‘Decarbonization’ in Rhode Island

Rhode Island is pursuing a “decarbonization” plan, prioritized by Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Prepared for the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers and the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, a study, delivered on April 23, examines the relative “economic attractiveness” of several solutions for decarbonizing the heating sector, The Brattle Group, a research firm that produced the study, said.

“These solutions fall into three broad categories: improving building energy efficiency, replacing current fossil heating fuels with carbon-neutral renewable gas or oil, or replacing existing fossil-fueled boilers and furnaces with electric ground source or air source heat pumps (GSHP, ASHP) powered by carbon-free electricity,” the researchers said.

“The report finds that cost-effective energy efficiency retrofits will reduce both emissions and costs to consumers, but cannot eliminate the need for heat in hundreds of thousands of existing buildings in the state,” the Brattle Group said. “Thus, some combination of the decarbonized heat alternatives – electrification with heat pumps or decarbonized fuels – will also need to be adopted in virtually all of Rhode Island’s buildings.”

Roberta Fagan, executive director of the Energy Marketers Association of Rhode Island, said in a phone interview, “There is a lot of information within the report that is very supportive of the liquid fuels industry,” noting that blending renewable fuel “is a very doable and very economical way for those within the delivered fuels sector—for the consumers—to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Rhode Island has a B5 mandate, Fagan pointed out, and amended legislation to ramp that up has “full support across the board,” she said. The coronavirus pandemic has prevented the General Assembly from gathering, but the hope is that once it reconvenes it will pass the legislation, Fagan said.

The National Biodiesel Board’s Shelby Neal, director of state governmental affairs, said, “I think the report was really positive for Bioheat. It recognizes an ‘all-of-the-above’ approach is needed to meet these really lofty decarbonization goals from government, and it shows that biodiesel is an inexpensive, dependable, low-carbon, seamless way of meeting the government’s public health and carbon goals.” Neal added, “It actually shows a growth pattern for Bioheat.” — Stephen Bennett

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