PROVIDENCE – A green-power task force created by the state legislature plans to work this session to extend the life of the Rhode Island Renewable Energy Fund and expand the number and type of proposals it can support.
The fund, which is managed by the state Economic Development Corporation, awards grants and low-interest loans to wind- and solar-energy projects in Rhode Island. It was created by the General Assembly in 2003 and is set to expire at the end of 2012.
On Thursday, members of the Small Business Renewable Energy Task Force said that keeping the fund in place is crucial to the continuing growth of the clean-power industry in the state.
The fund has given crucial support to such projects as the wind turbine at Portsmouth Abbey – which was the first in the state – and the photovoltaic array at United Natural Foods in Providence. In 2009, the fund handed out approximately $3 million to 31 applicants, supporting more than $10 million in total potential development, according to the EDC.
Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, Middletown, chairwoman of the task force, listed the extension of the fund as a priority during this session of the legislature. She and other members said they would also consider expanding the fund’s reach to support biodiesel and geothermal projects.
The task force, which has been meeting since September, is considering a wide range of recommendations that also include introducing new tax credits, creating a state Clean Energy Council, and possibly tweaking the state’s Renewable Energy Standard. The standard requires electric utilities to gradually increase the amount of renewable energy they purchase, from 3 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2019.
Unlike in other states, such as Massachusetts, there is no requirement under the standard that the energy is bought from local projects.
Julian Dash, executive director of the Renewable Energy Fund, said requiring a portion to be bought from in-state sources could boost development in Rhode Island.
Said John Cronin, director of the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center at Johnson & Wales University, “We need to form a foundation for the renewable energy industry in our state.”
The task force is scheduled to issue a report by March 1, but Ruggiero said she would request an extension until the end of that month.
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