Following the success of the Massachusetts-based Beyond Gas coalition, Acadia Center has formed a similar coalition in Rhode Island. Acadia Center and its partners in the Beyond Gas-RI advocacy coalition have submitted comprehensive comments to the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) outlining our recommendations for the forthcoming Future of Gas investigation. The proceeding, expected to unfold over the remainder of 2022 and well into 2023, will examine how the state’s overreliance on “fossil” gas must change for the state to meet the Act on Climate’s requirements of a 45 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030, 80 percent reduction by 2040, and to net-zero by 2050.
The letter, signed by Acadia Center, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, the Environment Council of Rhode Island, Conservation Law Foundation, Green Energy Consumers Alliance, the Climate and Development Lab at Brown University, Sierra Club and concerned citizens, makes a series of recommendations for the scope of the proceedings.
- First, the coalition notes the General Assembly granted broad powers to state agencies to promulgate rules and regulations to achieve the GHG emissions reductions required by the Act on Climate, so the PUC has the power to make significant changes in this sector, if it finds them appropriate.
- Extensive studies have repeatedly concluded that the most favorable and realistic pathway for a decarbonized future relies primarily upon heating electrification, including thermal energy networks, rather than so-called decarbonized gases such as renewable natural gas or hydrogen.
- Beyond Gas RI urged the PUC to explore the assumptions and methodologies concerning methane leaks as a primary area of focus in light of recent utility filings that confirm repeated studies that the gas distribution system might be leaking nearly 4 percent of total “sent out” gas. Gas leaks are particularly dangerous public safety concerns and doubly problematic for the climate because methane released directly into the atmosphere has a 20-year global warming potential (GWP) that is 86 greater than carbon dioxide over the same period.
- Finally, the coalition urged the PUC to expand its usual regulatory purview to also look at health and safety implications related to gas use. Studies have repeatedly shown that gas combustion inside of buildings is linked to higher rates of respiratory illness and cardiovascular disease. Recent studies have also shown that, in addition to the pipeline leaks documented above, gas stoves routinely leak methane even while they are off — accounting for between 0.8 percent and 1.3 percent of all gas they use.
“Ultimately, the PUC’s primary focus should be to identify the most aggressive and feasible gas system decarbonization pathway that both rapidly and equitably reduces current GHG fossil gas emissions in the near-term while eliminating the potential risk of new long-lived fossil fuel connections to the network and protecting ratepayers from stranded costs.”
The PUC proceeding follows several years of Acadia Center engagement with the Public Utilities Commission, Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB), Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, Rhode Island Attorney General, and other stakeholders across a series of dockets that highlight the imprudence of continuous gas system expansion. In 2021, Acadia Center urged the EFSB to impose a moratorium on new gas connections on infrastructure constrained Aquidneck Island while awaiting a determination on utility proposals to build new gas facilities to enable future growth. While that moratorium was not granted, the case is still pending and the EFSB did order a first ever comparative analysis of the GHG impacts of the utility’s preferred solution and all rejected alternatives. Acadia Center’s work on the Massachusetts Future of Gas proceeding, as well as Infrastructure, Safety, and Reliability (ISR) dockets, energy efficiency plans, non-pipes alternative frameworks, and intervention in the sale of the utility to PPL have all led to this critical Future of Gas investigation in Rhode Island.
For more information:
Hank Webster, Senior Advocate and Rhode Island Program Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 401.276.0600 ext.402