OER report declares 2030 renewable energy goal ‘achievable’ but with higher ratepayer costs

RHODE ISLAND's ambitious 2030 renewable energy goals are achievable, but will come with increased costs to ratepayers, according to a new report commissioned by the R.I. Office of Energy Resources. Pictured is the Block Island Wind Farm. / COURTESY ORSTED U.S. OFFSHORE WIND

PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island is 40% of the way to hitting Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s ambitious goal of powering the state by 100% renewable energy sources by 2030.

Filling in the remaining 60% in the next 10 years is “achievable”, but will come at a cost, including higher bills for ratepayers, according to a report published Wednesday by the R.I. Office of Energy Resources.

The 99-page document, authored by Boston-based consulting firm The Brattle Group, details the feasibility and recommends specific strategies for how the state can accomplish its ambitious energy goals which, if achieved, would establish Rhode Island as the nation’s leader in renewable energy.

“Rhode Island is a national clean energy leader with viable pathways to become the first 100% renewable state and dramatically reduce electric-sector [greenhouse gas] emissions,” R.I Energy Commissioner Nicholas S. Ucci said in a statement. “As home to the nation’s first offshore wind farm and nationally-recognized, cost-effective energy efficiency programs, the Ocean State has proven that decarbonization can spur environmental and public health benefits, while driving local economic investment and jobs

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Assuming the state’s electricity usage remains at its current 7,700 gigawatt-hours, the state needs 4,600 gigawatt-hours more – a 150% increase – over its current renewable portfolio to hit 100% by the 2030 deadline, the report stated. The current renewable energy generation of 3,060 gigawatt-hours includes the 400 megawatts of power anticipated from Orsted’s Revolution Wind project, the initial 2023 completion date for which has been pushed back amid federal permitting delays.

Not included in current estimates is the additional 600 megawatts of offshore wind power the state is seeking to bring on since announcing in October its plans to solicit competitive proposals for the project. If completed, a wind farm of this size would fill in another 35%, or 2,700 gigawatts, of the 2030 target based on current electricity usage levels, the report stated.

The aggressive pursuit of renewable energy resources comes at a cost, though. The report anticipates residential ratepayers would see their monthly electric bill increase by $11 to $14 by 2030 to support the approximately $1.9 to $2.1 million “base case” cost of large-scale investments in on- or off-shore wind or wholesale solar, all of which were deemed similarly available and competitive for the state.

Yet investment in renewable energy also brings potential for GDP growth and job creation through construction, operation and maintenance, particularly for in-state projects versus tapping power from out-of-state resources. If the state were to direct the entirety of its funds and resources to offshore wind projects, for example, net GDP could grow by $700 million over the next 20 years with 5,900 new jobs created, versus the $400 million in GDP and 7,000 jobs that would be lost if those same resources went to out-of-state offshore wind projects. 

The push toward renewables has backing from some of the state’s largest employers, too.

“We are excited to help support the achievement of this goal and we are confident that Rhode Island businesses will grow and prosper in the clean energy future,” Tom Giordano, executive director of the Partnership for Rhode Island, which represents CEOs from major employers such as Hasbro Inc., Bank of America Corp. and General Dynamics Electric Boat, said in a statement.

Hitting the state’s 2030 target won’t be the end of the push for renewable growth, either.

While the report assumes electricity usage will stay flat from now until the end of the decade, increasing decarbonization and replacement with electric vehicles, heating sources and other forms of energy will mean the state needs to continue adding 400 to 500 gigawatts of renewable energy each year after 2030.

“Electrification could double electricity demand in New England and Rhode Island over the next few decades,” the report stated. “As electrification accelerates beyond 2030, load will rise sharply and Rhode Island will need to add considerably more renewables to maintain its 100% renewable share.”

The report acknowledges the disruptions caused by the pandemic, but stated its near-term impacts will not “fundamentally alter” the state’s goals and need to move away from carbon-reliant electricity sources. 

“Near-term increases in the development of in-state renewable energy resources can play a role in accelerating the economic recovery from the impacts of the pandemic,” the report stated.

The report also recommends two legislative priorities: revising the state’s Renewable Energy Standard to match the 100% renewable by 2030 goal announced by Raimondo, and extending the duration of state energy efficiency programs, set to end in 2023, til 2030. 

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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