PROVIDENCE — Governor Dan McKee on Wednesday outlined proposals to use federal funding to build a new port, improve an old one and improve Rhode Island’s energy efficiency programs as it braces for a climate-altered future.
The federal money includes $35 million to build a marine terminal in East Providence for wind projects, $60 million to improve the Port of Davisville for cars and wind turbines, and $37 million to help people buy energy efficient heat pumps.
McKee is also proposing $6 million annually in funding for the state’s Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council to fulfill the mandates in last year’s Act on Climate law. He’s also creating an environmental justice committee within that council.
“It’s not going to solve our climate problems, and it’s not going to get us to full compliance with Act on Climate, but it’s a huge step in the right direction,” Terry Gray, the acting director of the Department of Environmental Management and the climate change council’s chairperson, said Wednesday. “As we look through the lessons learned from these investments, it’s going to guide us for how we’re going to plan and meet those mandates as we move forward.”
The investments would be mostly approved through the state budget. McKee is set to unveil his proposal Thursday. McKee’s headline number for what he described as his climate change proposals that would also create good paying jobs: $150 million. But none of the money, state officials said, would actually come from state general revenues. Instead, the biggest-ticket items will be funded through federal money.
The $60 million for the Port of Davisville — which comes just a year after a separate $60 million bond approved by voters — and the $35 million for the South Quay marine terminal in East Providence would be funded by the American Rescue Plan Act’s state fiscal recovery funds. That’s the formal way of describing the $1.13 billion in coronavirus relief funds that the state can use more or less as it pleases.
The Port of Davisville funding would, the state said, help the area accommodate the finished automobile importing and processing business that’s already there, and expand it for offshore wind developers. It includes dredging and pier work.
Another $23 million will flow to Rhode Island for electric vehicle charging stations as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law. That’s going to come one way or the other.
The $150 million number does not, however, include about $24 million in more borrowing that McKee will propose putting on the ballot in November for a new “green infrastructure” bond. That would fund a $16 million program administered through the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank to provide matching grants for coastal, river, stream floodplain and infrastructure resiliency. It would also provide $5 million for a small business energy loan program and $3 million for DEM forest conservation programs.
The closest the stat comes to directly funding these programs is $6 million for the EC4, as the climate change council is known. It would be the first time the state directly funded the council. That is not new state money, though. Instead, it would redirect funding that the state currently gives National Grid for its work on energy efficiency programs. It would not, though, cut those actual energy efficiency programs themselves.
“Rather than sending those dollars outside of Rhode Island, to National Grid, the governor is saying, ‘Hey, let’s keep that money here, and let’s keep those programs going,’” said Nicholas Ucci, the state energy commissioner.
Separately, on Wednesday the state rolled out a list of 105 road, bridge and pedestrian projects that it said it would be able to accelerate because of the bipartisan infrastructure law that Congress passed last year. A full list is available online.
Peter Alviti, the director of the state Department of Transportation, said the federal law would accelerate the projects by an average of four years. Some would get done 10 years sooner because of the law, Alviti said.