Legislators pass bill to expand R.I.’s offshore wind procurement

PROVIDENCE Rhode Island is expanding its commitment to renewable energy thanks to legislation passed by the General Assembly on Thursday, which requires the state’s primary utility company to procure 600 to 1,000 megawatts of new offshore wind capacity.

As an incentive, the utility company may receive up to 1% of the contract amount, a payment which will be at the discretion of state utility regulators.

The company may still get nothing for its procurement, but now, under the most recent changes, that decision will be left up to the R.I. Public Utilities Commission “because that’s what commissioners do for a living,” House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, said in an statement.

The legislation requires Rhode Island Energy, the state’s primary electric and gas company, to buy up to 1,000 megawatts of newly developed offshore wind power. Under the newly approved legislation, sponsored by Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Newport, and State Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, at the request of Gov. Daniel J. McKee, the company would have until October 15, 2022, to issue the procurement.

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“There are so many reasons Rhode Island should be moving boldly in developing offshore wind and other renewables,” Handy said in a press release. “Producing our own green energy is vastly more beneficial to our own economy than relying on fossil fuels that are often shipped from other areas of the world, which can also be subject to price volatility, as we are seeing right now. We will make great strides toward carbon neutrality with this policy, and I’m excited to see it move forward.”

State leaders have long debated whether a financial incentive for utility company was necessary. The original legislation had proposed a payment up to 2%, but it was later revised in Senate, where the incentive was removed altogether. Lawmakers finally settled on the 1% cap, with the final determination to be made by state utility regulators.

An earlier version of the bill called for up to 600 megawatts of offshore wind power, a number that was later bumped to 1,000. This additional power has the potential to meet at least 30% of the state’s estimated 2030 electricity demand, according to a legislative press release, powering roughly 340,000 homes each year.

The legislation will play a significant role in helping the state meet the goals set in the Act on Climate Law, also sponsored by Euer.

“Projects like the one we’re seeking with this legislation are an important part of our energy future” Euer said in a statement. “I’m glad to see the level of support there is for a major project like this one, because it will be a major step toward responsibly developed renewable energy in Rhode Island.”

The legislation now heads to McKee’s desk.