Rhode Island increasing renewable resources

Per U.S. Department of Energy report
Sat, 08/26/2017 - 7:15am
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According to a U.S. Department of Energy report, it appears that Rhode Island is aiming to substantially increase its renewable resources capacity, including wind power.

Gov. Gina Raimondo said that she is committed to increasing renewable resources to 1,000 megawatts by 2020. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which told The Block Island Times that Rhode Island’s potential wind capacity “is about 200 megawatts.” Block Island Wind Farm developer Deepwater Wind is pursuing a wind farm project capable of producing 1,000 megawatts in an offshore leased siting area.  

Alternative energy sources currently generate 100 megawatts of energy for the state’s needs, 50 percent of which is wind energy. Other sources include solar photovoltaic, hydroelectric and biomass (organic material used as fuel) resources. 

“Rhode Island leads the nation in offshore wind by being home to the nation’s only commercial offshore wind farm, and also led the nation by adding the most distributed wind capacity in 2016,” said Liz Hartman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Energy. Hartman was referencing a 2016 Offshore Wind Technologies Market Report published by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in which it noted that Rhode Island installed 15-megawatts of additional wind energy in 2016.

“Of the 15-megawatts cited in the report, Rhode Island has nine 1.5 megawatt turbines in Coventry and one 1.5 megawatt turbine at Portsmouth High School, which all became operational in 2016,” said Robert Beadle, Communications Manager for Rhode Island’s Office of Energy Resources.

The DOE report notes that: “In 2016, Rhode Island installed 45 megawatts of utility-scale wind capacity,” and that “Rhode Island legislators approved an increase of Rhode Island’s Renewable Energy Standard from 14.5 percent by 2019 to 38.5 percent by 2035. On March 1, 2017, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo announced a commitment to increase the state’s renewable energy resources to one gigawatt by the end of 2020.”

(For reference, one gigawatt equals 1,000-megawatts, while 1-megawatt is equal to 1,000 kilowatts. Per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. home uses about 940-kilowatt hours per month.)

When asked if Gov. Raimondo’s goal of 1,000 megawatts (one gigawatt) for renewable resources was attainable by 2020, Hartman said, “Rhode Island currently has 101.6 megawatts of renewables, so getting to 1-gigawatt would require a tenfold increase.” Hartman provided The Times with information noting that in May of 2017 wind energy has supplied about 50-megawatts of the state’s renewables portfolio, with solar at 10-megawatts, hydroelectric at about 3-megawatts and biomass resources at 37 megawatts.

“Rhode Island’s potential wind capacity, based on current wind turbine technology, is about 200 megawatts,” added Hartman. “This maximum potential wind capacity could go up a bit in the future with technological advancements, for example, having bigger, more efficient turbines — a trend we’re already seeing, but you would still need a good amount of deployment of other renewable resources to reach 1,000 megawatts.”

Deepwater Wind has said its leased siting area located 18 miles offshore in federal ocean waters between Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island has the capacity to produce up to 2,000 megawatts, or two gigawatts, of wind energy. The company anticipates building a large scale wind farm that could generate 1,000-megawatts and supply energy to 350,000 homes.

Under key findings in the report it states that: “Rhode Island led the nation in annual distributed wind power capacity additions, with 15 megawatts of newly added turbines used in distributed applications in 2016. This brings the state’s total to 24.1 megawatts of distributed wind installed between 2003 and 2016.” Hartman said that the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm “is too new to have electricity generation data being reported to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.” 

At this point in time, about 95 percent of Rhode Island’s energy supply is provided by natural gas and petroleum resources. “Rhode Island currently has a lot more wind than solar or hydropower, but these are all eclipsed by natural gas, which provides most of the state’s electricity,” said Hartman. A data table provided by the DOE (for May 2017), noted that 94.7 percent of the state’s electricity was provided via natural gas and petroleum, while 5.3 percent comes from other renewable sources, 2.7 percent of which is wind energy.

As for distributed wind capacity, Block Island Power Company President Jeffery Wright said it was “great’ that Rhode Island led the nation in most distributed wind in 2016. “The best form of any generation is right at the location where it will be consumed, and distributed generation does exactly that,” he said. “It limits losses from transportation and offsets power company loads and peaks. The key to successful wind generation is location; both from a wind resource standpoint and aesthetic/noise standpoint.”

“We are encouraged by Rhode Island's standing in the report as a national leader in offshore wind energy,” said Beadle. “As host to the nation's very first offshore wind farm, currently generating 30 megawatts off the southern coast of Block Island, we see this project as a critical first step in launching the offshore wind industry in the United States. We remain hopeful that the federal government and states will enact legislation to incentivize the development of more wind farms as we seek to source more of our nation's power