The Independent Man standing on top of our Statehouse calls us to a new outlook on energy. Today there is precious little independence in Rhode Island’s energy supply. Here at the end of the pipe we over-rely on foreign fuel supplies, generating facilities, miles of transmission and distribution lines, and prices dictated by factors over which we have no control.
There is another way for us, and as we recover independence, we can see its benefits.
As our state energy plan puts it, “Dependence on natural gas exposes the state to a substantial amount of price risk and potentially a supply risk, since Rhode Island sits at the end of a long stretch of pipeline infrastructure.” Natural gas is the fuel for nearly all of our in-state production of electricity and for more than 50 percent of our region’s generation. Natural gas is also our dominant heating fuel.
Our current thirst for gas subjects us to security risk, escalating energy prices and a dependency that threatens our economic productivity. All of this comes in part as a result of over-reliance on a utility to design and administer our energy system in a manner guided principally by its own business interests.
Recent news is that Rhode Islanders are seizing control of our energy again. Providence has bought its streetlights back from the utility. As a result, each year it will save almost $2 million on maintenance costs and $1.7 million on its electric bill. This comes thanks to the Municipal Streetlight Investment Act, passed in 2013, that authorized our cities and towns to buy back their streetlights, convert them to LED lighting and manage them more efficiently.
West Warwick expects to save $40 million over the next 25 years by operating three of its own wind turbines to self-supply power at a cost well below the market rate. Eighty percent of the town’s voters wisely approved that move last year. Their resolve came after Narragansett Bay Commission put up three turbines that supply 45 percent of the electricity consumed at its Fields Point facility, saving over $600,000 a year on its energy bills. The NBC has now resolved to buy three more wind turbines for its own energy supply.
And Gov. Gina M. Raimondo has ordered state facilities to reduce their consumption 10 percent by 2020 and to be fueled entirely by renewable energy by 2025.
Our Public Utilities Commission has ordered our utility to plan how ratepayer investments in infrastructure can better provide for local generation, so as to reduce costs to customers.
These and other signs of independence give Rhode Island hope. •
Seth Handy is a Providence attorney.