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Renewable Energy Siting: Q & A

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  1. Why is it important to site renewable energy projects, like those of solar and wind, in Rhode Island?

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    Short Answer
    Climate change is a danger to all Rhode Islanders and needs to be confronted with urgency. Developing renewable sources of energy will help mitigate climate change, and diversifying Rhode Island’s natural gas-heavy energy sector could improve energy security and foster greater energy independence.

    Long Answer
    I. Climate change is a growing threat to the security, economic well-being, and ecological health of Rhode Island, with effects like rising temperatures, elevated sea levels, and more frequent extreme weather [1]. Climate change is a direct cause of human actions, especially the burning of fossil fuels and consequent emission of greenhouse gases. Transitioning away from the current non-renewable infrastructure is necessary to curb this grave threat. The development of renewable energy sources, including solar and wind, needs to happen now—the risks of climate change will only continue to grow.

    II. Currently, Rhode Island’s energy sector depends highly on natural gas. In 2017, 92% of statewide electricity was generated from natural gas [2]. Diversifying the state’s energy portfolio is critical to maintaining the energy security of the state. Incorporating many renewable sources would diminish Rhode Island’s over-reliance on natural gas.

    III. Natural gas is not a naturally abundant fuel in Rhode Island, and Rhode Island’s energy supply is imported from the Appalachian states, the Gulf states, and Canada [3]. The development of renewable energy power plants would provide Rhode Island with energy independence and create more local economic opportunities in the energy sector.



    [1] http://climatechange.ri.gov/climate-science/index.php#section1
    [2] https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=RI#tabs-4
    [3] http://www.energy.ri.gov/electric-gas/naturalgas/learn-about-natural-gas.php

  2. What steps is Rhode Island taking to mitigate its contribution to climate change?

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    Short Answer
    The crux of climate change mitigation is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly those of the most potent contributor to climate change—carbon dioxide. Rhode Island has unveiled a variety of approaches to achieve this end, including legislative action, gubernatorial directives, interstate programs, and executive guidance.

    Long Answer
    I. The General Assembly passed the Resilient Rhode Island Act (2014) which i) established the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4), ii) set emissions reduction goals, and iii) enlisted consideration from state agencies to address resilience [1].

    II. Governor Raimondo has been outspoken about climate change, i) issuing Executive Orders 17-10 (a comprehensive environmental preparedness strategy), 15-17 (“Lead by Example in Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy”), and 17-06 (“Reaffirming Rhode Island’s Commitment to the Principles of the Paris Climate Agreement”); ii) instructing agencies to improve energy efficiency; iii) fighting for the inclusion of a green economy bond in the state budget; iv) forming the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank dedicated to clean energy financing; and v) announcing a goal to incorporate 1,000 MW of clean energy by 2020 [2].

    III. The EC4 submitted the “Rhode Island Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan” to the Governor and General Assembly. This document included Resilient Rhode Island Act attainment strategies to i) reduce by 10% the total emission levels of 1990 by 2020, ii) reduce by 45% by 2035, and iii) reduce by 80% by 2050 [3].

    IV. Rhode Island collaborates with northeast states on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which organizes a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants [4]. Revenue generated from auction is re-invested into renewables, energy efficiency, and improved affordability. Although detractors of the program expressed concern about the possible stifling of economic growth, the regional GDP has risen 8% between 2005 and 2013 while power plant emissions have declined by 40% [5].

    V. The Rhode Island State Energy Plan, “Energy 2035,” was adopted by the State Planning Council and highlights thematic goals of security, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability, as well as reviewing policies and strategies to meet these thematic goals [6].



    [1] http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/TITLE42/42-6.2/INDEX.HTM
    [2] http://climatechange.ri.gov/state-actions/governor-climate-priorities.php
    [3] http://climatechange.ri.gov/state-actions/reducing-emissions.php
    [4] http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/air/rggi.php
    [5] https://cleantechnica.com/2015/04/22/rggi-carbon-market-invests-1-billion-clean-energy/
    [6] http://www.planning.ri.gov/documents/LU/energy/energy15.pdf

  3. How is Rhode Island transforming its energy sector?

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    Short Answer
    Rhode Island has enthusiastically displayed numerous goals and programs to facilitate the development of renewable energy infrastructure. Despite tangible progress, these accomplishments pale when viewed next to the remaining work. Across electricity, heating, and transportation sectors, Rhode Island’s current energy portfolio is dominated by fossil fuels. The State Energy Plan, incentivizing programs, and energy efficiency renovations may begin to catalyze the broad-scale change that Rhode Island needs.

    Long Answer
    I. Governor Raimondo set forth an objective to procure 1,000 MW of renewable energy by 2020. Currently, 294 MW of renewable energy have been achieved spanning small hydroelectric power (11 MW), offshore wind (30 MW), landfill gas/anaerobic digestion (35 MW), solar (95 MW), and onshore wind (123 MW) [1].

    II. Executive Order 15-17, signed by Governor Raimondo, encourages state agencies to “Lead by Example” in reducing consumption and emissions. Benchmarks of this order include providing 100% of state government electricity from renewables by 2025 and rolling out more emission-free vehicles [2].

    III. The Power Sector Transformation Initiative focuses on optimizing electric grid distribution [3].

    IV. The state has legislated a suite of laws to promote clean energy including i) the Renewable Energy Standard (2004), requiring retail electricity providers to deliver 16% renewable electricity by 2019 and 38.5% renewable electricity by 2035 [4]; ii) Net Metering (2011), which allowed for the purchase of self-generated renewable electricity by utilities and included virtual net metering, which allowed remote generation of up to 10 MW by municipalities, non-profits, universities, hospitals, and the state and federal governments [5]; and iii) the Renewable Energy Growth Program (2014), which functions similarly to Net Metering but pays a fixed, long-term rate (tariff) for self-generated electricity rather than per kwh and supports a cap of 160 MW between 2015 and 2019 [6].

    V. The State Energy Plan, “Energy 2035” is the guiding document that will carry Rhode Island to sustainable energy system founded on renewables, including in its pages targets and actionable steps [7].

    VI. Reducing electricity consumption is an important way to decrease emissions. In 2017, Rhode Island’s energy efficiency programs were ranked third in the country [8]. Improved efficiency is being adapted in zero-energy and high-performance buildings [9]. In 2016, Rhode Island had the country’s lowest per capita energy consumption [10].

    VII. The Rhode Island Renewable Energy Fund (RIREF) is a grant-based program that promotes small-scale, commercial-scale, and community renewable projects, and is administered by the quasi-public Commerce RI [11].



    [1] http://www.energy.ri.gov/renewable-energy/governor-clean-energy-goal.php
    [2] http://www.energy.ri.gov/policies-programs/lead-by-example/
    [3] http://www.energy.ri.gov/electric-gas/future-grid/
    [4] http://www.energy.ri.gov/policies-programs/ri-energy-laws/renewable-energy-standard-2004.php
    [5] http://www.energy.ri.gov/policies-programs/ri-energy-laws/net-metering-2011.php
    [6] http://www.energy.ri.gov/policies-programs/ri-energy-laws/renewable-energy-growth-program-2014.php
    [7] http://www.energy.ri.gov/policies-programs/ri-energy-laws/state-energy-plan.php
    [8] http://www.energy.ri.gov/high-performance-buildings/index.php
    [9] https://commerceri.com/financing/renewable-energy-fund/
    [10] https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=RI
    [11] https://commerceri.com/financing/renewable-energy-fund/

  4. How are renewable technologies being utilized in Rhode Island today?

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    Short Answer
    While Rhode Island has seen encouraging signs from wind, solar, hydroelectric, and biomass resources, renewables account for a mere 7% of statewide net electricity generation. Since electricity accounts for only one third of energy consumption—the other two thirds belonging to thermal and transportation—, renewables are just beginning to crack the statewide energy budget.

    Long Answer
    I. About 7% of Rhode Island’s net electricity was generated from renewable sources in 2017 [1].

    II. Wind [2]:
        A. 21 onshore wind projects contributed 23 MW of capacity in 2016.
        B. The Block Island Wind Farm, a 30 MW offshore wind project, was the first of its kind in the United States.
        C. Deepwater Wind, the company responsible for the Block Island Wind Farm, is slated to build a 400 MW offshore wind project in federal waters.
        D. The RIWINDS study (2007) estimated that 95 per cent of Rhode Island’s wind energy reserves are located offshore, a potential boon to Rhode Island’s renewable energy cause.
        E. The capacity factor for wind turbines—the proportion of peak generation delivered by a power plant— is around 20%, with a potential of nearly 50% for offshore turbines, which experience more vigorous winds.
        F. In-state wind power provides 0.5% of Rhode Island’s electrical consumption needs.
        G. A University of Rhode Island study (2013) demonstrated no statistically significant reduction in property values of homes located near wind turbines.

    III. Solar [3]:
        A. 2,105 installations accounted for 37 MW of solar capacity in 2016.
        B. Current in-state solar installations provide 0.5% of Rhode Island’s electrical consumption needs.
        C.The capacity factor hovers around 13% and measures the proportion of peak electricity generation provided by a solar system.
        D.This form of electricity is a potential wellspring, as the State Energy Plan proposes the development of 1800 MW of solar power by 2035.

    IV. Hydroelectric [4]:
        A. There is limited potential (10-20 MW) for hydroelectric power in Rhode Island, since there are few viable rivers in the state.
        B. In 2016, 7 hydroelectric facilities accounted for 6.7 MW capacity.
        C. This form of energy meets 0.3% of Rhode Island’s electrical consumption needs.

    V. Biomass [1]:
        A. Currently, the largest renewable energy resource in the state.
        B. Landfill gas (methane) is a commonly used biomass fuel.

    VI. Some of the clean energy Rhode Islanders consume is drawn from out of state, as Rhode Island coordinates with ISO-NE—a not-for-profit that manages the electrical grid across six New England States [5].



    [1] https://www.eia.gov/state/analysis.php?sid=RI
    [2] http://www.energy.ri.gov/renewable-energy/wind/
    [3] http://www.energy.ri.gov/renewable-energy/solar/
    [4] http://www.energy.ri.gov/renewable-energy/hydro/
    [5] https://www.iso-ne.com/

  5. A recent article in the Providence Journal [1] warned of ‘solar sprawl’—the uninhibited spread of solar projects to undesirable locations. Is this a concern? Can there be a moratorium on solar projects while officials reorganize around this issue?

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    Short Answer
    While a moratorium may seem like a safety valve for a tense moment, such an action would amount to little more than the appeasement of the fossil fuel economy. The effects of climate change are global, but its tremors are felt in Rhode Island, especially in the Ocean State’s sensitive coastal regions. Waiting is no longer affordable; renewable energy needs to be an immediate priority. While individual cities and towns, like Glocester, can still institute a moratorium to meet municipality-specific challenges, a statewide moratorium would likely shepherd renewable business out of state, forcing Rhode Island to pay more for imports and rely more heavily on the actions of neighboring states.

    Long Answer
    I. Climate change will not obey a moratorium. Human-caused global warming is an extant danger—now is a time for boldness, not complacency.

    II. A moratorium refuses to solve the problem. The future demands vast renewable infrastructure. A moratorium only delays this challenge.

    III. Not all cities and towns desire a moratorium. Many feel capable of handling renewable siting. A statewide moratorium would hurt those municipalities that are ready to integrate solar. Cities and towns may enact their own moratoriums as they see fit, but a statewide act would be a hindrance to those ready to see projects get underway.

    IV. A model ordinance, intending to provide guidance to cities and towns and reel in undesirable solar projects, will be ready in October. Once available, this document, in addition to assistance from the Office of Energy Resources, will hopefully assuage the fears of unfettered development and irreparable loss of forest.

    V. A moratorium would put good solutions on hold, like climate change mitigation that enhances conservation.

    VI. There currently exist a number of hurdles that a developer must overcome before having a project approved, including studies of impact, effects on on habitat, ensuring an interconnection point to the grid, and securing a customer for their system. Sensitivities toward location are just one component.



    [1] http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20180316/worry-over-solar-sprawl-spreads-across-rhode-island

  6. Does the recent announcement of a new 400 MW offshore wind farm lessen Rhode Island’s need for large-scale solar projects?

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    Short Answer
    Rhode Island’s construction of the nation’s first offshore wind farm was a pioneering endeavor for the integration of renewable energy. However, any single technology will not transform the entirety of the energy sector. The only way renewables can be responsibly deployed is by cohering multiple forms of energy into the grid. Although the developments with offshore wind energy are an auspicious result, the use of other technologies, including solar, needs to advance concurrently.

    Long Answer
    I. Rhode Island pioneered the first operational offshore wind farm in the United States, a project with 30 MW nameplate capacity. Furthermore, Deepwater Wind, the company that developed the 30 MW demonstration project, is slated to engineer a 400 MW wind farm [1].

    II. Despite advances with offshore wind, Rhode Island targets to produce 1000 MW of renewable energy by 2020. In order to do this sustainably, a diversity of technologies must be incorporated. Over-reliance on one form could lead to instability for consumers. Investment in solar and other renewable sources is an important step in diversifying energy sources and striving towards renewable energy goals.

    III. Offshore wind, though rightly heralded as a success story, is not without consequence. There is widespread concern among squid fishermen that catch will be disrupted by the 400 MW Deepwater project [2]. Massachusetts’ adjacent Vineyard Wind project has likewise spawned dissent among Rhode Island fishermen, who fear disruption of their fishing grounds [3]. Invariably, any single renewable technology will have drawbacks, but using an assortment of technologies can minimize their cumulative faults.



    [1] http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20180523/ri-selects-deepwater-wind-to-build-400-megawatt-offshore-wind-farm
    [2] https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20180701/ri-squid-fishermen-fear-wind-power&sa=D&ust=1530813473632000&usg=AFQjCNHcYlmOCVl1n0tmoLMyJKIIeWZCVQ
    [3] http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20180729/vineyard-wind-ri-fishermen-still-at-odds-over-turbines

     

  7. Rhode Island is the smallest state and holds invaluable open spaces. Can renewables be developed in adjacent states with greater areas for development?

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    Short Answer
    Pushing the burden of renewable energy siting on other states is an action that fails to take responsibility for sustainable development. For an issue as pervasive and deleterious as climate change, sacrifice is necessary by all parties. That said, steps must be taken with utmost care to maximize conservation and minimize habitat fragmentation.

    Long Answer
    I. Some of the renewable electricity consumed in Rhode Island is drawn from other states under the ISO-NE regime.

    II. Relying on out-of-state development exports the issues surrounding conservation, reduces Rhode Island’s energy independence and employment opportunities, and adds costs for Rhode Island ratepayers.

    III. Transmission infrastructure that carries electricity between states is costly. Rhode Island would benefit from sourcing its electricity locally.

  8. Are there efforts to incentivize solar development on disturbed sites over forested tracts?

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    Short Answer
    In recognition of forest preservation, a handful of policies are in place to incentivize the placement of solar arrays on disturbed areas, including a grant program from the Brownfields Remediation and Economic Development Fund, selective pricing from the Renewable Energy Growth Program, and a proposed allocation that prioritizes rooftop and carport projects. The brunt of authority resides with municipalities, which decide local zoning laws and approve land cover in their regions.

    Long Answer
    I. Organizations participating in virtual net metering currently receive no special incentives to develop on disturbed areas ahead of forested parcels.

    II. The current policy framework consists of grants from the Brownfields Remediation and Economic Development Fund [1], supported by the Department of Environmental Management.

    III. The bulk of land cover authority is delegated to local governments, which maintain responsibility for zoning. Municipalities can utilize ordinances to provide consideration for the individuality of their locations—a level of detail that a statewide directive could not deliver.

    IV. One concern is that certain municipalities might be underprepared to supply a viable ordinance, considering the novelty of such widespread and large-scale solar development. Consequently, local governments may be steamrolled by overzealous solar developers. In response to this worry, the Office of Energy Resources (OER), alongside a stakeholder coalition that brings together all parties, is working to roll out a non-obligatory model ordinance and guidance packet for cities and towns. Moreover, the OER intends to make its resources available to any municipality that wishes for further assistance. The model ordinance and guidance document are scheduled for release in October [2].



    [1] http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/benviron/waste/pdf/bbrfp18.pdf
    [2] http://www.energy.ri.gov/documents/renewable/Updated%20OER%20and%20Division%20of%20Statewide%20Planning%20-%20Solar%20Poli

  9. Forests are known carbon sinks. Will removing trees to expand solar sites be adverse to the effort of climate change mitigation?

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    Short Answer
    Although deforestation through clear cutting and burning contributes 20% of net global greenhouse gas emissions—and so is directly antithetical to climate change mitigation—tree removal is necessary to provide adequate room for renewable projects. Consequently, a balance must be reached between the development of renewable energy and conservation of forest habitat.

    Long Answer
    I. Deforestation through clear cutting and burning contributes approximately 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions [1]. Clearing forests is a major contributor to climate change and provides essential habitat for conservation. Any removal of trees should not be taken lightly.

    II. Solar arrays require swaths of unshaded land to generate electricity. Providing these spaces may be accomplished through i) the utilization of brownfields, ii) repurposing landfills and disturbed sites, or iii) clearing low-priority forested patches. Audubon believes that solar projects should be sited on already disturbed sites.

    III. A study from the University of Central Florida [2] (2013) quantified carbon sequestration from a patch of pine flatwoods and from a solar site of equal area. The results demonstrated that carbon dioxide emissions were far less for the solar array than the forested strip.

    IV. Although issues surrounding conservation and carbon capture from forests are incredibly important and should never be tabled, the threat of climate change is ever-growing and needs bold solutions. Placement of solar arrays on rooftops, carports, brownfields, and disturbed sites should be the priority.



    [1] https://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/10537_Q_and_A_Deforestation_%20Forest_Carbon_and_Climate_Protection.pdf
    [2] https://www.green.ucf.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Solar-or-Forest-Report.pdf

     

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