as well as cover the work OER has done and work to be completed.

Background on the Shift to Renewable Energy

Rhode Island is attempting to lead in using energy law and policy to shift electricity generation to renewable energy sources. The Renewable Energy Standard, previously enacted by the General Assembly, already requires a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy resources for electricity production. The definition of “renewable energy resources” includes wind, solar, small hydro, and biomass, among other things, in the energy law and policy to date.

In 2017, Governor Raimondo set a goal to reach 1,000 MW of clean energy by the end of 2020; at the end of the first quarter of 2020, R.I. had approximately 920MW of renewable energy generation capacity, suggesting the state will meet its first goal. RI powered 13% of its electricity demand with renewable energy in 2019, and the state expects to climb to about 50% by 2024 with the already-contracted projects (including Revolution Wind) and existing programs. Electricity emits 26% of RI’s greenhouse gas emissions. Progressively more ambitious energy law and policy has brought RI from using a small amount of renewable energy to a quite larger amount in a small number of years.

OER’s Work on Meeting the 2020 Executive Order

To date, OER has been trying to engage stakeholders, identify the additional renewable energy resources needed to meet the goal, clearly define what the goal means (100% of what, exactly) for energy law and policy in R.I., and identify technologies needed in meeting the goal. The slides from the first online workshop talking about these tasks are available on OER’s website. OER has developed a number of decarbonization, economic, and policy implementation principles. It seems they are particularly aware of stakeholder concerns regarding environmental equity considerations and the cost of energy for ratepayers, and are hoping to balance everything as best they can.

In defining the goal of the Executive Order itself, OER interprets the “100%” in terms of energy production, similar to the Renewable Energy Standard. It will account for behind-the-meter generation that offsets load, but it does not require 100% of generation capacity come from renewable power plants. The 2030 goal will not include nuclear options. Notably, commenters and OER speakers discussed the balancing between solar energy, clear-cutting land for these projects, and statewide standardization for siting. OER is currently conducting a “solar opportunities” siting report, which will be statewide and cover things like utilizing gray space (using roofs, buildings, etc.) instead of green/open space. They expect the findings by August.

Most importantly for the next steps, OER is interested in feedback on implementation challenges. They are hoping to define the technologies available for use and to come up with strategy alternatives. It will certainly be interesting to see their findings on which technologies will be appropriate and in what ratios. Offshore wind projects can cover a large percentage of electric demand, and so they will likely play a role in the direction the state moves in. It will also be interesting to see OER’s results for the solar siting report, and how much solar power contributes to the 100% by 2030 goal.

You can get in touch with us to discuss the potential impacts of the 2020 Executive Order, or to seek assistance on permitting for projects which would contribute to the renewable energy portfolio in R.I.  Call us at 401.477.0023 or email us to consult with one of our public utility and energy law attorneys today.

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