Rep. Ruggiero among panelists to discuss state of solar power
State representative and Jamestown resident Deb Ruggiero was among the public officials, developers and environmentalists who held a roundtable discussion on solar power last week at Ochre Court in Newport.
The event was sponsored by Environment Rhode Island, Salve Regina University and the Newport Energy & Environment Commission. According to Channing Jones of Environment Rhode Island, the state is currently lagging behind in the production of solar energy.
“In a low-lying coastal state like Rhode Island, we need to be concerned about climate change,” he said. “We should also care about the pollution associated with burning fossil fuels. Frankly, we ought to be leaders in renewable energy.”
Ruggiero, who chaired the legislative task force on renewable energy for small businesses, has worked for the last three years to return a tax credit to the state budget. The tax credit for renewable energy was eliminated in 2010 by former Gov. Donald Carcieri.
Ruggiero says clean energy production will provide a boost to the local economy. From 2006 to 2010, tax credits were available, however, Carcieri axed them out of the budget when the state’s income tax was reformed.
“I would like to reinstate it,” Ruggiero said.
During the five years the tax credit was in effect, the state paid a total of $719,000. The investment brought in $4.8 million in private capital leveraged from installation costs, taxes and fees. Ruggiero described the tax credit investment as “peanuts in a world of elephants.” She said it’s important to return the incentives to the budget instead of trying to reinstate them each year, as she has been trying to do.
“I’m putting the bill in hopes that it will become part of the budget,” Ruggiero said. “It’s great to get so many people from policy, development and small business to talk about the importance of solar. It is about clean energy, which is creating jobs in Rhode Island. More importantly, it is about a sustainable economic sector for renewable energy in Rhode Island.”
Also on the panel was Cheri Olf, executive director of the Solar Campus Initiative. The nonprofit group serves as a liaison and catalyst to increase the number of solar photovoltaic systems on academic campuses nationwide. Not only does the Solar Campus Initiative try to expedite the process, it tries to simplify it and make it more cost effective.
Olf says solar power creates jobs in America that cannot be shipped overseas. In 2102, there were 120,000 such jobs in the United States, an 11-percent increase from the previous year. Installation jobs in the same time frame were up 17 percent, Olf said.
Another panelist was Doug Sabetti, owner of Newport Solar. Sabetti founded the company in 2009 with two decades of construction behind him. He said it’s not too late to get involved in solar energy.
“A lot of these programs are so new,” Sabetti said. “If you feel like you’re missing the boat, you haven’t.”
Anthony Baro agreed. His company, E2SOL, has been developing projects in Jamestown recently. Baro established the renewableenergy firm in 2011, and his company develops projects in all markets: residential, commercial and industrial. One such project is the recently completed solar installation at the Conanicut Marine boatyard at Taylor Point. Baro is also currently working with a client who is building a new home in Jamestown. The client is considering a solar installation.
Baro said the roundtable discussion on Nov. 20 was valuable because it allows a group of industry professionals to gather and share knowledge with the community.
“It’s very important,” Baro said. “The more sessions that we have like this, the more informed the community is going to be.”
Marion Gold, the commissioner of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, spoke about the Property Assessed Clean Energy program that went into effect in July. The program allows municipalities to make low-interest loans to homeowners so they can make green upgrades to their homes. The loans are paid back as part of the homeowner’s property taxes. Each municipality is required to approve the program individually, but so far East Providence is the only city or town in Rhode Island where it’s in effect.
“Rhode Island is poised to expand opportunities for solar for our citizens,” said Gold. “We are building on in-state and regional momentum to make solar more affordable and accessible for all. A thriving solar market will generate in-state job growth, stimulate economic develop and promote a carbon free, local, renewable source of energy.”
Also from the General Assembly, along with Ruggiero, was state Sen. Lou DiPalma, who represents Middletown, Tiverton and Little Compton. He said solar arrays require little maintenance because they have few moving parts. Hence, the cost of ownership is low.
Abel Collins, project manager with the Sierra Club of Rhode Island, thinks Rhode Island should be entirely powered by renewable energy by 2050.
“If not sooner,” he said. “We are capable of doing it.”
Rhode Island ranks second to last among Northeast states in per capita solar capacity, according to Environment Rhode Island. Jones says 98 percent of the state’s power generation comes from gas. Also, the state ranks eighth out of the region’s 10 states in per capita solar jobs, including 20 times less than neighboring Massachusetts.
“Solar power will create jobs here in Rhode Island and keep energy dollars in our local economy,” said Jones. “Fortunately, there’s no secret to expanding solar.”
Added Sabetti, “The sun provides enough energy in one hour to power the world for one year. All of that energy delivered right to your door.”