2011-05-26 / Editorial

From the State House

By Deb Ruggiero

Greetings, friends and neighbors. This is the second column updating you on what I’m doing at the State House to help you, small business and home owners.

I have heard from many of you regarding energy costs and the future. Whether you’re running a business or a household, energy costs are a major concern. Together we’ve talked about energy effi- ciency as a sound investment that will pay dividends economically and environmentally for Jamestown and our state.

If you look at our neighboring states of Massachusetts and Connecticut, we’re at the bottom of the rankings when it comes to renewable energy projects and jobs in New England.

With these concerns in mind, I introduced legislation in April 2010 to create a special legislative commission known at the Small Business Renewable Energy Task Force.

As chair of the Small Business Renewable Energy Task Force, we reviewed all existing government agencies; we made recommendations to consolidate and harmonize this effort; and we recommended key goals for a statewide, sustainable renewable energy policy. This is not about a wind turbine in every school parking lot.

The task force was a very diverse group of stakeholders including state government (the Economic Development Corporation, the Department of Environmental Management, the Office of Energy), three small businesses (rTerra, Newport Biodiesel, Central Tool Manufacturing), and National Grid. It was really important and valuable to have National Grid at the table for these robust discussions.

One of our first observations occurred in the second meeting in October 2010. We realized that renewable energy in Rhode Island suffers from “disjointed incrementalism,” which is a lack of collaboration, communication and follow-through amongst state departments.

After nine months of testimony, hearings and debate, the task force framed four bills, which I sponsored.

The first bill, which passed the House last week, decreases Rhode Islanders’ energy costs and carbon emissions by encouraging energy efficiency. The bill is part of the state’s “least cost procurement” law, which was approved by the legislature in 2006 and 2008. It requires natural gas and electric companies serving Rhode Island to invest in energy efficiency programs when costs would be less than the purchase price of the fuel they’d save.

This bill will mean new investments in household and small business energy efficiency programs which will put more people to work performing energy audits and energy efficiency improvements.

The second part of the bill extends Renewable Energy Fund that would sunset in 2013. This fund, administered by EDC, provides loans and grants to companies working on renewable energy projects.

According to the American Council for Energy Efficient Economy, Rhode Island is ranked seventh in the country on energy efficiency. However, when it comes to renewable energy, we’re ranked 43rd in the country. Rhode Island needs a sustainable renewable energy policy. House Bill 5938 creates a Renewable Energy Board, which ensures collaboration and communication between state agencies to create a strategic renewable energy plan for Rhode Island. It also includes an advisory council comprised of members from small business, environmental advocacy and rate payers.

The third bill will encourage the development of small, landbased renewable energy distributed generation projects. This bill includes a long-term contracting standard for renewable energy credits for distributed energy projects enabling developers to gain financing. Massachusetts and Connecticut are way ahead of us when it comes to distributed generation. At no cost to rate payers, this legislation will jump start renewable energy projects creating jobs and clean energy.

The final bill restores the renewable energy tax credit to homeowners. The elimination of this tax credit has stalled the market for solar installations. Restoring the credit will make renewable energy projects more affordable for Rhode Island homeowners making their homes more energy efficient, creating jobs with the installations, and generating sales and incometax revenue for the state.

I hear your concerns and appreciate your input. We all need to manage our budgets in challenging economic times. You can e-mail me at rep-ruggiero@rilin. state.ri.us.

In the next column, we’ll discuss the budget and pension reform.

“The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it’s taking place.” – George Bernard Shaw

Stay well.

Deb Ruggiero represents Jamestown and Middletown in the State House of Representatives.

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