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Rhode Island   Rhode Island Profile

State Profile and Energy Estimates

Profile AnalysisPrint State Energy Profile
(overview, data, & analysis)

Last Updated: June 21, 2018

Overview

Rhode Island is the smallest consumer of energy per capita among the states, making it highly energy efficient.

Rhode Island, called the Ocean State, has substantial renewable energy potential, particularly from winds along its extensive shoreline and offshore. Like the rest of New England, Rhode Island does not have any fossil energy resources.1,2,3,4 Rhode Island is the smallest state in the nation and is the second-most densely populated, after New Jersey.5 More than two-thirds of Rhode Island's gross domestic product (GDP) comes from service industries. The largest contributors to the state's GDP are real estate; health care; finance and insurance; and state and local governments.6 Rhode Island is the smallest consumer of energy per capita among the states, making it one of the most energy efficient states in the nation.7,8

Rhode Island wraps around Narragansett Bay and includes many islands in the Bay, Block Island further offshore, as well as one of New England's two deep water ports.9,10,11 Precipitation in Rhode Island is evenly distributed throughout the year, but temperatures vary widely. Heavy snows can occur in winter, especially in the western third of Rhode Island and to the northwest, where the terrain rises to 800 feet above sea level. Summers are typically temperate, particularly in the ocean-moderated areas.12 The transportation sector leads Rhode Island's end-use energy consumption, followed closely by the residential sector. Industrial sector energy use is much lower.13 Rhode Island's manufacturing activities include chemicals; transportation equipment (including defense shipbuilding); computers and electronics; plastics; and fabricated metal products manufacturing.14

Electricity

Rhode Island generates a larger share of its electricity from natural gas than any other state, more than 90%. Most of the rest of the state's net generation comes from biomass and wind. A small amount of generation comes from solar, petroleum, and hydropower.15 Rhode Island is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based effort to reduce carbon emissions from electricity production in the northeastern United States.16 With nearly all of its net electricity generation coming from natural gas, Rhode Island is among the nation's lowest carbon emitters.17

Rhode Island was the first state to provide retail choice to all electricity customers.

Rhode Island was the first state in the nation to implement an electricity restructuring plan, providing retail choice to all Rhode Island electricity customers on January 1, 1998.18 Many eligible commercial and industrial customers have switched to non-traditional power providers, and some providers also offer service to residential customers.19 In line with its 7% share of the New England's population, Rhode Island accounted for about 6% of the region's retail electricity sales in 2017, a slight decrease from the previous year. Among the states, Rhode Island's per capita retail electricity sales to the industrial sector are lower than those in all but Maryland, and the state's per capita total electricity sales are lower than in all but California and Hawaii.20,21 Air conditioning use is limited during the typically mild summers, and only about 1 in 10 households use electricity as their primary energy source for home heating in winter.22,23,24

The deregulation of Rhode Island's electric utilities in the 1990s separated power generation from transmission and distribution.25 As a result, almost all of the state's electricity is generated by independent power producers.26 An exception was Block Island, which was not connected to the mainland grid and was dependent on Block Island Power Company's diesel-fueled generators. Generator fuel arrived in trucks ferried to the island. Because fuel prices at times caused Block Island's electricity costs to rise to almost six times the national average, particularly in summer when rates and electricity demand went up with the influx of tourists, the island participated in the nation's first offshore wind project.27,28 On May 1, 2017, Block Island Power turned off its diesel generators and began receiving wind power. Additionally, a cable installed between Block Island and the mainland, in conjunction with the wind farm, allows electricity generated on the mainland to reach Block Island for the first time as well as allowing wind-generated electric power to be sent to the onshore grid.29,30 Rhode Island is part of the six-state Independent System Operator-New England (ISO-NE) regional grid. To maintain electricity system reliability, ISO-NE grid owners recently completed projects that enhance Rhode Island's grid and the state's power interconnections with Connecticut and Massachusetts.31,32

Renewable energy

The first U.S. offshore wind farm was connected to Block Island and Rhode Island’s mainland on May 1, 2017.

More than 7% of Rhode Island's net electricity generation came from renewable energy resources in 2017, almost double the amount from renewable resources in 2016.33 Biomass provides the largest share of the state's renewable generation, and the state's largest onshore renewable energy generator is a biomass power plant of more than 30 megawatts that uses methane from a Providence landfill. A second smaller biomass facility has a capacity of about 6 megawatts.34 In 2017, biomass accounted for nearly 4% of the state's net electricity generation. However, the recent increase in renewable generation is primarily the result of development of the state's offshore wind resource.35

Rhode Island is home to the first operational offshore wind farm in the nation, the 30-megawatt Block Island project.36 The state was the first to incorporate an innovative, federally approved Ocean Special Area Management Plan into its coastal zone management program to improve state review processes and ease the development of offshore projects.37 Rhode Island has encouraged offshore wind development for several years. A 2006-07 state-sponsored study determined that Rhode Island could meet at least 15% of its electricity needs with offshore power generation from wind. The study identified 10 potential offshore wind energy development sites.38 In 2010, Rhode Island regulators approved power purchase costs for output from the proposed 5-turbine Block Island Wind Farm.39 Construction began in 2015, the project became operational in late 2016, and Block Island received wind powered electricity in 2017.40,41 Rhode Island also has about 21 megawatts of generating capacity from several onshore wind turbines.42

Increasing amounts of electric power generation in Rhode Island come from solar energy resources. The state has slightly more than 39 megawatts of installed solar photovoltaic (PV) generating capacity.43 The Solarize Rhode Island Program encourages small-scale solar generation.44 In 2017, about three-fourths of the solar PV generation in Rhode Island was from distributed (small-scale, customer-sited) facilities.45 The state's utility-scale solar PV generation facilities include solar arrays that have nameplate generating capacities up to 3 megawatts. Rhode Island also has two hydroelectric power plants along its northern border. Each of those hydroelectric facilities has a generating capacity of less than 2 megawatts.46,47

Rhode Island's renewable energy standard (RES) requires retail electricity providers to obtain 14.5% of the power they sell in the state from renewable resources by the end of 2019, increasing to 38.5% by the end of 2035.48 Retail electricity providers can meet their obligations with renewable energy certificates (RECs). Providers can obtain RECs by generating renewable energy themselves or by purchasing renewable energy or RECs from other renewable energy producers.49 Retail providers have met almost all of their obligations with power produced in Rhode Island and in nearby states, primarily from Maine, New Hampshire, and New York. Most of the RECs used in Rhode Island were based on power produced from landfill gas, biomass, and wind.50 A separate Long-Term Contracting Standard for Renewable Energy requires that electricity distribution companies enter into long-term contracts for capacity with facilities that provide renewable generation from new facilities. A certain percentage of the new renewable generating capacity must be in Rhode Island.51

Petroleum

Rhode Island has no petroleum reserves and does not produce or refine petroleum, but the Port of Providence is a key petroleum products hub for southern New England.52,53 Almost all of the transportation and heating fuel products consumed in Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut, and parts of Massachusetts are supplied via marine shipments through the Port of Providence.54 The port area has petroleum storage tanks and a petroleum product pipeline that runs from the port to central Massachusetts.55 More than seven-tenths of the petroleum used in Rhode Island is consumed by the transportation sector, almost entirely as motor gasoline and distillate fuel oil.56,57 The use of reformulated motor gasoline blended with ethanol to limit ozone formation is required statewide in Rhode Island.58

About three-tenths of Rhode Island households use fuel oil as their primary energy source for home heating, making the state, like much of the U.S. Northeast, vulnerable to fuel oil shortages and price spikes in winter.59 To avert supply disruptions, the U.S. Department of Energy created the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve in 2000. The reserve contains 1 million barrels of ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD). The heating oil is stored at three terminals, two locations in New England and one in New Jersey. The New England terminals, west and north of Rhode Island in Connecticut and in Massachusetts, together contain 700,000 barrels of ULSD. 60,61

Natural gas

Natural gas fuels nearly all of Rhode Island’s electricity generation and provides heat for more than half of its households.

Rhode Island does not have any natural gas reserves or production.62 The state's natural gas is supplied entirely by interstate pipelines. Most of the natural gas that arrives in Rhode Island is from producing areas in the U.S. Gulf Coast, the U.S. Mid-Continent, and Canada.63,64,65 Natural gas also comes to Rhode Island from the Marcellus and Utica shales in the Appalachian region.66 Most natural gas reaches Rhode Island through Connecticut. More than half of the natural gas entering Rhode Island continues on to Massachusetts.67,68

More than half of the natural gas consumed in Rhode Island goes to the electric power sector and almost all in-state electricity generation is fueled with natural gas.69,70,71 As increasing amounts of natural gas are used for electricity generation in Rhode Island, and throughout New England, access to reliable natural gas supplies has become a critical energy issue for the region. Pipeline access is limited and new pipeline development has not kept up with demand.72 Additionally, more than half of the state's households heat with natural gas.73

Rhode Island does not have any natural gas storage and depends on pipeline storage or natural gas from storage fields in other states to meet peak winter demand.74 Because of regional pipeline constraints, Rhode Island and other New England states have also received some natural gas from two liquefied natural gas (LNG) ports in Massachusetts.75,76,77

Coal

Although Rhode Island has no coal reserves or mining, Providence had been one of the leading coal import centers in the northeast, receiving one-tenth of the imported coal delivered to eastern customs districts in 2015.78,79,80 However, in 2016, coal imports into Providence decreased as demand for coal for electricity generation in New England fell. By 2017, coal imports into the eastern customs districts had decreased to less than one-sixth of the 2015 level, and there were no reported coal imports received in the Providence Customs District.81

Rhode Island and Vermont are the only two states in the nation with no coal-fired electricity generation.82 However, the ISO-NE grid remains dependent on some coal-fired facilities during periods of peak electricity demand.83,84

Endnotes

1 State of Rhode Island, Visit Rhode Island, Facts and History, Historical Information, accessed May 1, 2018.
2 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Rhode Island Profile Data, Reserves, accessed May 1, 2018.
3 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, WINDExchange, Wind Energy in Rhode Island, accessed May 1, 2018.
4 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, WINDExchange, Rhode Island Offshore 90-Meter Wind Map and Wind Resource Potential, accessed May 1, 2018.
5 U.S. Census Bureau, Data, 2010 Census: Population Density Data (Text Version).
6 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Interactive Data, Regional Data, GDP and Personal Income, Annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by State, GDP in Current Dollars, All Industries, Rhode Island, 2015, 2016.
7 U.S. EIA, State Energy Consumption Estimates 1960 through 2016, DOE/EIA-0214(2016) (June 2018), Table C13, Energy Consumption Estimates per Capita by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2016.
8 U.S. EIA, State Energy Consumption Estimates 1960 through 2016, DOE/EIA-0214(2016) (June 2018), Table C12, Total Energy Consumption Estimates, Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Energy Consumption Estimates per Real Dollar of GDP, Ranked by State, 2016.
9 World Atlas, Rhode Island, updated May 1, 2018.
10 Pilsch, Marty, "The Port of Providence, A multi-dimensional port," American Journal of Transportation (April 4, 2016).
11 U.S. Geological Survey, The USGS Water Science School, How much of your state is wet?, updated December 2, 2016.
12 Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, "Climate of Rhode Island," Rhode Island's Climate, The CoCoRaHS ‘State Climates' Series, accessed May 1, 2018.
13 U.S. EIA, State Energy Consumption Estimates 1960 through 2016, DOE/EIA-0214(2016) (June 2018), Table C10, Energy Consumption Estimates by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2016.
14 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Interactive Data, Regional Data, GDP and Personal Income, Annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by State, GDP in Current Dollars, All Industries, Rhode Island, 2016.
15 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2018), Tables 1.3.B, 1.5.B, 1.7.B, 1.14.B, 1.15.B, 1.17.B.
16 State of Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), accessed May 1, 2018.
17 U.S. EIA, Rankings: Total Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2015, accessed May 1, 2018.
18 New England States Committee on Electricity, Electric Restructuring History Whitepaper (December 21, 2015).
19 State of Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission and Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, Competitive Energy Suppliers, Q&A, updated August 1, 2017.
20 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2018), Table 5.4.B.
21 U.S. Census Bureau, Data, State Population Totals and Components of Change: 2010-2017, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2017 (NST-EST2017-01).
22 U.S. EIA, Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), Table HC7.7, Air conditioning in homes in the Northeast and Midwest regions, 2015.
23 Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, "Climate of Rhode Island," Rhode Island's Climate, The CoCoRaHS ‘State Climates' Series, accessed May 1, 2018.
24 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, Rhode Island, Table B25040, House Heating Fuel, 2016 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.
25 State of Rhode Island, Office of Energy Resources, Learn About Electricity, What was electricity deregulation, or "electric restructuring"?, accessed May 3, 2018.
26 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2018), Table 1.3.B.
27 Leone, Steve, "Offshore Wind: Making an American Industry, Part 1," Renewable Energy World (May 11, 2012).
28 Guevara-Stone, Laurie, "From Diesel to Wind on Block Island," Rocky Mountain Institute Outlet (June 19, 2015).
29 Shuman, Cassius, "Island operating on wind farm power," Block Island Times (May 1, 2017).
30 Shuman, Cassius, "How the wind powers the island," Block Island Times (May 5, 2017).
31 U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Electric Power Markets: New England (ISO-NE).
32 National Grid, "Eversource and National Grid Complete Major Upgrade to New England's Electric System," Press Release (January 6, 2016).
33 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2018), Tables 1.3.B, 1.10.B, 1.11.B.
34 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Form EIA-860, detailed data, 3_1_Generator Data, 2016 Form EIA-860 Data, Schedule 3, 'Generator Data' (Operable Units Only).
35 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2018), Tables 1.3.B, 1.14.B, 1.15.B.
36 Deepwater Wind, Block Island Wind Farm, accessed May 10, 2018.
37 U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "NOAA Approves Rhode Island Plan for Offshore Energy Development, Job Creation and Ocean Stewardship," Press Release (July 22, 2011).
38 Peregrine Energy Group, Inc., Rhode Island Offshore Wind Stakeholders Final Report, Prepared for Rhode Island Governor Carcieri and the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (February 2008), p. 1.
39 Deepwater Wind, "RI Supreme Court Upholds Block Island Wind Farm Power Contract," Press Release (July 1, 2011).
40 Deepwater Wind, 2015-2016 Timeline for Block Island Wind Farm, accessed May 10, 2018.
41 Shuman, Cassius, "Island operating on wind farm power," Block Island Times (May 1, 2017).
42 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Form EIA-860, detailed data, 3_1_Generator Data, 2016 Form EIA-860 Data, Schedule 3, 'Generator Data' (Operable Units Only).
43 Solar Energy Industries Association, Solar Spotlight Rhode Island, accessed May 10, 2018.
44 State of Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, Solarize Rhode Island, accessed May 10, 2018.
45 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2018), Table 1.17.B.
46 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Form EIA-860, detailed data, 3_1_Generator Data, 2016 Form EIA-860 Data, Schedule 3, 'Generator Data' (Operable Units Only).
47 U.S. EIA, Rhode Island Profile Overview, Hydroelectric Power Plant Map Layer, accessed May 10, 2018.
48 NC Clean Energy Technology Center, DSIRE, Rhode Island Renewable Energy Standard, updated June 29, 2016.
49 McCann, Jennifer, et.al., Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan, OceanSAMP, Volume 1, Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (October 19, 2010), Chapter 8, Sec. 810.2, p. 14-16.
50 Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission, Rhode Island Renewable Energy Standard Annual RES Compliance Report for Compliance Year 2016 (April 2018), p. ES-1, ES-2.
51 NC Clean Energy Technology Center, DSIRE, Rhode Island Renewable Energy Standard, updated June 29, 2016.
52 U.S. EIA, Rhode Island Profile Data, Reserves and Supply & Distribution, accessed May 1, 2018.
53 U.S. EIA, Petroleum and Other Liquids, Company Level Imports, Rhode Island, accessed May 1, 2018.
54 McCann, Jennifer, et.al., Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan, OceanSAMP, Volume 1, Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (October 19, 2010), Chapter 7, Sec. 740.1, p. 40-41.
55 Rhode Island Department of Transportation, Rhode Island Department of Administration, Division of Planning, Freight Forward: State of Rhode Island Freight and Goods Movement Plan (September 2016), Chapter 4.
56 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F15, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates, 2016.
57 U.S. EIA, State Energy Consumption Estimates 1960 through 2016, DOE/EIA-0214(2016) (June 2018), Table C2, Energy Consumption Estimates for Major Energy Sources in Physical Units, 2016.
58 Larson, B. K., U.S. Gasoline Requirements, ExxonMobil (January 2018).
59 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, Rhode Island, Table B25040, House Heating Fuel, 2016 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.
60 U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve (NEHHOR), accessed May 1, 2018.
61 U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve (NEHHOR) History, accessed May 1, 2018.
62 U.S. EIA, Rhode Island Profile Data, Reserves and Supply & Distribution, accessed May 1, 2018.
63 Spectra Energy, Operations, Algonquin Gas Transmission, accessed May 1, 2018.
64 Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC, System Map, accessed May 1, 2018.
65 Iroquois Gas Transmission System, Map, accessed May 1, 2018.
66 Clemente, Jude, "The Northeast Natural Gas Pipeline Buildout Is Coming," Forbes (June 25, 2017).
67 U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Connecticut, 2016, accessed May 1, 2018.
68 U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Rhode Island, 2016, accessed May 1, 2018.
69 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End Use, Rhode Island, Annual, 2016, accessed May 2, 2018.
70 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2018), Tables 1.3.B, 1.7.B.
71 U.S. EIA, Rhode Island Electricity Profile 2016, Table 5, Electric power industry generation by primary energy source, 1990 through 2016.
72 ISO-New England, Natural Gas Infrastructure Constraints, accessed May 2, 2018.
73 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, Rhode Island, Table B25040, House Heating Fuel, 2016 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.
74 U.S. EIA, Rhode Island Profile Data, Supply & Distribution, accessed May 2, 2018.
75 U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Massachusetts, 2011-16.
76 U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Rhode Island, 2011-16.
77 U.S. EIA, U.S. Natural Gas Imports by Point of Entry, Liquefied Natural Gas Volumes, Annual, 2012-17.
78 U.S. EIA, Rhode Island Profile Data, Reserves, accessed May 2, 2018.
79 U.S. EIA, Rhode Island Profile Data, Supply and Distribution, accessed May 2, 2018.
80 U.S. EIA, Quarterly Coal Report (Abbreviated), October-December 2016 (April 2017), Table 20, Coal Imports by Customs District.
81 U.S. EIA, Quarterly Coal Report (Abbreviated), October-December 2017 (April 2018), Table 20, Coal Imports by Customs District.
82 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2018), Tables 1.3.B, 1.4.B.
83 U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Electric Power Markets: New England (ISO-NE), updated August 1, 2017.
84 ISO-New England, Natural Gas Infrastructure Constraints, Access to Fuel Has Become Uncertain during Winter, accessed May 2, 2018.