Rhode Island Needs to Act Aggressively on Climate Emissions

Date: November 19, 2021
Author: Rob Smith

PROVIDENCE — Members of the public told state officials this week that they need to be more aggressive in tackling Rhode Island’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.

During the Nov. 16 Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4) online meeting, members solicited public feedback on how best to meet the goals of the recently passed Act on Climate legislation. The EC4 must submit an update of Rhode Island’s 2016 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan by the end of next year.

“The 2022 plan needs more concrete action items,” said Hank Webster, Rhode Island director of the Acadia Center. “The Act on Climate law really empowers agencies to be taking those actions.”

Others shared similar views, including the need for Rhode Island to designate which state agency was responsible for what.

“The 2016 plan had positive strategies, but it needed clear action items and designate who was responsible [for those items],” said Mal Skowron, transportation program and policy coordinator at the Green Energy Consumers Alliance.

Skowron also said she was worried about the state moving too slowly.

“The scope of the 2022 plan needs to prepare us for those 2025 requirements to make sure we’re not backloading emission reductions later in the decade,” she said.

The legislation passed earlier this year mandates the state reach net-zero emissions by 2050, with specific benchmarks every 10 years, or else face legal challenges. The EC4, a 12-member council made up of state agency leaders, is responsible for ensuring Rhode Island meets those goals.

The original Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan, submitted by the EC4 five years ago, set the original emission reduction goals, as well as strategies, actions, and plans for how the state could meet them. The EC4 is required by state law to update the plan every five years to evaluate the targets and track changes. As part of the new Act on Climate law, the EC4 is also required to take extensive public input on these plans and create an online dashboard to track emissions and big polluters.

Funding is a concern, said Priscilla de la Cruz, senior director of government affairs for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. She asked how the state is going to fund some of these strategies for climate mitigation.

De la Cruz also stressed the need to include distressed communities in the conversation, citing Providence’s Climate Justice Plan.

“There’s an opportunity here for the state to show it’s committed to centering climate justice and working with frontline environmental-justice communities,” she said.

Dana Goodman, a solar consultant with Bristol-based NEC Solar, said the plan should include loosening restrictions on residential solar so homeowners could contribute more renewable energy to the power grid.

“Large-scale solar development and siting has obviously been controversial,” she said. “And the role of individual homeowners in the state and the extent to which they are able to contribute renewable energy on the grid has been largely overlooked.”

Linda George, administrator for Rhode Island’s Division of Public Utilities & Carriers (DPUC), said her agency would be “releasing a study on all renewable [programs] statewide and how effective they are in saving emissions.”

DPUC officials said the report should be ready sometime early next year, and it is expected to include data about the energy efficiency of renewable programs and a benefit analysis.

The EC4 said it is planning the next sharing session as a hybrid meeting available online and in person and likely to be held in Providence. Council officials also noted that next year there will be monthly events, workshops, and meetings as the EC4 makes progress on updating the 2016 emissions reduction plan.