When it comes to advancing the cause of solar energy in Rhode Island, nothing is ever easy, or so it seems.
Back in March, Allco Renewable Energy of New York announced plans to build a solar farm in Johnston — the first large-scale renewable project in Rhode Island — raising the prospect of much-needed jobs and investment. As described, it would be the largest such venture east of the Mississippi, and the location, a former Superfund site, would generate at least $200,000 annually for the town.
Last Friday, though, Governor Donald L. Carcieri vetoed the related legislation, objecting to a three percent bonus — “unnecessary and unearned,” he calls it — that National Grid would receive for buying renewable energy. In his veto message, the governor also noted that the bill does not require projects funded by Ocean State ratepayers to be located in Rhode Island.
Carcieri also called a guaranteed set-aside for solar energy projects “perhaps the most troubling provision of this legislation . . . The requirement to mandate 5MW [megawatts] of solar energy could cost ratepayers tens of millions of dollars more than other sources of renewable energy, not even accounting for the three percent bonus to the local distribution company. The General Assembly should not impose such an onerous burden on the hundreds of thousands of Rhode Island ratepayers by including this provision in this piece of legislation.
Proponents of the bill — who were taken by surprise by the veto, considering how Andrew Dzykewicz, the governor’s energy adviser, had testified in favor of the measure — see the situation very differently.
Bill Fischer, a spokesman for Allco Renewable Energy, calls subsidies a necessary part of moving forward state-based efforts for renewable energy, and Rhode Island stands to be left behind, he says, in the region. Fischer points to efforts in Connecticut, where that state is offering $70 million in solar rebates over the next two years, and in Massachusetts, when Governor Deval Patrick recently announced the opening of a solar manufacturing plant in Westboro that is expected to create 375 jobs.
“This was well thought-out legislation that would have created renewable energy projects in Rhode Island and, more importantly, the beginnings of a green job sector,” Fischer says. “Developers do not want to go into states that are hostile toward renewable development or states that don’t have sufficient laws on their books embracing development. Carcieri’s veto set Rhode Island back.”
As rising gas prices have raised the focus on alternative forms of energy, it often remains a challenge, not surprisingly, for this car-dependent nation to make a broader embrace of a different way of doing things.
Even in New Jersey, the nation’s second leading solar state, after California, a debate is playing out about whether large developers or smaller businesses, which might create more jobs, are the best way moving forward. And as it stands, solar is envisioned as the source of just more than two percent of New Jersey’s energy by 20202, as the New York Times recently reported.
For now, Fischer says, “Allco remains committed to developing projects in Rhode Island and remains optimistic that the General Assembly will override the veto.”