Assembly OKs 'Affordable Clean Energy Security Act'
Authorizes RI agencies to participate in regional discussions, projects
STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly has approved legislation sought by the Chafee Administration to allow Rhode Island to participate in New England regional efforts to address electric price volatility and reliability and to pursue energy infrastructure expansion projects for electricity and natural gas, as well as clean energy resources.
Passed in both Senate and House of Representatives was the “Affordable Clean Energy Security Act,” sponsored by Sen. William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick) and Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Dist. 38, Hopkinton, Westerly). The legislation (2014-S 2439Aaa, 2014-H 7991A) now goes to the governor for his consideration.
The legislation authorizes the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) and the Office of Energy Resources (OER) to participate in the regional six-state effort to develop and issue open and competitive solicitations for infrastructure projects and clean energy resources. Two of the more prominent plans under discussion are bringing hydropower to the New England states and increasing incoming supplies of natural gas to address the fact that the region is being serviced by pipelines that are at or near capacity.
“New England is facing serious challenges in regard to energy, the foremost of which is cost,” said Representative Kennedy. “We all realize the importance of expanding our use of clean energy, but we are not ready at this time to cut our ties completely to various kinds of fossil fuels. We have some of the highest energy costs in the nation because we are literally at the end of the pipeline. Addressing the problem, ensuring a secure supply of energy at the best possible cost begins with infrastructure investments and diversification of our energy mix. Rhode Island cannot do this alone. This legislation allows us to work with other states to collectively address these issues.”
Said Senator Walaska, “This legislation does not lock our state into anything and it does not mandate the purchase of energy or investment infrastructure. It allows Rhode Island to be part of the discussion with other regional states so we can tap into clean, affordable and reliable hydropower, and clean wind power, as well as to ensure that we have adequate natural gas supplies to contain our electric costs. Rhode Island is more than 50 percent dependent on natural gas for electricity generation, and residents are increasingly switching over to natural gas for winter home heating. But pipeline constraints are driving up our energy costs, and we need to work with other states to address these supply and cost issues.”]
“Earlier this year Rhode Island saw double digit increases in our electric rates, that put the state at an economic disadvantage and strained family budgets,” said Governor Lincoln D. Chafee. “This is a Rhode Island problem, but it is also a regional problem. That is why I am working with the other New England governors to identify cost effective investments in energy infrastructure that will allow us to tap into clean energy resources from the north, and expand capacity for low cost natural gas. Passage of this legislation will allow Rhode Island to fully participate in this effort to secure a clean, affordable energy future for our state.”
As outlined in the legislation, the DPUC and OER would work with the other New England states to identify proposals that optimize energy reliability, security, environmental and economic benefits and costs to ratepayers. Any proposals would be jointly filed by the OER and DPUC with the Public Utilities Commission for review. Filing would include advisory opinions from Commerce RI on the economic impacts of any project, and from the Department of Environmental Management on environmental impacts of the projects. PUC review of the filing would include a 30-day comment period, evidentiary hearings and at least one public hearing.
Any potential projects and the contracts associated with them would need to be thoroughly evaluated to ensure they are commercially reasonable, consistent with the region’s and state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, and that total benefits to Rhode Island exceed the costs of the project. In addition, the legislation requires that any clean energy resources that are imported into the region are verified as clean energy resources.
New England’s dependence on natural gas, especially, is expected to grow as the region’s coal and nuclear plants near retirement. That increasing demand, coupled with pipeline constraints and the winter’s cold snaps that put increased pressure on home heating and electric needs cause major winter price spikes, driving up electric rates.
“Rhode Island and New England are in a dire situation, and we can expect price volatility to get worse before it gets better,” said Representative Kennedy. “It is critical that the state take steps now to address these challenges over the next decade and beyond and a regional approach is the most efficient path toward energy security.”
“Nothing in this legislation undermines the state’s commitment to local renewable energy development and energy efficiency programs,” said Senator Walaska. “But with all these pieces working together, and by increasing pipeline capacity and importing hydropower and other renewables, we can help ensure that Rhode Island has an affordable, reliable and clean energy portfolio.”
For more information, contact:
Randall T. Szyba, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903