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Rhode Island   Rhode Island Profile

State Profile and Energy Estimates

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

Last Updated: September 16, 2021

Overview

Rhode Island's mainland wraps around Narragansett Bay with its many islands.1,2 Called the Ocean State, Rhode Island is one-third water and includes Block Island further offshore, as well as one of New England's deepwater ports at Providence.3,4,5 Rhode Island summers are typically temperate, particularly in the ocean-moderated areas. Heavy snows can occur in winter, especially in the western third of the state where the terrain rises to 800 feet above sea level.6 The state has substantial renewable energy potential, particularly from winds offshore and along its extensive shoreline. But like the rest of the New England region, Rhode Island does not have any economically recoverable fossil energy resources.7,8,9,10

Rhode Island consumes less energy per capita than any other state.

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the nation by land area and is the second-most densely populated, after New Jersey.11,12 Rhode Island consumes the least amount of energy among the states on a per capita basis, due in part to its small size.13 It also has one of the least energy-intensive economies. Rhode Island ranks among the five states using the smallest amount of energy to produce a dollar of gross domestic product (GDP), in part because less than one-tenth of the state's GDP comes from manufacturing.14,15 The largest contributors to Rhode Island's GDP are finance, insurance, and real estate; government; educational services, healthcare, and social assistance; and professional and business services. The state's industrial activities include the manufacture of transportation equipment; chemicals; computers and electronic equipment; machinery; fabricated metal products; and plastics.16

The residential sector leads Rhode Island's end-use energy consumption, accounting for about one-third of the state's total, the fourth-highest share for a state's residential sector energy use after Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. The transportation sector is a close second, consuming slightly more than three-tenths of the state's energy. The commercial sector accounts for about one-fourth of the state's energy consumption, and the industrial sector accounts for about one-tenth.17

Electricity

Natural gas provides a larger share of electricity in Rhode Island than in any other state.

In 2020, Rhode Island generated a larger share of its electricity from natural gas than any other state, about 89%. Most of the rest of the state's net generation came from solar, wind, and biomass resources. A small amount of the state's electricity was also generated from petroleum and hydropower.18,19 Rhode Island is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based program to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation in 11 of the northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states.20 Rhode Island is the nation's second-lowest energy-related carbon dioxide emitter, after Vermont, due in part to its low energy use and because of the state's small size.21,22

Rhode Island's total per capita electricity sales are lower than in all other states except for California and Hawaii, and its per capita electricity sales to the residential sector are lower than in all but five states.23,24 With fewer than 10 days of temperatures above 90°F in a typical summer, air conditioning use in Rhode Island is limited, and only about 1 in 10 households use electricity as their primary energy source for home heating.25,26,27

In 1996, Rhode Island joined some of the other New England states to implement an electricity restructuring plan that separated power generation from transmission and distribution.28 The restructuring plan was initially only for industrial customers, but was expanded in 1998 to include commercial and residential customers.29 As a result, all of the state's electricity generated by the electric power sector comes from independent power producers.30 The previous exception was on Block Island—located about 9 miles south of the state's coastline—which was not connected to the mainland grid and was dependent on local diesel-fueled generators. Generator fuel arrived in trucks ferried to the island. Because fuel prices sometimes caused Block Island's electricity costs to rise to more than four times the state's average, particularly in summer when rates and electricity demand increased with the influx of tourists, the island participated in the nation's first offshore wind project.31,32 In May 2017, Block Island Power turned off its diesel generators and began receiving power from an undersea cable installed between the offshore wind farm, Block Island, and the mainland. The cable allowed, in conjunction with the wind farm, electricity generated on the mainland to reach Block Island for the first time and allowed the wind-generated electric power to be sent to the onshore grid.33,34,35

Renewable energy

In 2020, solar and wind power each generated more of Rhode Island’s electricity than biomass for the first time.

In 2020, about 12% of Rhode Island's in-state electricity came from utility-scale (1 megawatt or larger) and small-scale generating facilities that produced power from renewable energy sources, half of that from solar energy. Both solar and wind energy surpassed biomass for the first time in 2020 to provide a larger amount of the state's renewable generation. Hydropower supplied an additional small amount of the state's renewable electricity.36

Electricity generation from solar power in Rhode Island more than quadrupled since 2018 and accounted for 6% of the state's total generation in 2020.37 The state has about 415 megawatts of solar generating capacity, and about three-fifths of it is small-scale solar panel systems with less than 1 megawatt of generating capacity each.38 The state's largest solar generating facility, which has a capacity of 24 megawatts, came online in December 2019. A 40-megawatt solar farm to be built at a former gravel pit is scheduled to be operational at the beginning of 2022.39,40

In 2017, Rhode Island became home to the first offshore wind farm in the nation—the 30-megawatt, 5-turbine Block Island project.41,42 With the advent of offshore generation, wind-powered electricity generation in Rhode Island has increased rapidly in recent years. The amount of wind-powered electricity generation in the state in 2020 was 23 times greater than in 2015, and provided 2.8% of the state's net generation in 2020.43 The state also has 41 megawatts of generating capacity at about a dozen onshore wind farms.44

Biomass accounted for 2.5% of Rhode Island's net generation in 2020.45 The state's largest onshore renewable electricity generating station is a biomass-fueled power plant that uses methane produced from a Providence landfill, and it has a generating capacity of 31 megawatts. A second, smaller landfill gas facility has a capacity of about 6 megawatts.46 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, and combined accounted for about 0.1% of the state's generation.47,48,49

Rhode Island has a renewable energy standard that requires retail electricity providers to obtain 22% of the power they sell in the state from renewable resources by the end of 2024, and 38.5% at the end of 2035. Retail electricity providers can meet their obligations with renewable energy certificates (RECs). Providers can obtain RECs by generating renewable energy themselves or by purchasing RECs from other renewable energy producers located in nearby states.50 In January 2020, Rhode Island's governor issued an executive order to increase renewable electricity by setting a goal for the state to get 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2030.51 Rhode Island's legislature began considering legislation in 2021 to enact the governor's renewable electricity goal.52,53

Petroleum

Rhode Island has no crude oil reserves and does not produce or refine petroleum, but the Port of Providence is a key hub for petroleum products that are distributed to southern New England.54,55,56 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. The port area has petroleum storage tanks and a petroleum product pipeline that runs from the port to central Massachusetts.57,58

The transportation sector consumes about seven-tenths of the petroleum used in Rhode Island, mostly as motor gasoline and diesel fuel.59,60 As in the surrounding states, the use of reformulated motor gasoline blended with ethanol is required statewide in Rhode Island year-round to reduce air pollution.61 The residential sector is the second-largest petroleum consumer in the state, accounting for about one-sixth of petroleum use.62 About 3 out of 10 Rhode Island households use heating oil as their primary source for home heating, making the state, like much of the U.S. Northeast, vulnerable to heating oil shortages and price spikes in winter.63

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 heating fuel, which is stored at three terminals, two in New England and one in New Jersey. Rhode Island sits between the two New England terminals, which are located in Connecticut and in Massachusetts. Together those two terminals contain 700,000 barrels of heating fuel.64,65 The combined consumption of petroleum in Rhode Island's industrial and commercial sectors equals about one-eighth of the state's total petroleum use.66

Natural gas

Rhode Island does not have any natural gas reserves or production.67,68 The state's natural gas is supplied by two major interstate pipelines.69,70 The natural gas that enters the state is produced primarily from the Marcellus and Utica shale regions in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, and most of that natural gas reaches Rhode Island by pipeline through Connecticut.71,72 About two-thirds of the natural gas that enters Rhode Island is sent on to Massachusetts.73

About 6 in 10 Rhode Island households rely on natural gas for heating.

With almost all in-state electricity generation fueled by natural gas, about three-fifths of the natural gas consumed in Rhode Island goes to the electric power sector.74,75 The residential sector, where almost 6 out of 10 of the state's households heat with natural gas, accounts for about one-fifth of natural gas use. The commercial sector makes up slightly more than one-tenth of the state's natural gas consumption, followed by the industrial sector at just under one-tenth. As increasing amounts of natural gas are used for electricity generation in Rhode Island and throughout New England, ensuring reliable natural gas supplies is a critical energy issue for the region because of limited pipeline capacity.76,77,78

Rhode Island does not have any natural gas underground storage sites and depends on natural gas from storage fields in other states to meet peak winter demand.79 Because of regional pipeline constraints, Rhode Island and other New England states have also received some natural gas from liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports arriving at ports in Massachusetts.80,81 There is also an LNG vaporization facility in Portsmouth, Rhode Island that provides emergency heating fuel, when necessary, to Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay during the winter.82,83

Coal

Rhode Island has no economically recoverable coal reserves or mining, and it is one of only four states, along with Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, with no utility-scale coal-fired electricity generation in 2020.84,85 Providence was once one of the largest coal import centers in the Northeast, and received more than one-tenth of the imported coal delivered to the eastern customs district in 2015. Coal imports into Providence decreased as demand for coal for electricity generation in New England fell, and there have been no coal imports received at the Providence seaport since 2016.86

Endnotes

1 U.S. Geological Survey, The USGS Water Science School, How much of your state is wet?, accessed August 3, 2021.
2 World Atlas, Rhode Island, accessed August 3, 2021.
3 NETSTATE, The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, updated July 28, 2017.
4 Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Block Island," accessed August 3, 2021.
5 Pilsch, Marty, "The Port of Providence, A multi-dimensional port," American Journal of Transportation (April 4, 2016).
6 Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, "Climate of Rhode Island," Rhode Island's Climate, The CoCoRaHS ‘State Climates' Series, accessed August 3, 2021.
7 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, WINDExchange, Wind Energy in Rhode Island, Maps & Data, accessed August 3, 2021.
8 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Crude Oil Proved Reserves, Reserves Changes, and Production, Proved Reserves as of 12/31, 2019.
9 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Reserves Summary as of Dec. 31, Dry Natural Gas, 2019.
10 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2019 (October 5, 2020), Table 15, Recoverable Coal Reserves at Producing Mines, Estimated Recoverable Reserves, and Demonstrated Reserve Base by Mining Method, 2019.
11 NETSTATE, The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, updated July 28, 2017.
12 U.S. Census Bureau, Data, Historical Population Density Data (1910-2020).
13 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C14, Total Energy Consumption Estimates per Capita by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2019.
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, NAICS, Rhode Island, All statistics in the table, 2019.
15 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C10, Total Energy Consumption Estimates, Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Energy Consumption Estimates per Real Dollar of GDP, Ranked by State, 2019.
16 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, NAICS, Rhode Island, All statistics in the table, 2019.
17 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C11, Total Energy Consumption Estimates by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2019.
18 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2021), Tables 1.3.B, 1.7.B.
19 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors (thousand megawatthours), Rhode Island, 2017-20.
20 The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Welcome, accessed August 3, 2021.
21 U.S. EIA, Energy-Related CO2 Emission Data Tables, Table 1, State energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by year, unadjusted (2000-2018).
22 U.S. EIA, Table F33, Total Energy Consumption, Price, and Expenditure Estimates, 2019.
23 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Retail sales of electricity (million kilowatthours), New England, Rhode Island, 2017-20.
24 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C17, Electricity Retail Sales, Total and Residential, Total and per Capita, Ranked by State, 2019.
25 U.S. EIA, Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), Table HC7.7, Air conditioning in homes in the Northeast and Midwest regions, 2015.
26 Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, "Climate of Rhode Island," Rhode Island's Climate, The CoCoRaHS ‘State Climates' Series, accessed August 3, 2021.
27 U.S. Census Bureau, House Heating Fuel, Table B25040, 2019 ACS 1-Year Estimates Detailed Tables, Rhode Island.
28 State of Rhode Island, Office of Energy Resources, Learn About Electricity, What was electricity deregulation, or "electric restructuring"?, accessed August 3, 2021.
29 New England States Committee on Electricity, "Electric Restructuring in New England - A Look Bank," (December 21, 2015).
30 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2021), Table 1.3.B.
31 Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Block Island," accessed August 3, 2021.
32 "From Diesel to Wind on Block Island," Rocky Mountain Institute (June 19, 2015).
33 Block Island Power Company, The Company, accessed August 3, 2021.
34 Shuman, Cassius, "Island operating on wind farm power," Block Island Times (May 1, 2017).
35 Shuman, Cassius, "How the wind powers the island," Block Island Times (May 5, 2017).
36 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors (thousand megawatthours), Rhode Island, 2017-20.
37 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors (thousand megawatthours), Rhode Island, 2017-20.
38 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (May 2021), Table 6.2.B.
39 U.S. EIA, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory (based on Form EIA-860M as a supplement to Form EIA-860), Inventory of Operating Generators as of May 2021 and Inventory of Planned Generators as of May 2021, Plant State: Rhode Island, Technology: Solar Photovoltaic.
40 Brown University, "Brown launches sustainability strategic plan to confront urgent environmental challenges," Press Release (March 5, 2021).
41 Orsted, Block Island Wind Farm, accessed August 4, 2021.
42 Shuman, Cassius, "Island operating on wind farm power," Block Island Times (May 1, 2017).
43 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors (thousand megawatthours), Rhode Island, 2017-20.
44 U.S. EIA, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory (based on Form EIA-860M as a supplement to Form EIA-860), Inventory of Operating Generators as of May 2021, Plant State: Rhode Island, Technology: Onshore Wind Turbine.
45 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors (thousand megawatthours), Rhode Island, 2017-20.
46 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory (based on Form EIA-860M as a supplement to Form EIA-860), Inventory of Operating Generators as of May 2021, Plant State: Rhode Island, Technology: Select All.
47 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors (thousand megawatthours), Rhode Island, 2017-20.
48 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory (based on Form EIA-860M as a supplement to Form EIA-860), Inventory of Operating Generators as of May 2021, Plant State: Rhode Island, Technology: Conventional Hydroelectric.
49 U.S. EIA, Rhode Island Profile Overview, Map, Layers/Legend: Hydroelectric Power Plant, accessed August 4, 2021.
50 NC Clean Energy Technology Center, DSIRE, Rhode Island Renewable Energy Standard, updated June 26, 2018.
51 Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, 100 Percent by 2030 Renewable Electricity Goal, accessed August 16, 2021.
52 Hannon, Brian, "Electricity Bill with 100% Renewable-Sourcing Goal by 2030 Passes Senate," ecoRI News (June 3, 2021).
53 State of Rhode Island General Assembly, House Bill No. 5762, Legislative Status Report, accessed August 16, 2021.
54 U.S. EIA, Crude Oil Proved Reserves, Reserves Changes, and Production, Estimated Production and Proved Reserves as of 12/31, 2014-19.
55 U.S. EIA, Number and Capacity of Petroleum Refineries, Total Number of Operable Refineries as of January 1, 2016-21.
56 U.S. EIA, Petroleum and Other Liquids, Company Level Imports, accessed August 5, 2021.
57 Rhode Island Division of Planning, Energy 2035, Rhode Island State Energy Plan (October 8, 2015), p. 14.
58 U.S. Department of Energy, State of Rhode Island Energy Sector Risk Profile, p. 4.
59 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F16, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates, 2019.
60 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C2, Energy Consumption Estimates for Selected Major Energy Sources in Physical Units, 2019.
61 Larson, B. K., U.S. Gasoline Requirements, ExxonMobil (January 2018).
62 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F16, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates, 2019.
63 U.S. Census Bureau, House Heating Fuel, Table B25040, 2019 ACS 1-Year Estimates Detailed Tables, Rhode Island.
64 U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve, History, accessed August 5, 2021.
65 U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve (NEHHOR), About HEHHOR, accessed August 5, 2021.
66 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F16, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates, 2019.
67 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Reserves Summary as of Dec. 31, Dry Natural Gas, Annual, 2014-19.
68 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Gross Withdrawals and Production, Gross Withdrawals, Annual, 2015-20.
69 Enbridge, Algonquin Gas Transmission, accessed August 5, 2021.
70 Kinder Morgan, Tennessee Gas Pipeline and Asset Map, accessed August 5, 2021.
71 State of Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, Lean About Natural Gas, Where does natural gas used in Rhode Island come from?, accessed August 24, 2021.
72 U.S. EIA, "New England natural gas pipeline capacity increases for the first time since 2010," Today in Energy (December 6, 2016).
73 U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Rhode Island, 2014-19.
74 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End Use, Rhode Island, Annual, 2015-20.
75 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors (thousand megawatthours), Rhode Island, 2017-20.
76 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End Use, Rhode Island, Annual, 2015-20.
77 U.S. Census Bureau, House Heating Fuel, Table B25040, 2019 ACS 1-Year Estimates Detailed Tables, Rhode Island.
78 ISO-New England, Natural Gas Infrastructure Constraints, accessed August 5, 2021.
79 U.S. EIA, Underground Natural Gas Storage Capacity, Total Storage Capacity, Annual, 2014-19.
80 U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Massachusetts, 2014-19.
81 U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Rhode Island, 2013-18.
82 Faulkner, Tim, "Portsmouth LNG Operation: A Neighborhood Nuisance," ecoRI News (January 31, 2021).
83 McGaw, Jim, "LNG to be stored at Portsmouth site for at least another 3-4 years," EastBayRI (October 16, 2020).
84 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2019 (October 5, 2020), Tables 1, 15.
85 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2021), Table 1.4.B.
86 U.S. EIA, Quarterly Coal Report, October-December 2016-21 , Previous reports, Table 20, Coal Imports by Customs District.