New law increases net metering for Block Island, Pascoag utility districts

A new law introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi (R-Dist. 36, New Shoreham, Charlestown, South Kingstown, Westerly) will allow for increases in net metering peak for utility districts in New Shoreham and Burrillville.

Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. The bill (2021-S 0022, 2021-H 5503) amends the maximum peak load of allowable capacity for the net metering systems in the Block Island Utility District and the Pascoag Utility District to not exceed a maximum peak load set by the utility district.

“State law restricts net metering for private solar and wind installations,” said Senator Sosnowski. “The Block Island Utility District Board of Commissioners have been developing a new policy for further installations. In order for that to happen, we need to lift the cap on net metering beyond the allowed percentage.”

The bill, which took effect immediately when it was signed yesterday, changes the maximum aggregate amount of net metering from 3% to a percentage set by the utility district based on its operational characteristics, subject to approval of the Public Utilities Commission.

“On Block Island, we’re an environmentally conscious community, and we’ve already used our 3% capacity,” said Leader Filippi. “There are hundreds of homeowners that want to purchase solar voltaic cells and put them on their roofs and produce clean renewable energy. This bill is necessary for Block Islanders to increase their solar capacity.”

New law to increase use of cleaner-burning biodiesel in home heating oil

The General Assembly has approved and the governor has signed legislation sponsored by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski to phase in significantly higher percentages of cleaner-burning biodiesel in home heating oil sold in the state.

Biodiesel is a fuel made from vegetable oils such as used cooking oil and soy byproducts. It must meet standards and is blended with petroleum heating oil to burn cleaner and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It requires no alteration to existing heating equipment.

Rhode Island already requires heating oil to be sold as a mix that contains 5 percent biodiesel. That requirement was phased in between 2014 and 2017 under legislation that Senator Sosnowski sponsored and Representative Ruggiero cosponsored in 2013.

The new law will phase in higher percentages of biodiesel or renewable hydrocarbon diesel blended into home heating oil. It requires home heating oil to be 10% biodiesel or renewable hydrocarbon diesel in 2023, 20% in 2025 and 50% in 2030. Renewable hydrocarbon diesel is made from the same vegetable oils as biodiesel, but through a different process that requires higher pressures and temperatures. Some large refineries are being converted to make renewable hydrocarbon diesel.

“Every gallon of biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% when compared to a gallon of petroleum heating oil. A blend of 15% biodiesel burns cleaner and has more greenhouse gas reductions than natural gas,” said Representative Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown). “Local leaders in the heating oil industry helped develop this bill, because they understand that in order to stay in business today, they need to modernize and eliminate their carbon intensity by doing what’s right for healthy outcomes for all of us. When people build homes they can go with gas or electric, but with biodiesel blends, home heating oil burns more efficiently and cleaner.”

Said Senator Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), “Biodiesel reduces the emissions of soot and toxins released into the air. The Environmental Protection Agency’s research indicates that biodiesel emits 11% less carbon monoxide and 10% less particulate matter than diesel. A study done by the departments of Energy and Agriculture found that use of biodiesel reduces net carbon dioxide emissions by 78%. Unlike petroleum, which contains sulfur and carcinogens, biodiesel is nontoxic and biodegradable.”

According to the Oil Heat Institute of Rhode Island, in 2017, the existing 5-percent requirement resulted in the use of 12 million gallons of biodiesel being blended into heating oil in the state, diverting cooking oil and other byproducts from landfills and reducing our reliance on petroleum products by 12 million gallons. About one-third of Rhode Island homes rely on oil heat.

Switching to higher concentrations of biodiesel in home heating oil will help Rhode Island achieve the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, established through the Act on Climate passed earlier this year. Those goals are to reach emissions that are 10 percent below 1990 levels this year, 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2040 and net-zero by 2050. Approximately 35% of Rhode Island’s greenhouse gas emissions are from heating.

Enacting the bill helps keep Rhode Island in step with neighboring states. Connecticut’s lawmakers passed similar legislation last month, and Massachusetts has an incentive that currently results in much of its home heating oil supply being sold at a 10-percent blend.

Ban on intentional release of balloons signed into law

The General Assembly has approved and the governor has signed legislation sponsored by Rep. Susan R. Donovan and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski to protect the environment and wildlife by prohibiting the intentional release of large groups of balloons.

The new law, which takes effect Nov. 1, bans intentional, simultaneous releases of 10 or more balloons into the air.

All released balloons, including those falsely marketed as biodegradable, end up as litter on waterways and landscapes. Animals, attracted by their vibrant colors and shapes, mistake them for food, causing injury or death to countless sea and land creatures each year. Balloons are also a nuisance to commercial fishermen and can even cause power outages when they tangle with power lines.

“Balloons may conjure up sweet images of childhood innocence, and the sight of them rising into the sky may seem wondrous and beautiful. But what goes up must come down, and when balloons come down, they become a particularly insidious kind of litter. They often end up in the water, and are among the types of plastic litter that kill and painfully maim fish, birds and other wildlife,” said Representative Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth). “Releasing balloons is harmful. While I’m grateful that these events have become rarer in recent years as awareness of their impact has spread, they should be made illegal to ensure that they become a thing of the past. Dumping hazardous plastic into the environment is not a suitable celebration of anything in 2021.”

Said Senator Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), “Rhode Island’s identity, much of our economy and our lifestyle are so dependent upon a healthy ocean. Releasing balloons in the Ocean State – where 21 of the 39 cities and towns are coastal – is just not in line with way of life or our efforts to improve our environment. Releasing balloons is littering and endangering animals, and it should not be tolerated in Rhode Island.”

The legislation provides exceptions for scientific or meteorological balloon launches with government permission, hot air balloon launches and indoor releases. It applies only to intentional release, not accidental release. Each violation is punishable by a fine of $100 for a first offense and $250 for subsequent ones.

According to Save The Bay, the plastic remains of 503 balloons were found along Rhode Island’s shoreline during the September 2019 International Coastal Cleanup.

The legislation had widespread support from environmental groups across Rhode Island and fishermen’s associations. In 2018, the New Shoreham Town Council passed an ordinance banning the sale of balloons on Block Island as a means of addressing this issue. The new law does not prohibit balloon sales, only the outdoor release of balloons.

Representative Donovan, an avid kayaker who represents a coastal district, has witnessed firsthand the danger balloons pose to animals. A few years ago, while kayaking on the Sakonnet River off Portsmouth with a friend, she encountered a seagull entangled in the string of a balloon. She captured the gull, which was injured and suffering, and used some nail clippers she had with her to free it from the string.

Governor signs law allowing for the direct dockside sale of fish

Gov. Dan McKee has signed legislation introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, New Shoreham, South Kingstown) and Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown) that allows for the direct dockside sale of fish.

The law permits the dockside sale of allowable species upon issuance of a direct sale dealer license by the Department of Environmental Management to a commercial fishing license holder. The legislation allows finfish to be processed but not filleted dockside from the vessel. Lobsters, crabs and whelk would be sold live.

“Commercial fisheries have taken a particular beating during the COVID pandemic,” said Senator Sosnowski. “Those in the seafood industry are just starting to get back on their feet now since the closure of restaurants and other businesses and supply chains.”

Last year, Senator Sosnowski worked closely with the DEM and members of the shellfishing industry to find alternatives to the supply chain and to ensure that the seafood industry is protected and served. The DEM issued provisions temporarily allowing fishermen to sell their catch dockside to consumers and retailers.

“Commercial fisheries are an important part of the coastal economy of Rhode Island,” said Representative Fogarty. “This bill is a lifeline to that industry while preserving safety and public health by ensuring that all seafood be stored and handled in a safe and sanitary manner pursuant to department regulations.”