In front of state and local officials, and beside Quonset Development Corp.’s large ground mount solar system, Gov. Gina Raimondo Wednesday signed into law five bills meant to support clean energy growth in Rhode Island.
The new legislation represents another step toward the governor’s “aggressive” goal of producing 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy by the end of 2020, said Frank Epps of Energy Development Partners. The governor announced the energy goal at the business park in March.
Raimondo said Rhode Island – with more than 400 miles of coastline – is “uniquely vulnerable” to the challenges presented by climate change, requiring the state to be “more proactive” in staying ahead of changes in the environment. The legislation signed Wednesday morning will “make it easier” for Rhode Islanders to “go green,” she said.
“Whether you’re a farmer or a municipality, or a small business or an individual, these bills streamline permitting, make regulations easier, make it less expensive and cumbersome … to go green,” she said. “It’s more than just a symbol that we care about this, this is real. This will guarantee that we are walking a walk to make Rhode Island a greener place.”
Raimondo also said the state, through its efforts and according to the most recent Clean Energy Industry Report, helped create more than 15,000 clean energy jobs, which exceeds the pace of her 20,000-job goal by 2020.
The governor was accompanied by Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit and State Energy Commissioner Carol Grant during Wednesday’s 20-minute ceremony.
Among the bills Raimondo signed were House Bill 6095Aaa, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), and its companion, Senate Bill 570A, sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham). Those bills allow farmers to install a renewable energy system on no more than 20 percent of their total farmland acreage, and the farmlands will not be subject to a land use change tax if they do so.
Sosnowski, who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture, said her chamber “long recognized” renewable energy is also about helping the local economy, not just bettering the environment.
“Investing in renewables puts people to work … and helps stabilize energy prices while increasing the diversity of energy generation, which is good for businesses and homeowners,” she said, also noting the green economy represents a “major potential growth sector” in Rhode Island, and the state is “perfectly positioned” to capitalize on this emerging market.
Sosnowski also said the state’s energy plan calls for diversification of its energy supply because the “current overreliance” on natural gas is “insecure, uneconomical and inconsistent” with environmental policy. The senator also said the limitations of the existing natural gas pipeline is one reason National Grid is seeking a significant electric rate increase.
Sosnowski said the bill will additionally help farmers dealing with economic struggles to pursue an additional means of income.
“That benefits everybody,” she said. “It encourages renewable energy and helps preserve our farmland.”
Other bills Raimondo signed into law Wednesday were:
- House Bill 5724A and Senate Bill 112A, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown) and Sen. William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket), respectively, which provide a 10-year extension of the renewable energy growth program – adding 40 nameplate megawatts above the annual target from the preceding program year from 2020 until 2029.
- House Bill 5575 and Senate Bill 562, sponsored by Rep. Lauren Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport) and Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), respectively, which establish a streamlined statewide solar permitting application process.
- House Bill 5483B and Senate Bill 637A, sponsored by Rep. Kenneth A. Marshall (D-Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren) and Sen. Lou DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton), respectively, which streamline the process of connecting renewable energy installations to the grid.
- House Bill 5618Aaa, sponsored by Rep. J. Aaron Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence), which expands the virtual net metering for renewable project development. Educational institutions, hospitals and nonprofits would also be eligible to have a net metering system.