March 4, 2011
Rhode Island

Renewable-energy council proposed for Rhode Island

By Alex Kuffner, Journal Staff Writer, The Providence Journal, 4 March 2011

PROVIDENCE – Legislators are working to form a council of government officials and business leaders that would create a state policy for the development of renewable energy.

At a meeting this week, members of the General Assembly’s Small Business Renewable Energy Task Force proposed the creation of a permanent council that would work on policy and funding options for the installation of wind turbines, solar panels and other clean-power projects. Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, Middletown, the chairwoman of the task force, said legislative leaders support the creation of such a council.

The task force talked at its meeting Wednesday of modeling the group on the state’s Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council, which works on ways to conserve electricity and natural gas. The EERMC’s members, which include representatives of environmental groups, businesses and educational institutions, oversee the state’s energy-efficiency policy, working most notably with National Grid on programs for customers to save power.

The methods are relatively simple: switching from power-thirsty incandescent light bulbs to more-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, installing insulation to trap heat, setting up programmable thermostats. And they are working. A national energy group ranked Rhode Island seventh in the nation for its efficiency efforts in 2010.

The council’s work has been successful because it has been proven that it’s cheaper for National Grid to more efficiently use energy that’s already available than to bring new sources on line. And though that hasn’t forced the overall price of energy down, it has dampened any increases.

“The cost is not going up as much as it otherwise would,” said Kenneth Payne, administrator of the state Office of Energy Resources.

He and other members of the task force said that for renewable energy to take off in Rhode Island, the economics must make sense. If a renewable-energy council were formed, its tasks would include looking for all possible funding sources for projects and working to support a sustainable market for clean power in the state.

Currently, developers are limited in what they can do because the state essentially has only one source of money: the Renewable Energy Fund. And the fund is relatively small, with about $2 million annually in disbursements, according to its director Julian Dash.

Dash has been arguing for an increase in the amount of money given to the fund. Both the Renewable Energy Fund and the state’s energy-efficiency programs receive money from a surcharge paid by National Grid’s customers, but the fund receives a smaller overall share.

“There needs to be capital to do these projects,” said Dash. Unless there’s an increase in funding, he added, “I think we’ll still be faced with the challenge that it’s $2 million.”

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