PROVIDENCE — The Senate recently took another step toward fulfilling a growing list of climate-action goals by passing a bill requiring all of Rhode Island’s electricity to originate from renewable energy sources by 2030.
The Senate passed the Renewable Energy Standard Act (S629 Substitute A) by a vote of 30-5 during a session of the full chamber June 1.
Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, explained the amended version of the legislation codified an executive order by former Gov. Gina Raimondo. The bill sets the 100 percent requirement for energy providers selling electricity to Rhode Island consumers.
The bill also allows communities currently aggregating renewable energy to count the electricity use toward the state’s total, she said.
A statement released by the General Assembly following the vote explained the current schedule of increasing renewable-source electricity annually by 1.5 percent through 2035 would increase under the measure by another 4 percent in 2022 and 9.5 percent each year from 2023 through 2029. A final 10.5 percent increase in 2030 would round off the total to the 100 percent mark.
The bill requires the state to maintain the 100 percent renewable-sourcing level after 2030.
“It is imperative that, as a state, nation and global community, we transition to renewable energy now, not later,” Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, D-North Providence, said in the statement.
Sen. Leonidas Raptakis of Coventry was the only Democrat to vote against the bill, along with Republican Sens. Dennis Algiere of Westerly, Jessica de la Cruz of North Smithfield, Elaine Morgan of Hopkinton and Gordon Rogers of Foster.
De la Cruz, the Senate minority whip, said she believed the target was “not attainable by 2030.”
“Although a lofty goal and something we should try to achieve, 2030 just, if I’m here in this chamber still, I think we’ll be seeing a bill to extend the timeframe,” she said.
Recent progress shows the objective is within reach, Sosnowski replied.
“If you look at the strides the state of Rhode Island has made in the past 10 years with renewable energy and with the offshore wind projects coming forward, more solar development pending as we speak, I do think it’s an attainable goal,” Sosnowski said.
Ruggerio, who sponsored the bill, met with activists during a small rally organized by Climate Action Rhode Island outside Sapinsley Hall at Rhode Island College, where Senate sessions have been held during the COVID-19 closure of the Statehouse.
Ruggerio thanked the climate campaigners for their efforts to sway legislators to pass the electricity initiative.
“This is only the beginning. We’re going to be moving forward the next couple of years. This is one of the Senate priorities and it’s certainly a priority for the people of this state,” Ruggerio said.
Ruggerio said he thinks the House is “pretty receptive” to the renewable electricity measure and encouraged activists to turn their efforts toward the Statehouse, where the lower chamber has renewed its meetings.
A House version of the bill (H5762) remains in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Justin Boyan, president of Climate Action Rhode Island, called the electricity bill “the first and most important step we can do to actually start changing the way we generate energy in Rhode Island and consume energy.”
“We’ll be the first state to be 100 percent clean energy by 2030,” Boyan said. “It’s going to make our air cleaner. It’s actually going to make our power cheaper because it’s going to incentivize new offshore wind, and the price of wind and solar is plummeting right now. So the quicker we can get off of fossil fuels, the better it’s going to be for our economy, for our health and, most importantly, for the future of the biosphere.”
Kai Salem, Green Energy Consumers Alliance policy coordinator, called the legislation an “ambitious bill” to establish Rhode Island as the nation’s first state to set a fully renewable standard for electricity.
“It’s one of the best steps we can take to speed that transition to a low-carbon future and act on the climate crisis,” Salem said.
Diane Hill of North Kingstown, a longtime activist who moved to Rhode Island in 2018, said she attended the rally with more than 20 other people because she considers climate a “time-sensitive” issue.
“If we don’t get this right in the next nine years, or in the next decade, it’s going to be irreversible,” Hill said. “I think some people think they’re going to come up with some kind of technology that’s going to fix this. I personally think that’s human arrogance. I don’t think we humans, no matter how smart we are, are going to outwit nature.”