Senate OKs DiMario’s Renewable Ready bill

 

STATE HOUSE — The Senate today passed an updated plan to help set the stage for the future of solar development in Rhode Island.

The bill (2024-S 2293) sponsored by Senate Environment and Agriculture Chairwoman Alana M. DiMario would create 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.

The bill now heads to the House, where Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol) has introduced companion legislation (2024-H 7616).

“This bill has been improved from last year by incorporating suggestions from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank and the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources to more efficiently make use of federal funds for solar development. What hasn’t changed is the urgency to create our plan for the next decade of solar development in Rhode Island,” said Senator DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham). “In order to fulfil the promise of the Act on Climate and our commitment to go all renewable by 2033, we need to use all available federal resources to facilitate development of renewable energy projects on underused sites. This bill is a huge step forward in ensuring our energy is affordable, clean and reliable.”

The legislation would establish a new state program funded by federal funds within the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank called Renewable Ready that would help offset the costs to prepare certain sites for renewable energy development, focusing first on sites that are owned by states and municipalities. 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 for solar development over forested sites or greenspaces. The Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank would establish the fund with available federal 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.

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, while also establishing a plan and a request for proposals for offshore wind developments.

Now, advocates say, the state must move swiftly to plan solar development.

“Passage of the Renewable Ready Program and Fund encourages the environmentally sound expansion of our solar industry by incentivizing development on previously disturbed sites while investing in local clean energy jobs,” said Erica Hammond, field director at Climate Jobs RI. “We thank Senate President Ruggerio, Chairwoman DiMario and the Rhode Island Senate for their leadership and support on this important initiative that will help us meet our Act on Climate goals.”

Said Chairwoman DiMario, “In our next ten years of solar development, we need to focus on responsible land use, high labor standards and minimizing the impact on ratepayers so we can all benefit from energy generation that is both cleaner and less expensive than fossil fuels. Renewable Ready means 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 time to take this next step towards a modern, sustainable energy system.”

 

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