PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island is on its way to requiring that 100 percent of electricity sold in the state comes from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2033 — sooner than any other state in the country.
The state House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 56 to 13 for a bill that would ramp up the renewable energy requirement from the current level of 19 percent to 100 percent by 2033.
The Senate passed identical legislation on May 31. So once the House and Senate pass the other chamber’s bills, the legislation will go to Governor Daniel J. McKee’s desk for his signature.
During a State House news conference Tuesday, environmental advocates and labor leaders joined in calling for final approval of the legislation, emphasizing that it would put Rhode Island in a leadership position.
Kai Salem, policy coordinator for the Green Energy Consumers Alliance, noted that last year the General Assembly enacted the Act on Climate, which makes the state’s goals for reducing greenhouse gases mandatory and enforceable. But she said, “Goals are not going to get us to a true clean energy transition.”
Action is needed, and the 100 percent renewable energy standard “will do something,” she said. “This is climate action. And not only is it climate action, it’s nation leading, it’s even world leading. Here in Rhode Island, we can say we are going to be the first state with 100 percent renewable electricity.”
President Joe Biden has called for achieving 100 percent clean electricity by 2035 and eliminating the nation’s carbon emissions by 2050. And other states have called for achieving the 100 percent renewable energy standard by 2040, Salem said.
Rhode Island also needs to pass legislation requiring the procurement of 600 megawatts newly developed offshore wind capacity, she said.
Patrick Crowley, secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, said the time to act has come.
“It is a time to do big things, and to paraphrase President Biden, this is a big deal,” Crowley said. “It is a very big deal to see that Rhode Island is going to be first in the nation to have a 100 percent renewable energy standard — years before the federal government, years before other states.”
Labor and environmental groups have joined together in the Climate Jobs Rhode Island coalition, which is advocating for a “just transition to a pro-worker and pro-climate green economy” in Rhode Island.
And Crowley said the coalition is already making progress. “If we continue down this path, we will show the labor and environmental communities across the country that this is how it’s done,” he said. “If you want to get it done, you do it the Rhode Island way.”
Justin Boyan, of Climate Action Rhode Island, said people are anxious as the climate crisis grows worse. “Open the newspaper,” he said. “New Mexico is on fire. You’ve got 110 degrees in California, 100 degrees in Paris. It’s getting hot out there. We know the climate crisis is just starting.”
So government needs to act at all levels, Boyan said. “The federal government is paralyzed,” he said. “At least in Rhode Island we are starting to see signs of the kinds of actions that will be necessary by every government around the world to bring this crisis under control.”
Representative Deborah L. Ruggiero, a Jamestown Democrat running for lieutenant governor, introduced the House version of the bill.
“This bill supports renewable energy growth, and is consistent with the Act on Climate’s goal of reducing carbon emissions by to net-zero by 2050,” Ruggiero said. “In addition to reducing emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels that must be brought to Rhode Island from other places, creating renewable energy supports the green industry, creating thousands of good paying jobs right here in Rhode Island.”
She said Rhode Island has seen a 74 percent increase in “green jobs” since 2014. “And that trend is going to continue as we deepen our commitment to renewables,” she said.
Ruggiero said the legislation does not mean that Rhode Islanders will need to have a wind turbine in their yard or solar panels on their homes by 2033. “This is the industry, the utilities, that have to get to 100 percent renewables in their electric supply,” she said.
Ruggiero concluded her comments, saying, “It’s a wind/wind process.”
Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, introduced the bill in the Senate.
The legislation institutes annual increases the state’s Renewable Energy Standard, which requires utility companies to purchase renewable energy certificates representing a certain percentage of the power they sell annually. Those certificates are traded in a regional marketplace.
In 2022, that Renewable Energy Standard is set at 19 percent of the retail electricity suppliers sell in Rhode Island, with the percentage set to increase by 1.5 percent annually through 2035.
But this legislation increases the targets more aggressively. Under it, the target would increase by an additional 4 percent in 2023; an additional 5 percent in 2024; an additional 6 percent in 2025; an additional 7 percent in 2026 and 2027; an additional 7.5 percent in 2028; an additional 8 percent in 2029, an additional 8.5 percent in 2030, an additional 9 percent in 2031, and an additional 9.5 percent in 2032 to achieve the goal of 100 percent by 2033.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.