Representative Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown)

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero has introduced legislation that would help Rhode Island meet its carbon emissions reduction goals by phasing in higher percentages of biodiesel in heating oil sold in the state.

Rhode Island already requires heating oil to be sold as a mix that contains 5 percent biodiesel – which includes fuels derived from environmentally friendly biological sources such as used cooking oil or soy byproducts. That requirement was phased in between 2014 and 2017 under legislation that Representative Ruggiero cosponsored in 2013.

According to the Oil Heat Institute of Rhode Island, in 2017, the 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.

Studies have shown that heating oil can be at least as high as 20 percent biodiesel and existing heating systems will operate just as well, if not better, than with ordinary petroleum oil. Biodiesel releases far fewer emissions into the atmosphere, and since it is often made out of industrial byproducts, it diverts waste from landfills at the same time.

Representative Ruggiero’s legislation (2019-H 5447) would gradually increase the percentage of biodiesel required in heating oil sold in the state over six years beginning in 2021. Under an amendment she plans to introduce, oil would have to be 7 percent biodiesel beginning in 2021, 10 percent in 2023, 15 percent in 2025, and finally 20 percent in 2027. The bill contains a provision to allow for temporary suspension of the requirement if there is not an adequate supply of biodiesel available at commercially reasonable prices.

“Biodiesel has been integrated into Rhode Island’s heating oil supply seamlessly beginning in 2014, decreasing our state’s carbon footprint while also diverting waste that would be headed to the limited space left in our landfill. Biodiesel burns cleaner and more efficiently, and it actually extends the life of heating systems. It has been a win-win-win for Rhode Island, and we should multiply the benefits by shifting more of our supply toward biodiesel,” said Representative Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown) in a press release.

Although the biodiesel blended with fuel sold in Rhode Island comes from many places, Rhode Island is home to one company that manufactures it: Newport Biodiesel, which collects used cooking oil from more than 4,000 restaurants and facilities from around New England and converts it into 7 million gallons of biodiesel a year.

When used, biodiesel releases significantly less greenhouse gas than petroleum products. On average, biodiesel burns about 85 percent cleaner than petroleum diesel, and biodiesel made from used cooking oil is 90 percent cleaner, according to Bob Morton, chairman of the board of Newport Biodiesel. Every gallon of biodiesel used instead of a gallon of petroleum product equals 20 pounds less carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. And a heating system fueled by a blend that is 17 percent or more biodiesel emits less carbon dioxide than one running on natural gas, he said.

The Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014, which Representative Ruggiero also cosponsored, set goals of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by next year, 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

According to Morton, a 20 percent blend would achieve nearly 10 percent of the state’s emissions reduction objectives for 2035, according to Morton. The state’s current 5-percent blend means Rhode Island has reduced carbon emissions by more than 45 million metric tons per year, which is the equivalent of removing 7,500 cars per year from the roads, he said. With a 20 percent biodiesel blend, Rhode would reduce emissions by 180 million metric tons, the equivalent of removing more than 30,000 cars per year. 

The bill is supported by the Oil Heat Institute of Rhode Island, the New England Fuel Institute, the National Biodiesel Board several terminal operators and a number of environmental groups.

“Our industry really wants to be part of the solution when it comes to the state energy plan and the initiatives to reduce harmful greenhouse gases. We feel we can be a major partner with the state in helping to reduce our carbon emissions,” said Roberta J. Fagan, executive director of the Oil Heat Institute, Inc. in a release, an association of heating oil providers.


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