Opinion: Only one way for RI to get off fossil fuel roller coaster
As Alex Kuffner reported on April 1 (“Spike in RI electric prices expected,” News), Rhode Islanders will likely pay more for fossil fuel-dominated electricity next winter. We’ve long been at risk for these types of pricing fluctuations because we are far too dependent on a finite and increasingly scarce supply of fossil fuels which our region cannot produce.
That means we are among the most vulnerable to pricing volatility for an energy resource that is extremely sensitive to geopolitical events, natural and man-made disasters, cyberattacks, and even decisions from fossil fuel producers to cut production as occurred during the pandemic to artificially increase commodity prices for oil and natural gas.
But as Rhode Island transitions away from fossil fuels, we will become less vulnerable to pressures well beyond our control.
One way for Rhode Island to get off this fossil fuel roller coaster is to become energy independent by supporting companion bills S2274 and H7277, sponsored by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, to put our state on a path to 100% renewable electricity.
Environmental advocates have long worried about the intrinsic pricing volatility and air pollution from fossil fuels. And while many skeptics claim renewable energy is more expensive, long-term renewable electricity contracts regularly tell a different story.
For instance, in March 2020, the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission approved a 20-year power purchase agreement from Gravel Pit Solar at 5.3 cents per kilowatt hour — far below average current and projected electric supply rates. Similarly, the 400-megawatt procurement of electricity from the offshore Revolution Wind project came in at a levelized price of just over 7 cents per kilowatt hour for supply. Clean resources like these have zero fuel costs – the sun and wind are free, if we just capture them.
Meanwhile, fossil fuel prices have and always will be volatile. Locking into long-term low-cost renewable energy contracts is the best strategy to protect Rhode Islanders against future spikes. Senate Environment and Agriculture Chairperson Dawn Euer has also introduced bill S2583, which would help meet the 100% renewable goal by requiring Rhode Island to procure up to 600 additional megawatts of offshore wind, which will likely also help lower our average supply prices.
Finally, the lowest-cost way to control energy prices is to invest more in energy efficiency measures that lock in long-term energy savings, both by improving the quality and comfort of individual buildings but also by reducing the aggregate amount of energy required across the state.
Efficiency is simply the most cost-effective fuel we have. That’s why we must remove current state budget proposals that would divert critical energy efficiency funds away from these nation-leading programs. Energy efficiency has long been and will continue to be the lowest-cost and simplest way to reduce our energy insecurity and keep electric rates in check.
Rhode Island proudly proclaims itself as the first state to declare independence from the British crown and celebrates its own Independence Day each May 4. This year, let’s set a goal to also celebrate our independence from polluting fossil fuels by signing these important bills into law.
Read the full OpEd, published in The Providence Journal here.