October 22, 2010
From the Oct 18, 2010 edition
By Chris Barrett
PBN Staff Writer
Rhode Island lawmakers face a barrage of advice on renewable energy. Suggestions come from the R.I. Economic Development Corporation, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, the R.I. Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council, the R.I. Office of Energy Resources, the governor’s office, industry groups and individual companies.
Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, says all that advice is nice, but it rarely translates into legislative action. On Oct. 21 she was scheduled to convene a committee of lawmakers, state officials, business executives and academics to discuss legislative ways to advance the adoption and development of renewable energy in the state, particularly by small businesses.
“A lot of the state agencies come out with great ideas, great white papers, but you have to put it into policy,” Ruggiero said.
The freshman Democrat sponsored a House resolution earlier this year to establish the R.I. Small Business Renewable Energy Task Force. The 13-member group includes Ruggiero, Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt – a Republican representing North Kingstown – and officials from the EDC, DEM, and Office of Energy Resources joined by business leaders and academics.
Ruggiero said she’s intentionally putting few boundaries on topics to leave the floor open for discussion. Broadly, Ruggiero said she wants the task force to listen to the hurdles small businesses face when attempting to install a renewable energy system like solar panels. She also wants to know if small companies can meet energy-efficiency standards required by an increasing number of companies and government agencies, including Wal-Mart and the U.S. Department of Defense.
And she broached the idea of crafting a law modeled after the Massachusetts Green Communities Act. That law, passed in 2008, requires utilities to purchase some of their electricity from renewable energy projects, something Rhode Island also has on the books. But unlike Rhode Island, the Bay State law created a grant program to pay cash to communities that took steps to reduce their community’s energy consumption and encourage renewable energy installations.
Ruggiero said she expected some type of draft legislation to emerge from her committee. The resolution creating the task force requires a report by March 1, 2011. Ruggiero insists the report will come and she’ll do her part to ensure it won’t end up buried or ignored like so many legislative task force reports.
“I’m a doer,” she said. “I don’t just want to talk about things. I want to do it.”
To help her, she recruited Eric Offenberg, the CEO of Middletown-based renewable energy company rTerra Renewable Energy Partners, along with Mike Ryan, an executive vice president at National Grid and Bruce Dawson, vice president at Cranston-based Central Tools Co.
“It feels very much a step in the right direction that the legislature is looking more to involve and attract and listen to the small-business community,” Dawson said.
Dawson said Central Tools may not pay the same eye-popping energy bills as some of the state’s largest employers, but energy represents a significant cost for businesses like his. Dawson said he is hopeful the task force will provide a platform for small businesses to express their concerns directly to lawmakers. Possible topics he envisions being tackled include discussing a statewide regulation governing the placement of technologies like solar panels and wind turbines. Also potentially on the docket is a discussion of how that state can encourage energy conservation by small businesses or reduce the costs for undertaking conservation projects. Or perhaps the state can find a way to let small-business owners band together and purchase electricity to take advantage of large-customer discounts.
Mostly, Dawson wants small-business people such as himself to come to the task force meetings and push lawmakers to do more than talk.
“For years we’ve complained,” he said. “Now it’s time to participate or shut up.”
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