Rhode Island is one of the most energy-efficient states and one of the smallest consumers of energy per capita.
Rhode Island, called the Ocean State, wraps around Narragansett Bay and encompasses one of only two deep-water ports in New England. It is the smallest state even counting the area covered by Narragansett Bay, the many islands in the Bay, and Block Island further offshore. Rhode Island has a diverse climate. Precipitation is evenly distributed throughout the year, but temperatures vary widely within the day, the year, and from year to year. Heavy snows can occur in winter, especially in the western third of the state and to the northwest where the terrain rises to 800 feet above sea level. Summers are typically temperate, particularly in the ocean-moderated areas.
Rhode Island is the second-most densely populated state in the nation, after New Jersey. It is also one of the most energy-efficient states and one of the smallest consumers of energy per capita. The residential sector leads Rhode Island’s energy consumption, followed by the transportation sector. Industrial energy use is low. Almost three-fourths of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from service industries. The largest contributors to the state’s GDP are health care; finance, insurance, and real estate; and trade. Rhode Island’s manufacturing activities include electronics, metals, chemicals, and shipbuilding.
Almost 4% of Rhode Island’s net electricity generation comes from renewable energy resources, most of it from landfill gas. The state’s largest renewable energy generator is a more than 30-megawatt biomass power plant that uses methane from the Providence landfill. A small but increasing amount of electric power generation in Rhode Island is coming from wind and solar resources.
The first U.S. offshore wind farm will be connected to Block Island and Rhode Island’s mainland.
The first offshore wind farm in the United States is under construction off Block Island in Rhode Island state waters. Construction began in 2015, and the project is scheduled to come online by late 2016. Rhode Island has been encouraging offshore wind development for several years. A 2006-07 state-sponsored study determined that Rhode Island could meet at least 15% of its electricity needs with offshore power generation from wind. The study identified 10 potential offshore wind energy development sites. In 2010, Rhode Island regulators approved power purchase costs for output from the 5-turbine, 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm project. The project developer is also planning a 1,000-megawatt wind complex in federal waters to supply electricity to Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Rhode Island was the first state to incorporate a federally approved Ocean Special Area Management Plan into its coastal zone management program.
Rhode Island’s renewable energy standard (RES) requires retail electricity providers to obtain 16% of power sold in the state from renewable resources by the end of 2020. The requirement is phased in incrementally over 13 years. However, because the law requires the Rhode Island Public Utility Commission (PUC) to periodically assess whether the RES goals remain achievable, the PUC, citing concerns about the availability and cost of renewable sources, delayed the RES’s 2015 phase-in for one year, keeping the goal at the 2014 level for 2015. The original 2020 target of 16% is now 14.5%. No more than 2% of electricity can come from renewable generators built before 1997. In 2014, retail providers met almost all of their obligations with renewable energy certificates (REC) from power produced in Rhode Island and in nearby states. In 2014, about 44% of the RECs needed for compliance came from within Rhode Island. Of the rest, 28% came from Maine, more than 19% were from New Hampshire, and the rest came from New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut. Three-fourths of all the RECs were based on landfill gas and biomass, with wind and hydroelectric power providing most of the rest.
About 95% of Rhode Island’s net electricity generation comes from natural gas, and most of the rest comes from biomass. A small amount of generation comes from petroleum, and very small amounts come from wind and solar. The state deregulated its electric utilities in the 1990s, separating power generation from distribution utilities. As a result, most of the state’s electricity is generated by independent power producers. An exception is Block Island, which has no mainland cable connection and is dependent on Block Island Power Company’s diesel-fueled generators. Generator fuel is brought in by trucks that are ferried to Block Island. Because fuel prices at times have caused Block Island’s electricity costs to rise to almost six times the national average, particularly in summer when rates and electricity demand go up with the influx of tourists, the island is participating in an offshore wind project. The wind farm will be linked to the island by cable, and a second, longer cable will link the island to the mainland’s electricity grid.
Rhode Island consumes about 6.5% of the ISO-NE grid’s power, in line with its 7% share of the regional population. To maintain electricity reliability, ISO-NE grid owners have recently completed two projects that enhance Rhode Island’s grid and the interconnections with Connecticut and Massachusetts. Rhode Island was the first state to allow non-utility electricity providers to compete with the state’s traditional utilities for retail customers. Many eligible commercial and industrial customers have switched to non-traditional power providers, and some providers also offer service to residential customers. Rhode Island is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The initiative is a market-based effort to limit northeastern U.S. carbon emissions from electricity production. With nearly all of its net electricity generation coming from natural gas, Rhode Island is among the nation’s lowest carbon emitters.
Rhode Island’s retail electricity sales to the industrial sector are lower than those of any other state, and the state’s per capita residential electricity consumption is lower than in all but five other states. Air conditioning use is limited during the typically mild summers, and, fewer than 1 in 10 households use electricity as a primary energy source for home heating in winter.
Natural gas fuels nearly all of Rhode Island’s electric generation and heats half of its households.
Rhode Island does not have any natural gas production or reserves. The state’s natural gas is supplied almost entirely by pipeline from Connecticut, which transports natural gas received from New York, but some natural gas also arrives from Massachusetts. Almost two-thirds of the natural gas entering Rhode Island is delivered to Massachusetts. Historically, natural gas has arrived in Rhode Island from producing areas in Canada and from the U.S. Gulf Coast and Mid-Continent regions, but increasing amounts of natural gas are coming from Appalachian Shales, particularly the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania.
Electric power generators and the residential sector are Rhode Island’s largest natural gas consumers. More than half of the natural gas consumed in the state goes to the electric power sector and almost all in-state electricity generation is fueled with natural gas. As increasing amounts of natural gas are used for electricity generation in Rhode Island, and throughout New England, assurance of natural gas supply has become a critical energy issue for the region.
About half of the state’s households heat with natural gas. Rhode Island does not have any natural gas storage and depends on storage capacity in other states, including New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, to meet peak winter demand. Because of regional pipeline constraints, New England also receives natural gas at liquefied natural gas (LNG) ports in Massachusetts, and some is sent on to Rhode Island.
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