STATE HOUSE – Sen. Alana DiMario is proposing an innovative plan to ensure renewable energy projects such as solar farms are built without increasing electric rates or clearing Rhode Island’s forests.
“Our energy needs to be affordable, clean and reliable,” said Chairwoman DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham). “Projects like solar farms can create jobs, improve the resiliency of our grid and reduce pollution. By being creative and planning ahead, we can meet these goals while protecting our forests and stabilizing costs for ratepayers.”
The legislation (2023-S 0504) would establish a new state program called Renewable Ready that would prepare certain sites for renewable energy development. Eligible locations would include rooftops of large buildings, properties adjacent to major roads and so-called brownfield sites.
A brownfield is a former industrial area where potential or actual contamination complicates development. Common examples of brownfields include former gas stations, metal plating facilities and dry cleaners. Often, there is federal or settlement money available for the remediation of brownfield sites that the Renewable Ready program could tap into to fund clean-ups. That would ensure the costs to prepare these preferred sites for solar development would not be passed along to ratepayers.
The Renewable Ready program was inspired by the innovative Site Readiness model originally used in the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown to promote economic development. The model has now been used throughout Rhode Island via the RI Ready program. Senator DiMario, who serves as Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture, collaborated with Senator Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) to design a plan that would bring this successful model to solar development.
“This plan is really innovative and exciting,” said Senator Euer. “We can use federal and other available funds to proactively identify and prepare these sites for solar development. That means more clean energy, more jobs and more affordable electricity rates.”
The program, which would be operated by the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, would help prepare these targeted sites for renewable energy development. That could include remediating contaminants, flattening unleveled land like at old gravel pits or connecting the site to the electrical grid. The Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank operates a revolving fund and works with public and private capital providers, ensuring projects have a minimal cost for taxpayers.
“By preparing sites where we want solar, we’ll ensure development where it makes sense,” said Priscilla De La Cruz, Senior Director of Government Affairs at Audubon Society of Rhode Island and President of the Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI). “Right now, it’s often cheaper for a company to clear-cut some forest than it is to remediate a contaminated site or put panels on the roof of a big building. But with the Renewable Ready program, we can flip that script, reducing carbon emissions, protecting our forests and saving ratepayers money all at the same time.”
In 2022, the state passed among the boldest clean energy plans in the country, requiring 100% of the state’s electricity come from local renewable sources by 2033. Advocates point out that the renewable energy projects create well-paying jobs and can help stabilize electric rates by increasing the supply of locally produced energy and reducing dependence on fossil fuels like natural gas. Fossil fuel prices fluctuate widely due to global events such as the war in Ukraine.
The legislation will be heard in the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture Wednesday at 5 p.m.
“Energy prices, land preservation, grid resiliency, job creation and combatting climate change are all big priorities,” Senator DiMario said. “This program will help with all of those goals and make Rhode Island a more resilient and sustainable place for all of us.”