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RI Senate advances 40% renewable energy standard

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RI Senate advances 40% renewable energy standard

RhodeIsland lawmakers have advanced legislation seeking to require National Grid to gradually increase its purchases of renewableenergy until 40% of electricity consumed in the state comes from renewables.

RhodeIsland state senators on April 5 passed in a 28-6 vote S.B. 2185, which seeks to extend the state's renewable energystandard through 2035. The bill would require National Grid, the state's sole utility,to purchase an additional 1.5% of retail electricity sales from both in-state andout-of-state renewables including hydro, biogas and carbon-emitting wood.

"Extendingthe Renewable Energy Standard lets investors and developers know that there willbe continued demand for renewable energy beyond the currently scheduled end-dateof 2019, fostering job growth in renewable industries," Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski,a Democrat, said in a news release. She said it will also help Rhode Island keepup with the energy policies of neighboring New England states and diversify itsown energy mix.

Lawmakersalso passed, in a 33-1 vote, S.B.2181, which seeks to add an additional 400 MW of solar electricity over10 years to the Renewable Energy Growth program. The program incentivizes solardevelopment by setting prices for the purchase of electricity by National Grid fromsmall-scale solar projects. Likewise, the Democrat-dominated state Senate passedS.B. 2450, which seeks to extend the Renewable Energy Development Fund to financerenewable energy projects an additional 10 years until 2027. The fund has alreadyawarded $9 million in grants, which leveraged $22 million in private investment,to 510 residential solar projects and 69 commercial projects between 2013 and 2015.

"Wesupport the continuation of the renewables program and are committed to meetingthe goals set forth in the legislation," said David Graves, a spokesman withNational Grid. "A very important element is the need for flexibility in meetingeach year's goals. We believe that S.B. 2185, which grants authority to the RhodeIsland Public Utilities Commission to adjust annual goals within the overall targetfigures, is a realistic approach to doing that."

The arbitrarygoal-setting of gradually increasing renewables has Bill McCourt, president andCEO of the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association, concerned that it will lead tohigher energy costs at the expense of industry and manufacturing within the state.

"RhodeIsland has the second-highest utility rates of anywhere in the country and thatincludes all 50 states," said McCourt in an interview. "The only statewith higher electricity costs right now is Hawaii, so this is a great concern tous on the costs and competitiveness [of our industries]."

"Wesupport renewable energy sources as a means of powering the future, however ourconcern is that it must be done with some consideration as to the potential costsof financial ramifications of these decisions," McCourt said. "There shouldbe a fiscal note that is attached to these or a financial impact study that is doneprior to making passage of any legislation."

The Senate-approvedbills now advance to the state House of Representatives. All three bills are a partof the Grow Green Jobs RI legislative package that was introduced by Senate PresidentM. Teresa Paiva Weed. The lone vote cast against all three was by Republican Sen.John Pagliarini.