Rhode Island lawmakers face a barrage of advice on renewable energy. Suggestions come from the R.I. Economic Development Corporation, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, the R.I. Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council, the R.I. Office of Energy Resources, the governor’s office, industry groups and individual companies.
Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, says all that advice is nice, but it rarely translates into legislative action. On Oct. 21 she was scheduled to convene a committee of lawmakers, state officials, business executives and academics to discuss legislative ways to advance the adoption and development of renewable energy in the state, particularly by small businesses.
“A lot of the state agencies come out with great ideas, great white papers, but you have to put it into policy,” Ruggiero said.
The freshman Democrat sponsored a House resolution earlier this year to establish the R.I. Small Business Renewable Energy Task Force. The 13-member group includes Ruggiero, Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt – a Republican representing North Kingstown – and officials from the EDC, DEM, and Office of Energy Resources joined by business leaders and academics.
Ruggiero said she’s intentionally putting few boundaries on topics to leave the floor open for discussion. Broadly, Ruggiero said she wants the task force to listen to the hurdles small businesses face when attempting to install a renewable energy system like solar panels. She also wants to know if small companies can meet energy-efficiency standards required by an increasing number of companies and government agencies, including Wal-Mart and the U.S. Department of Defense.
And she broached the idea of crafting a law modeled after the Massachusetts Green Communities Act. That law, passed in 2008, requires utilities to purchase some of their electricity from renewable energy projects, something Rhode Island also has on the books. But unlike Rhode Island, the Bay State law created a grant program to pay cash to communities that took steps to reduce their community’s energy consumption and encourage renewable energy installations.