Just The Road Ahead in Rhode Island

Blog
By Liam Sullivan

The Act on Climate, which was signed into law by Governor McKee in April 2021, has been hailed as the most influential environmental law ever passed in the Ocean State. It is one of several bills that became law this year that will create new opportunities for nonprofits, municipalities, and other organizations to bring more clean energy and energy efficiency into their sustainability efforts in the years ahead.

The Act on Climate sets strong mandates for emissions reductions like its neighbor Massachusetts, which we wrote about last month. However, the details of exactly how Rhode Island will achieve these reductions—and what new programs the state will create—is yet to come. The law mandates the state to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, with an interim step of 80 percent emission reductions by 2040. These emission reductions are now legally enforceable by citizen lawsuits. State agencies are now required to follow an implementation plan developed by the state’s Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council, made up of officials from a dozen state agencies that oversee climate change efforts. This plan must be completed no later than December 2022, which means major changes to Rhode Island’s incentive programs in renewable energy, energy efficiency and electric vehicles won’t be happening immediately.

The law is big news for organizations looking to improve sustainability in Rhode Island and those serving underserved populations. Besides its emissions mandates, the law requires the state to include an equitable transition for environmental justice populations as part of its plan to achieve net-zero. It also dictates that the state must ensure support for workers as the state transitions to cleaner energy, with clean energy jobs that exceed wage and labor standards, and programs to recruit, train and keep underrepresented people in the clean energy workforce.

The General Assembly also passed two energy efficiency bills and an electric vehicle bill this session.

The Act Relating to Public Utilities and Carriers — Appliance and Equipment Energy and Water Efficiency Standards Act Of 2021, creates minimum efficiency standards for 15 household and commercial products to reduce energy and waste water and save consumers and businesses money on their utility bills. Now these appliances, which include commercial dishwashers, electric vehicle charging supplies and water coolers, will need to meet a minimum level of efficiency to be sold in Rhode Island. Advocacy groups estimate that the change will reduce residential and business utility bills by $10 million a year. The second energy efficiency bill passed extends the state’s nation-leading energy efficiency programs, which would have expired in 2023, through 2035.

This session’s electric vehicle charging bill, which was signed into law in July, requires Rhode Island’s Department of Transportation, Division of Motor Vehicles and the Office of Energy Resources, to develop a plan for statewide electric vehicle charging station infrastructure by January 1, 2022—a plan PowerOptions will be watching to help our members plan their own electric vehicle initiatives.

The 2021 substantive legislative session in Rhode Island will surely create more opportunities and programs for PowerOptions members in the Ocean State to drive energy efficiency, clean energy, and sustainability in the years ahead.

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