Mass. outpaces RI on renewables


The gov's office released this optimistic statement earlier this week:

Governor’s Renewable Energy Plan Gains Momentum

Funding Approved for SAMP

Governor Donald L. Carcieri today announced that the Rhode Island Renewable Energy Fund Board of Trustees approved funding for the development of a Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) covering Rhode Island’s offshore waters, executed by a joint partnership between the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the University of Rhode Island (URI). URI will provide data to the CRMC, who will execute the regulatory framework of the SAMP.

“The SAMP will expedite the permitting of an offshore wind farm capable of supplying 15% of Rhode Island’s electric energy usage, fulfilling my goal to reduce the State’s dependence on fossil fuels and foreign sources of oil and natural gas,” declared Governor Carcieri.

Yet this story, which tops today's Boston Globe Web site, seems a lot more significant:

Governor Deval Patrick signed a landmark energy bill yesterday that does away with long-standing obstacles to building renewable power projects in Massachusetts and making homes and businesses more energy efficient.

The Green Communities Act was hailed by environmentalists as among the most innovative efforts in the nation to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and to encourage use of clean technologies that don't contribute to global warming.

The law will probably result in utilities' designing customized plans for homeowners and businesses to cut energy costs and providing rebates to pay for measures such as installing insulating windows and more efficient boilers. Homeowners and businesses will be able to rent solar panels from utilities to avoid expensive up-front costs, and the law makes it easier for homeowners who have installed wind turbines or solar panels to sell surplus energy.

Supporters said the new law could save hundreds of millions of dollars through energy efficiency, helping to hold down consumers' electric bills as energy prices are skyrocketing.

Back in RI, it remains a struggle to move forward, as I write in this week's Phoenix.

Back in March, Allco Renewable Energy of New York announced plans to build a solar farm in Johnston Coventry — the first large-scale renewable project in Rhode Island — raising the prospect of much-needed jobs and investment. As described, it would be the largest such venture east of the Mississippi, and the location, a former Superfund site, would generate at least $200,000 annually for the town.

Last Friday, though, Governor Donald L. Carcieri vetoed the related legislation, objecting to a three percent bonus — “unnecessary and unearned,” he calls it — that National Grid would receive for buying renewable energy. In his veto message, the governor also noted that the bill does not require projects funded by Ocean State ratepayers to be located in Rhode Island.

Carcieri also called a guaranteed set-aside for solar energy projects “perhaps the most troubling provision of this legislation . . . The requirement to mandate 5MW [megawatts] of solar energy could cost ratepayers tens of millions of dollars more than other sources of renewable energy, not even accounting for the three percent bonus to the local distribution company. The General Assembly should not impose such an onerous burden on the hundreds of thousands of Rhode Island ratepayers by including this provision in this piece of legislation.

Proponents of the bill — who were taken by surprise by the veto, considering how Andrew Dzykewicz, the governor’s energy adviser, had testified in favor of the measure — see the situation very differently.

Bill Fischer, a spokesman for Allco Renewable Energy, calls subsidies a necessary part of moving forward state-based efforts for renewable energy, and Rhode Island stands to be left behind, he says, in the region. Fischer points to efforts in Connecticut, where that state is offering $70 million in solar rebates over the next two years, and in Massachusetts, when Governor Deval Patrick recently announced the opening of a solar manufacturing plant in Westboro that is expected to create 375 jobs.

“This was well thought-out legislation that would have created renewable energy projects in Rhode Island and, more importantly, the beginnings of a green job sector,” Fischer says. “Developers do not want to go into states that are hostile toward renewable development or states that don’t have sufficient laws on their books embracing development. Carcieri’s veto set Rhode Island back.”

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