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January 13, 2021
Study Coauthored by Brattle Economists Assesses Policies and Pathways for Achieving 100% Renewable Electricity in Rhode Island by 2030

A new study jointly prepared by economists at The Brattle Group and the State of Rhode Island’s Office of Energy Resources (OER) analyzes the key factors that will guide Rhode Island to meeting 100% of the state’s electricity demand with renewable electricity by 2030. Based on the study’s analysis, achieving this goal is attainable, with renewable resources available within the state and the surrounding areas to support this target. Rhode Island can maximize the benefits to its state by leveraging market-based approaches to procuring additional renewable electricity, proactively planning Rhode Island and New England infrastructure, and identifying opportunities to develop in-state resources.

In January 2020, Governor Gina M. Raimondo signed Executive Order 20-01 that set a first-in-the-nation goal to meet 100% of Rhode Island’s electricity demand with renewable energy by 2030. The Brattle and OER study considers the available renewable energy technologies, including their feasibility, scalability, costs, generation patterns, market value, and local economic and employment impacts, as well as practical barriers and market conditions that may affect their implementation. Additionally, the study considers specific policy, programmatic, planning, and equity-based actions that will support achieving the 100% renewable electricity goal.

Rhode Island is already on pace to support about 3,060 GWh per year of renewable energy generation in 2030, about 40% of the state’s projected 2030 electricity demand. Rhode Island will need to add about 4,600 GWh of new renewable energy generation by 2030 to close the gap to reach 100% by 2030. This represents a 150% increase in the amount of renewable energy procured to date. Beyond 2030, the state will likely need to continue adding renewable generation at a similar pace, adding roughly 400–500 GWh from new resources each year, to remain at 100%, given the expected increase in electricity demand due to widespread adoption of electrified heating and transport.

An analysis of recently added renewable energy resources and potential for new development shows that the primary renewable energy resources that can fill a significant portion of the gap are offshore wind, land-based wind, wholesale solar, and retail solar. The study finds that the accompanying rate impacts would increase a typical 2030 monthly residential bill by about $11 to $14 with utility-scale renewables, or by $30 if the entire gap were to be filled with retail solar. If the renewable resources are in-state (or developed from a Rhode Island port, for offshore wind), the local economic activity associated with the resources would boost Rhode Island’s GDP and local jobs, relative to out-of-state resources or buying RECs from New England markets. 

Additional key insights from the analysis include the following:

  • The existing REC structures, tracking mechanisms, and markets will allow Rhode Island to implement the 100% goal seamlessly, track its progress, and accommodate uncertainty and variability in electricity demand and renewable generation.
  • Rhode Island should limit the extent to which it relies on short-term REC purchases to meet its 100% renewable goal to ensure that it will truly achieve incremental GHG reductions, and to limit the ratepayer cost impact of potentially volatile REC prices.
  • All renewable energy resource types will require integrated planning and investment to build out the necessary infrastructure (the local distribution system, onshore and offshore transmission facilities, as well as the renewable generation itself) to achieve 100% cost-effectively.
  • Rhode Island can identify the lowest cost resources by proactively planning the system upgrades necessary to achieve 100% and procuring renewable energy resources through competitive procurements and programs.
  • Rhode Island can reduce ratepayer costs and risks by collaborating with other New England states to update the design of regional electricity markets to account for the full value of renewable energy resources to the system.

The study, “The Road to 100% Renewable Electricity by 2030 in Rhode Island,” is coauthored by Brattle Principal Dean Murphy, Senior Associate Michael Hagerty, and Principal Jürgen Weiss. Learn more about the report here