Rhode Island energy policy has evolved and changed course at the will of its chief executive for the past decade.
For former Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, the answer to Rhode Island’s energy future was usually offshore wind power as embodied by Deepwater Wind’s proposed turbine farm off the Block Island shore, which he paved the way for. His former chief of staff remains the company’s CEO.
Carcieri signed the Renewable Enregy Standards bill requiring 16 percent of the state’s power to come from renewable sources by 2019, but solar industry leaders say he scaled back incentives for smaller-scale projects.
Ask Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee about renewable energy and expect to hear the virtues of hydropower ready to be tapped from the great rivers of the Canadian north.
During the Chafee administration, Rhode Island has built up some of its renewable energy programs and diversified beyond wind, even if a deal for Canadian hydro has eluded him.
So where will Rhode Island’s next governor take the state’s energy policy?
As you would expect, the Democratic and Republican candidates differ significantly on what the state’s energy policy should be.
Neither Republican primary candidate – Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Barrington businessman Ken Block – include energy policy as part of their published economic plans.
Both oppose Deepwater, fellow Republican Carcieri’s signature energy policy, and have argued over whether Fung sought campaign contributions from Deepwater.
And both would pursue scaling back any renewable energy incentives that increase electrical rates (which almost all do).
“I certainly don’t support the Deepwater project and the huge subsidies that are aligned with it,” Fung said in a recent interview. “Ratepayers are going to see a significant increase in their bills in future years.”
Block expressed similar sentiments and added that, if Rhode Island was going to host the five-turbine demonstration wind farm off Block Island, it should have been given a right of first refusal to purchase power from the larger farm being planned in federal waters to the east.
“The contract is far too generous – Rhode Island ratepayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars,” Block said of Deepwater. “The worst part is that Rhode Island does not have the first option to purchase the potentially cheaper power from the bigger project, even though we are footing the bill for the demonstration project.”