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Promoting green sector job growth topic of Senate action plan, roundtable discussion
President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed today hosted a roundtable discussion of a legislative action plan and corresponding legislation intended to promote job growth in green industries in Rhode Island. Entitled “Grow Green Jobs RI,” the action plan focuses on a wide spectrum of industries, including renewable energy, home energy conservation, constructing environmentally sound infrastructure, agriculture, seafood and recycling.
“Jobs are being created in the clean energy sector of our economy at six times the overall rate of job growth. There is tremendous potential to build on this strength and maximize opportunities for job creation in emerging green industries,” said President Paiva Weed. “The bills generated through this action plan will help remove bureaucratic hurdles for green industries, incentivize growth in those industries, and better equip Rhode Islanders with the skills they need to succeed in the green sectors of our economy.”
Among those participating in the roundtable discussion were representatives of the Greater Providence, Northern Rhode Island, and Newport County chambers of commerce; Build RI; National Grid; Newport Biodiesel; the Northeast Energy Council, the RI Landscaper and Nursery Association, the Environmental Council of RI, the state Departments of Environmental Management, Labor and Training, and Business Regulation; the Office of Energy Resources; the Commerce Corporation; and the Commissioner of Postsecondary Education.
Senators taking part in the discussion included: Senate President Paiva Weed (D – Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio (D – Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence), Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere (R – Dist. 38, Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown), and Senators William J. Conley, Jr. (D – Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket), Cynthia A. Coyne (D – Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), Louis P. DiPalma (D – Dist. 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton), Mark W. Gee (R – Dist. 35, East Greenwich, Narragansett, North Kingstown, South Kingstown), Gayle L. Goldin (D – Dist. 3, Providence), Frank Lombardo III (D – Dist. 25, Johnston), John A. Pagliarini, Jr. (R – Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton), and V. Susan Sosnowski (D – Dist. 37, New Shoreham, South Kingstown).
The Grow Green Jobs RI legislative action plan outlines several steps to foster job growth in green industries:
Expand Workforce Development Opportunities
The action plan recommends the Department of Labor and Training’s new Real Jobs RI program partner with green industries to identify training needs for existing jobs for which there is a skills gap. Real Jobs RI is industry driven; the businesses identify where the training need is, and where the jobs are. Training is provided in those fields. With regard to green jobs, that may be fields such as installing solar panels or manufacturing or property drainage/storm water management. The Governor’s Workforce Board can set similar career pathways in their workforce training investments.
Create Educational and Training Pathways for Jobs in the Green Economy
Rhode Island is on track to be the home of the nation’s first offshore wind farm, and windmills are generating power all over the state. Yet our public institutions of higher learning do not offer programs in windmill maintenance.
The legislative action plan would encourage public higher education institutions to develop further degree programs. Applied science degrees are needed, particularly at the associate’s level, in fields such as solar technology installation, wind turbine maintenance, engineering, pest control, organic gardening, and more.
At the elementary and secondary levels, the legislation would encourage certificates and pathways to higher education degree programs to prepare students in green technologies.
Support the Growth of Renewable Energy Industries
Extending the Renewable Energy Standard that provides for annual increases in the percentage of electricity generated from renewable sources provides a market for renewable energy that facilitates the industry’s growth. The RES is scheduled to cap at 14.5 percent in 2019. Grow Green Jobs RI legislation will propose expanding the Renewable Energy Standard to 2029 with continued annual increases.
The Senate action plan also recommends expanding the Renewable Energy Growth Program, sometimes called distributed generation, to increase in-state generation of renewable energy. This REG program requires National Grid to contract with small renewable energy facilities, which facilitates the development and financing of projects.
REG has been very successful, and is anticipated to create approximately 250 in-state jobs and increase state tax revenue by over $1 million a year. Grow Green Jobs RI legislation would extend the program for 10 years beyond its scheduled expiration in 2019, and expand its annual capacity.
Additionally, the Renewable Energy Fund is scheduled to expire in 2017. The Fund is administered by the Commerce Corporation, and provides competitive grants and loans to make renewable projects more affordable. The legislation would extend this program for another 10 years.
Expand Energy Efficiency Programs to Delivered Fuels
Rhode Island’s current energy efficiency programs for electricity and gas consumers have helped make the state a national leader in energy efficiency, and helped to spur economic growth. The Office of Energy Resources projects that over the next three years, energy efficiency programs will help boost the state’s GDP by $2.34 billion and deliver more than $2.70 of benefits to consumers for each dollar invested.
Consumers who heat with oil, propane and kerosene account for almost 40 percent of the state’s total heating consumers. These consumers do not have the same opportunities to pursue energy efficiency services and upgrades.
The Grow Green Jobs RI action plan would extend the program to delivered fuels, helping consumers save money while creating jobs in the construction industry installing windows, insulation, boilers and hot water heaters.
Enhance the Growth of Renewable Thermal Industries
The Senate’s Grow Green Jobs RI plan would expand the RES to include renewable thermal technologies, such as wood pellet boilers, solar water heating panels, geothermal heating and cooling systems, and biodiesel fuels. This would encourage the use of locally sourced renewable fuels and support in-state jobs.
Reduce Costs to Continue the Growth of Rhode Island’s Solar Industry
A five-fold increase in solar power is anticipated over the next decade. The U.S. Department of energy estimates that up to 64 percent of the total expense of a solar project installation is in soft costs, such as permitting, inspection, fees, labor and financing.
The Grow Green Jobs RI action plan recommends a streamlined permitting program that removes unnecessary regulatory barriers, resulting in a predictable and less costly process for solar developers. It recommends the establishment of statewide property tax standards for small residential and commercial solar projects, so that costs are predictable. Twenty-nine states provide some type of property tax relief for solar systems. The Senate action plan recommends a state rebate program for the installation of renewable systems.
Expand Rhode Island’s Agriculture and Seafood Industries
Rhode Island’s agriculture and seafood industries are important and growing sectors of Rhode Island’s economy. The Local Agriculture & Seafood Act of 2012 (LASA) established an economic development grants programs to increase the competitiveness of Rhode Island-grown agricultural products and local seafood.
Recommendations from the action plan include support for LASA grants, the Seafood Marketing Collaborative, and job development incentives to companies that process Rhode Island’s agricultural and seafood products. Increased demand for local farm grown products will create additional production and logistics jobs. Another recommendation is for the Office of Regulatory Reform to work with state agencies and businesses to identify opportunities to coordinate and simplify rules that apply to agricultural businesses.
Apply Strategies That Increase Recycling and Reuse, Creating Resources and Local Jobs
Recycling and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs are effective policies that spur local job creation. Grow Green Jobs RI recommends that Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation submit an economic impact study of Rhode Island’s solid waste industries to identify the most cost effective ways to develop jobs related to increased recycling in Rhode Island. The Senate’s action plan would propose a goal of recycling at least 50 percent of the state’s solid waste stream by 2025.
“With our Grow Green Jobs RI legislative action plan, the Senate is seeking to match environmental challenges with employment opportunities, including education and training for in demand fields, smart policy choices to promote green jobs, and incentives to help Rhode Islanders invest in green technologies. As the residents and businesses of the Ocean State respond to challenges caused by rising seas, changing storm patterns, and limited natural gas supply to our region, we can capitalize on the opportunities for job creation. These proposals are good for consumers, good for the economy, and good for the environment,” said President Paiva Weed.