Would set stage for future of solar development
STATE HOUSE – The Senate today passed an innovative plan to help set the stage for the future of solar development in Rhode Island. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Alana DiMario, creates the Rhode Island Renewable Ready program to ensure renewable energy projects, such as solar farms, are built without increasing electric rates or clearing Rhode Island’s forests.
“In 2021, we passed the Act on Climate. In 2022, we passed the renewable energy standard and our offshore wind development plan. This year, we need to create our plan for the next ten years of solar development in Rhode Island,” said Senator DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham). “This bill is a huge step forward in ensuring our energy is affordable, clean and reliable.”
The legislation (2023-S 0504) would establish a new state program called Renewable Ready that would help offset the costs to 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.
Under the Renewable Ready program, the Office of Energy Resources, along with the Department of Environmental Management, would identify sites such as brownfields or large rooftops that are preferred for solar development over forested sites or greenspaces. The Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank would establish a fund with available federal or other allocated dollars to award to successful applicants to offset the costs of connecting solar developments sited on these targeted areas to the electric grid. The Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank operates a revolving fund and works with public and private capital providers.
The proposal 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.”
In 2021, the state passed the Act on Climate, committing the state to carbon neutrality by 2050. 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. Also in 2022, the state established a plan and sent out a request for proposals for offshore wind.
Now, advocates say, the state must better plan solar development.
“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.”
The legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 38 to 0. It now heads to the House.
“The path forward for the next ten years of solar development needs to focus on responsible land use, high labor standards and minimizing ratepayer impact so we can all benefit from energy generation that is both cleaner and less expensive than fossil fuels,” said Chairwoman DiMario. “Renewable Ready will mean protecting our forests, creating jobs and producing more clean energy, all while using federal or other available funds so ratepayers won't see their bills go up. It’s the next step in moving our energy system forward.”