Rhode Island is at a crossroads. Every day, we choose whether to build and control our own energy future or outsource it to others.
Our policies call us to build our own supply for cost-effectiveness, security and emissions reduction. But utility and state administrators have blocked the mechanics needed to deliver on that promise. We are taking the politically expedient path of refusing to site and look at our own energy supply in our backyards. As a result, we continue to import more costly, less reliable and dirtier utility-scale solutions by default.
Our General Assembly now requires us to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2033. The question is, where will that clean energy come from? A Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources study on this question says that in the best case, no more than half of our projected demand for electricity can come from offshore wind. Our Act on Climate now requires us to reach net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050. The Office of Energy Resources study did not project the demand produced by electrification of our heating and cooling systems or our vehicles that would be needed to achieve net-zero. In other words, we know we will need much more clean electricity from clean energy projects sited on land, but we don’t know how much more. How much will be produced in Rhode Island?
The federal government now pledges great support for those who plan for and invest in our future’s energy and climate solutions. Rhode Island can realize the benefit of that federal funding or leave it to others; it is up to us. It’s time for our leadership and administration to deliberately set our new course. We need leadership to commit to make it easier for consumers to use energy more efficiently, reducing expensive demand peaks by rewarding off-peak use, and scaling implementation of energy efficiency. We need leadership to resolve how much of our remaining (and significant) demand for electricity should be supplied from projects built here in Rhode Island, creating jobs and benefitting our local economy.
Right now we have a choice. We can either default to importing our energy solutions at great and avoidable cost, or we can ask our decision makers — our legislators, regulators, planning boards, zoning boards, siting boards — to act with intention to secure our energy future and benefit our local economy.
Laura Bartsch is a senior vice president of Advanced Energy Economy and chair of the Rhode Island Distributed Generation Board. Joe Walsh is business manager/financial secretary for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 99 Providence. Helen Anthony is a lawyer practicing with Handy Law, LLC, and a member of the Providence City Council.