Renewable Energy Siting Resources

Rhode Island Planning Guidance – Click on each blue bar to read more on the topic

  • State policy makers in 2012 wrote The Renewable Energy Siting Partnership  that is meant to guide communities in developing regulations for renewable energy.

    In 2011URI was asked by the Governor and the state Office of Energy Resources to provide technical expertise about the effects renewable energy may have on the people, wildlife and natural resources of Rhode Island. A URI team of skilled professionals in the fields of energy, research, and planning developed guidelines to be used by Rhode Island’s cities and towns to develop regulations, and to site and manage renewable energy.

    This two volume, 1083 page report, was developed in collaboration with the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, RI Office of Planning, staff at the Coastal Resources Center, scientists at URI and GSO, Roger Williams Law School, CRMC, DEM, EDC, and others.

    Out of those 1083 pages, only 60 pages are devoted to solar and that discussion is entirely a very detailed analysis of opportunities for solar photovoltaic generation on closed landfills in Rhode Island. “As the second most densely-populated state in the nation, Rhode Island faces geographic limitations on the amount of space available for indigenous energy production. Therefore, if communities choose to develop renewable sources of energy, strategic siting of electricity generation facilities is paramount, particularly with space intensive technologies requiring flat expanses of open land like solar. In a state like Rhode Island, where space is at a premium, solar energy may be best suited to lands with limited utility for other forms of development. The RESP solar energy analysis focused on one particular category of lands meeting these characteristics in Rhode Island: closed landfills. “

    You can read the 500 page report that includes this guidance at http://www.crc.uri.edu/download/resp_volume_1_final.pdf

  • This 2016 plan, The Rhode Island Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan, written in compliance with the Resilient Rhode Island Act., describes the importance of preserving forest in the reduction of greenhouse gasses. It advocates “no net loss of forests.” Written by OER, DEM, RI Division of Planning, and DOT.

  • Legislation was proposed (and tabled) in the 2017 legislature that would have forced towns to allow 20% of a farm or forest of 15 acres or more to be used for commercial solar energy production. The legislation was strongly opposed by Grow Smart Rhode Island. Scott Millar’s testimony on behalf of Grow Smart is available at http://www.growsmartri.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Grow-Smart-H-6062-Testimony-4-12-17.pdf

    Grow Smart supports small scale energy production on farms and forests provided it does not remove farmland out of production or further fragment forests. They are an advocate for small-scale commercial solar on farms and forests, but they were strongly opposed to allowing up to 20% of the land to be converted to energy production. A part of their testimony follows.

    “We do not support taking agricultural land that can yield fresh safe food for Rhode Islanders, out of production to generate power that this bill could encourage. Moreover we do not support the clearing and further fragmentation of forestland that can negatively impact important resources such as our drinking water, habitat and wood products economy, to supply power. Rhode Island needs power and the increase of renewable energy is an important objective. But there are many existing sites in Rhode Island that have already been developed or that are zoned for industrial or commercial use that can be used to support large scale renewable energy. We need renewable energy but not at the expense of losing our farms and forests.”

    Grow Smart Rhode Island also found that converting 20% of farm and forest parcels to an energy use is not consistent with the State Land Use Plan, the State Forest Management Plan, and the State Wildlife Management Plan.

  • The Rhode Island Woodland Partnership (RIWP) is collaboration among foresters, landowners, conservationists, and professionals who represent public agencies, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. Member organizations include groups such as RI Audubon, Northern RI Conservation District, RI Land Trust Council, RI Natural History Survey and others. Partnership members believe that maintaining the health of Rhode Island’s forestland is a critical aspect of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

    Rhode Island’s forestlands are being lost to residential, commercial, and other non-forest land uses at an alarming rate. The extent of forests in Rhode Island decreased by approximately 10,000 acres between 1998 and 2007. This has resulted in our forests being fragmented into smaller, disconnected tracts with the subsequent loss of important economic and community benefits that Rhode Island forests provide. Rhode Island is losing forestland more rapidly than any other state.

    RIWP believes that preventing the loss and fragmentation of Rhode Island’s forestland is a critical aspect of protecting the natural resources – especially good clean drinking water – and, the social and economic values of Rhode Island. We encourage and promote the protection of the remaining intact forest cover in Rhode Island through the application of policies that discourage further forest fragmentation and encourage development patterns that conserve the landscape values of larger, unbroken tracts of land.

    Clearing forest for energy production has the effect of not just removing and fragmenting forest, but also canceling the positive impacts of forest on climate change mitigation and adaptation. You can read the RIWP position paper on the role of Rhode Island’s forests in climate change at https://rhodeislandwoods.uri.edu/files/RIWP-Climate-Change-Position-Statement.pdf

  • Energy 2035 updates the State Guide Plan Element 781 adopted in 2002. It is intended to guide the activities of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources and the Division of Planning. The Plan describes the existing state of Rhode Island’s energy system and sets goals and policies to improve energy security, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability in all sectors of energy production and consumption. It is intended to advance the effectiveness of public and private stewardship of the State’s use of energy resources and identifies activities needed to keep the energy systems on which the state depends functioning optimally. As an element of the State Guide Plan, this Plan sets forth goals and policies that must, under state law, be reflected in future updates of comprehensive community plans.

Experience of Other New England States – Click on each blue bar to read more on the topic

  • The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published a special report this year aimed at stimulating solar energy facilities in places other than farms and forests.

    The report, Energy Sprawl in Connecticut, documents the surge in proposals to use farmland and forest for the construction of large solar electricity-generating facilities.

    “We do not see any need for Connecticut’s land conservation and renewable energy goals to be in conflict,” said Council Chairman Susan Merrow, a resident of East Haddam. “We envision a future with ample solar energy, farms, and forests.”

    The report analyzes recent state decisions affecting utility-scale solar development, and determined that if all of the projects selected by DEEP in 2016 to supply renewable energy are approved and built, many hundreds of acres of farmland and forest will be converted to electricity generation.

    The report is recommending legislation to:

    Require the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to give “meaningful weight” to environmental siting criteria when selecting renewable energy projects that supply electricity to Eversource and United Illuminating. Under current laws and policies, DEEP bases its decisions on the price of electricity supplied, which has led to a surge in projects proposed to be built on farmland and forest, where development is cheapest.

    Require utility-scale solar developments to obtain a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need from the Connecticut Siting Council (CSC). Current statutes (CGS Section 16-50k) require the CSC to approve such projects by declaratory ruling, and severely limit what the CSC may consider before approving a project. The Certificate, on the other hand, is the approval tool for most facilities regulated by the CSC, from power plants to cell towers, and provides more detailed oversight of siting. In addition, the report urges the General Assembly to amend the statute to allow the CSC to consider impacts to agricultural land in all its decisions.

    The Council also urges DEEP and the General Assembly to consider incentives to encourage developers to put their projects on landfills, industrial lands, and other previously-developed sites. The report notes that earlier this week the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources announced a proposal to do just that.

    Read the full report.

  • Read the full letter.

    We strongly recommend that the next phase of the Commonwealth’s Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) Program eliminate any incentive for Generation Units sited on:

    • Wetland soils
    • Agricultural soils of prime or statewide importance
    • BioMap2 Core Habitat, including forest blocks >=500 acres
    • Designated Priority Habitat of state-listed rare species
    • Lands formally conserved through Article 97 status or conservation restriction
    • Any Archaeological site listed in the State Register of Historic Places or Inventory of Historic and Archaeological Assets of the Commonwealth
  • Vermont recently rewrote its net metering rules. The new policy prioritizes putting solar projects on landfills or brownfields (see page 9 for complete list).  That means some projects — like building solar in a farm field — will no longer be economically viable.

    The Vermont Public Service Board also adopted siting adjustors “to encourage net-metering customers to select more environmentally friendly sites for new net-metering systems.” The Board said siting adjustors will “encourage the environmentally beneficial siting of net-metering projects and thereby help ensure that such projects are in the public good,” and that siting adjustors will allow for better accounting of the benefits and costs of net-metering. For example, the initial siting adjustors provide greater financial incentives to construct net-metering systems up to 150 kW with limited environmental impacts, such as systems that are located on previously developed areas like roofs and parking lots.

Events and Meetings – Click on blue bar for details

  • OER and DEM are hosting a series of public meetings on Renewable Energy Siting.

    This is a hot topic for potential 2018 legislation. OER and DEM recognize that renewable energy siting legislation will be introduced by different stakeholders next legislative session, as there were a few renewable siting bills introduced this past session.

    OER and DEM would like to try and help facilitate the discussions with the different parties over the next 5 months, in advance of the 2018 session. The objectives of these stakeholder meetings will be to discuss broad renewable energy siting/projects that involves residential, business, commercial, industrial and farm land properties.

    These meetings are open to the public but please RSVP to Christopher.Kearns@energy.ri.gov if you plan to attend. The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 23rd from 3-5 pm at the Department of Administration Conference Room A on the second floor, 1 Capitol Hill, Providence.

Opinion from different points of view

Energy Sprawl

Growing energy demand could threaten 20 percent of the world’s remaining natural land by 2030. But one TNC scientist has a vision for getting the energy we need without sacrificing nature.

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More Rhode Island Forest Set to be Foolishly Sacrificed for Energy Production

ecoRI News – Rhode Island just doesn’t get it, even when it tries to be 21st century. Cutting down 30,000 trees to make room for a solar farm is only slightly less 1980’s than destroying 200 acres of forest to build a fossil-fuel power plant.

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Space Needs to be Made for Renewable Energy in Rhode Island

ecoRI News – The electricity we all consume must come from somewhere. It’s unrealistic to think that our energy supply is not going to have significant impact. The real question is what kind of energy supply is preferable, all impacts considered.

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Legislation

H6062 Introduced, but did not pass. Overrides local zoning to allow 20% of any land classified as a farm to be devoted to solar or wind energy production. Land between solar panels does not appear to be counted towards the 20%.

H6095Aaa Passed 2017. Farms shall not be subject to a land use change tax if the landowner converts no more than 20% of the total acreage to a renewable energy system.

H5575 Passed 2017. Establishes a streamlined statewide solar permitting application process that towns must adopt.

Newspaper Stories

Area towns fear ‘energy sprawl’ from a host of solar projects

Westerly Sun – June 18, 2017 – By Cynthia Drummond Sun staff writer

Websites

RI Office of Energy Resources http://www.energy.ri.gov/