Charging Ahead with Electric Buses in Rhode Island

Rhode Island and its Northeast neighbors have achieved great reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants since joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in 2009. Unfortunately, emissions from transportation sources are not covered by RGGI and still comprise about 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Rhode Island needs to act urgently to reduce emissions from passenger, commercial, and public transportation fleets.

Rhode Island has taken an exciting stride towards cleaner public transportation by leasing three 100% electric buses, slated to enter service in early 2019. The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) showcased the three 40’ vehicles at an October 22nd test drive featuring Governor Gina Raimondo, the state’s congressional delegation, and a contingent of state and local officials. Unlike Providence’s electric trolley-buses from the 1930s to 1950s, which were powered by fixed overhead wires, these battery-powered buses will charge overnight at RIPTA’s bus depot and can be flexibly used on a variety of routes.

The new electric buses make their debut during the test drive.

RIPTA is using funds from Rhode Island’s $14.4 million share of a massive settlement between the federal government and Volkswagen after the automaker was caught circumventing emissions rules. The state has committed nearly $11 million to purchase 16 to 20 additional all-electric buses in 2021. Each electric bus that replaces an older, high polluting diesel bus could reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) tailpipe emissions by nearly 230,000 pounds annually, according to bus manufacturer Proterra.

In addition to reducing CO2 emissions, each diesel-to-electric bus replacement would also avoid over 100 pounds of nitrogen oxide (NOx) tailpipe emissions, which can cause or worsen respiratory and heart diseases in local communities. RIPTA will prioritize deploying electric buses on routes that serve low-income, environmental justice communities in neighborhoods that disproportionately bear the negative health impacts associated with fossil fuel combustion. This approach to prioritizing health benefits in overburdened communities should serve as a model for future clean transportation investments in Rhode Island and the region.

While the upfront cost of electric buses is higher than existing diesel, diesel-electric hybrid, or compressed natural gas (CNG) equipment, RIPTA expects to achieve significant life cycle savings primarily through lower fueling and maintenance costs—electric vehicles have fewer drivetrain components and feature regenerative braking, which can greatly reduce the overall frequency and cost of parts replacement. Still, as transit agencies across the country seek to incorporate cleaner vehicles, the upfront premium on electric bus purchases will likely remain a significant barrier.

One way to generate a dedicated revenue stream for clean transportation investments is through a price on carbon emissions from the transportation sector. A group of dedicated states, including Rhode Island, has been exploring policy solutions through the Transportation & Climate Initiative. Acadia Center released a policy analysis in September detailing how enacting a $15 per metric ton price on carbon emissions from the transportation sector could help Rhode Island generate over $600 million in revenues between 2019 and 2030 for a variety of clean transportation investments. This could include vehicle electrification, improved commuter rail offerings, cleaner port operations, and expanded pedestrian and bicycle paths to connect more people to employment, recreation, and basic services in their communities.

Acadia Center will continue to advocate for programs that address transportation-related emissions, helping states pursue and expand new opportunities for investment in clean transportation programs. Click here to read more about Rhode Island’s clean transportation opportunities.

State backs Millstone bid to compete as zero-emissions player in energy auctions

Environmental advocates also have questioned Millstone’s need for state action.

Emily Lewis, senior policy analyst at the Acadia Center, a clean energy advocacy group, said Millstone “plays an important role in the energy mix” because it does not produce carbon dioxide. But policymakers should not “throw money at Millstone that could be used for renewables” such as solar and wind power, she said.

If and when the plant is retired, the power it generates should be replaced by offshore wind, Lewis said.

Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.

Op-Ed: No panels? No problem. The secret to solar in the city

[…] Instead of buying and installing solar panels on your home or property, you subscribe to a piece of a large local solar project nearby, often along with a few dozen to a few hundred other people who live in the area.

A portion of the electricity generated by these projects gets credited directly to your utility bill, you get a discount on electricity, and you don’t have to pay anything to join.

Community solar allows households to receive the benefits of solar energy without the cost or hassle of a rooftop installation. Roughly half of residences in the U.S. can’t host a solar installation because the occupants don’t own the property, or the roof is too old, too shady, or faces the wrong way for optimal sun exposure. Community solar eliminates these issues, making solar power more accessible to more people than ever before.

Read the full article from Crain’s here.

Locational value of DER is essential to grid planning. So why hasn’t anyone found it?

Initially, there was an incentive for customers to build DER at locations where congestion was anticipated, LeBel added. But setting that locational value “has proved to be more administratively complicated than expected and commission staff has proposed eliminating it.”

The utilities did “guesstimates and concluded congested locations should get 50% more than other locations,” he said. “They are not coming to terms with the details.”

[…]

Lebel agreed. Getting to that vision “would be a massive change for the utilities,” he said. “But it has happened. It took decades to get from PURPA to restructuring. Maybe, in the 2030s, we will look back at the 2014 start of the New York REV and see a similar transformation. And maybe things will still be changing.”

Read the full article from Utility Dive here.

As solar grows in Rhode Island, so does the need for smart siting policies

One of Rhode Island’s newest renewable energy installations is being celebrated as a model of solar siting, repurposing contaminated land that is unlikely to be developed. The solar array’s 6,700 panels spread across 12 acres in North Providence that comprise an old landfill.

The rapid expansion of renewable energy projects in Rhode Island – and across the region – is bringing new and pressing land-use challenges. Because of the urgent threat posed by climate change, it is important to accelerate the pace at which clean energy resources replace polluting fossil fuels. At the same time, we must protect Rhode Island’s diverse ecosystems.

With collaborative work on smart siting policies – and solar projects like the one in North Providence – Rhode Island is demonstrating a commitment to doing both: creating a low-carbon energy system and serving as responsible stewards of our landscapes and habitats.

Solar’s role in the clean energy future

The deep greenhouse gas emissions reductions demanded by the rapidly changing climate will require an energy system that looks a lot different than today’s. Our vehicles and home heating systems will need to transition from gasoline, propane, and natural gas to electricity, which has the flexibility to run off the sun, wind, and other clean sources. That means our electricity supply must move away from fossil fuels and become significantly cleaner itself.

Solar energy will play a key part in the clean energy future. According to the State Energy Plan, Rhode Island could develop over 1,800 MW of solar by 2035, compared to the current 105 MW. Determining how much solar is needed to meet the state’s climate goals under the Resilient Rhode Island Act is only one part of the equation. We must work together to determine how best to site it, including on what types of land and at what scale, to minimize land-use conflicts in local communities.

First, Rhode Island must harness the potential of rooftop solar, which gives residents and businesses more control over their energy use and production, lowers utility bills, and helps avoid the siting of projects in sensitive environmental areas. Acadia Center’s EnergyVision 2030 Rhode Island Progress Report finds that Rhode Island is lagging regional leaders on locally-sited solar resources. While rooftop solar is not the only answer, we can do more to support it.

Larger-scale solar projects are also needed. Some municipalities in Rhode Island, especially rural ones where land is more readily available, are being inundated with solar proposals – some of which have resulted in widespread tree-clearing. In response, a number of communities are halting renewables development, at least temporarily, putting at risk continued progress towards a climate-safe Rhode Island. It is imperative that we find a new path forward that balances the need to deploy renewables with forest and habitat protection.

Consensus-based solutions

A stakeholder group of diverse interests began convening in August 2017 to address the siting issue. The committee, which includes Acadia Center, developed 13 consensus principles that reflect the priorities of conservationists, clean energy advocates, farm interests, municipalities, and renewable energy developers. State officials have also been holding public workshops all across Rhode Island to gather input from communities and residents. There has been widespread agreement on the need to influence the economics of siting to encourage cost-effective development of solar projects on already developed land like brownfields, commercial and industrial zoned land, and other environmentally disturbed sites.

There are no quick solutions, but progress is being made. Rhode Island is undertaking several initiatives designed to guide solar to preferred areas. An infusion of $1 million into the Renewable Energy Fund will support brownfields projects. A proposal before the Public Utilities Commission includes a 70 percent increase in small rooftop solar in the 2019 Renewable Energy Growth Program and a new category to promote solar carports. Between six and twelve solar canopies are expected to be developed as a result.

Much work remains. The stakeholder group is discussing additional strategies for the 2019 legislative session to encourage solar siting in least-conflict locations. The work being done in Rhode Island could serve as a model for the region as states grapple with a productive path forward that both reduces harmful emissions and protects our natural resources.

Amid funding cuts, Enfield manufacturer finds energy-efficiency program a worthy investment

Fewer participants have found their way into EnergizeCT programs this year due to a $117 million raid by state lawmakers on the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, which is staked from a sliver of customers’ monthly light bills.

The controversial raid, which prompted a lawsuit from the energy-efficiency industry, helped plug a hole in the state’s General Fund budget.

However, it also “means Connecticut will do about half the electric efficiency it did in 2017,” according to William Dornbos, advocacy director at Acadia Center, a New England nonprofit promoter of clean, efficient energy use.

Read the full article from Hartford Business here.