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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 15, 2017

Overview

Rhode Island, called the Ocean State, has substantial renewable energy potential, particularly from winds along its extensive shoreline, but no fossil energy resources.1,2,3 The state wraps around Narragansett Bay and encompasses one of New England's deepwater ports.4,5 Rhode Island includes the many islands in the Bay and Block Island, further offshore.6 Precipitation in the state is evenly distributed throughout the year, but temperatures vary widely within the day, the year, and from year to year. 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.7

Rhode Island is one of the most energy-efficient states and one of the smallest consumers of energy per capita.

Rhode Island is the second-most densely populated state in the nation, after New Jersey.8 It is also one of the most energy-efficient states and one of the smallest consumers of energy per capita.9,10 The residential sector leads Rhode Island's end-use energy consumption, followed closely by the transportation sector. Industrial sector energy use is much lower.11 Almost three-fourths of the state's gross domestic product (GDP) comes from service industries. Among the largest contributors to the state's GDP are real estate; health care; finance and insurance; and state and local governments. Rhode Island's manufacturing activities include chemicals; computers and electronics; transportation equipment (including defense shipbuilding); and fabricated metals products manufacturing.12,13

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.14,15 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.16 The port area has petroleum storage tanks, and a small-capacity petroleum product pipeline runs from the port to central Massachusetts.17,18 Most of the petroleum used in Rhode Island is consumed by the transportation sector as motor gasoline and distillate fuel oil.19,20 Rhode Island is one of the few states that requires the statewide use of reformulated motor gasoline blended with ethanol to limit ozone formation.21,22

About one-third 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.23 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), corresponding with decisions made by several northeastern states to phase in ULSD for heating. The heating oil is stored at three terminals, two locations in New England and one in New Jersey. The New England terminals are west and north of Rhode Island in Connecticut and in Massachusetts, and together they contain 700,000 barrels of ULSD. Rhode Island is phasing in requirements for ULSD heating oil by July 2018.24,25

Natural gas

Rhode Island does not have any natural gas production or reserves.26 The state's natural gas is supplied almost entirely by pipeline from Connecticut, which transports natural gas received from New York, but some natural gas also arrives from Massachusetts. Almost two-thirds of the natural gas entering Rhode Island continues on to Massachusetts.27,28 Historically, natural gas has arrived in Rhode Island from producing areas in Canada and from the U.S. Gulf Coast and Mid-Continent regions, but increasing amounts of natural gas are coming from Appalachian shales, particularly the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania.29,30,31,32

Natural gas fuels nearly all of Rhode Island' electricity generation and provides heat for half of its households.

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.33,34 As increasing amounts of natural gas are used for electricity generation in Rhode Island, and throughout New England, assurance of natural gas supply has become a critical energy issue for the region.35 About half of the state's households heat with natural gas.36 Rhode Island does not have any natural gas storage and depends on storage capacity in other states to meet peak winter demand.37 Because of regional pipeline constraints, Rhode Island and other New England states have also received some natural gas from liquefied natural gas (LNG) ports in Massachusetts. However, those terminals have received few imports in the past five years.38,39,40,41

Coal

Although Rhode Island has no coal reserves or mining, Providence is one of the leading coal import centers in the northeast, receiving one-tenth of the imported coal delivered to eastern customs districts in 2015.42 Coal imports into Providence in 2016 decreased as demand for coal for electricity generation in New England fell.43 The state is part of the six-state Independent System Operator-New England (ISO-NE) regional grid. Rhode Island and Vermont are the only two states in the nation with no coal-fired electricity generation. However, the ISO-NE grid remains dependent on coal-fired facilities during periods of peak electricity demand.44,45,46,47

Electricity

About 95% of Rhode Island's net electricity generation comes from natural gas, and most of the rest comes from biomass. A small amount of generation comes from solar, wind, and petroleum.48 The deregulation of Rhode Island's electric utilities in the 1990s separated power generation from distribution utilities.49 As a result, in 2016 almost all of the state's electricity was generated by independent power producers.50 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 an offshore wind project, the nation's first.51,52 On May 1, 2017, Block Island Power turned off their diesel generators and began receiving wind power. The island now receives power from the wind farm and from the mainland's electricity grid by undersea cable.53,54

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, 1998.55 Many eligible commercial and industrial customers have switched to non-traditional power providers, and some providers also offer service to residential customers.56 In line with its 7% share of the regional population, Rhode Island consumes about 6.5% of the ISO-NE grid's power.57 To maintain electricity reliability, ISO-NE grid owners recently completed projects that enhance Rhode Island's grid and the state's interconnections with Connecticut and Massachusetts.58

Rhode Island is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The initiative is a market-based effort to reduce carbon emissions from electricity production in the northeastern United States.59 With nearly all of its net electricity generation coming from natural gas, Rhode Island is among the nation's lowest carbon emitters.60 Rhode Island's per capita retail electricity sales to the industrial sector are lower than those to all but one other state, and the state's per capita total electricity sales are lower than in all but two other states. Air conditioning use is limited during the typically mild summers, and, fewer than 1 in 10 households use electricity as a primary energy source for home heating in winter.61,62,63,64

Renewable energy

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

In 2016, almost 4% of Rhode Island's net electricity generation came from renewable energy resources, most of it from landfill gas.65 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.66 Increasing amounts of electric power generation in Rhode Island are coming from solar energy resources.67 The state has slightly more than 17 megawatts of installed solar photovoltaic (PV) generating capacity.68 About half the solar PV generation in Rhode Island is utility-scale solar PV generation and the rest is distributed (small-scale, customer-sited) generation.69

Rhode Island is home to the first operational offshore wind farm in the nation, the 30-megawatt Block Island project. The state was the first in the nation 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.70 Rhode Island has been encouraging 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.71 In 2010, Rhode Island regulators approved power purchase costs for output from the 5-turbine, 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm project. A cable installed between Block Island and the mainland, in conjunction with the wind farm, allows wind-generated electric power to be sent to the onshore grid.72 The developer of the Block Island wind project is also planning a wind complex with up to 200 turbines in federal waters in Rhode Island Sound.73

Rhode Island's renewable energy standard requires retail electricity providers to obtain 14.5% of power sold in the state from renewable resources by the end of 2020 and 38.5% by the end of 2035.74 Retail electricity providers have met almost all of their obligations with renewable energy certificates (REC) from power produced in Rhode Island and in nearby states, primarily from Maine and New Hampshire. Most of the RECs are based on power produced from landfill gas and biomass.75

Endnotes

1 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Rhode Island Profile Data, Reserves and Supply, accessed April 30, 2017.
2 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, WINDExchange, Rhode Island Wind Resource Map and Potential Wind Capacity, updated September 24, 2015.
3 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, WINDExchange, Rhode Island Offshore 90-Meter Wind Map and Wind Resource Potential, updated June 13, 2014.
4 State of Rhode Island, Visit Rhode Island, Facts and History, Historical Information, accessed April 30, 2017.
5 Pilsch, Marty, "The Port of Providence, A multi-dimensional port," American Journal of Transportation (April 4, 2016).
6 U.S. Geological Survey, The USGS Water Science School, How much of your state is wet?, updated December 2, 2016.
7 Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, The CoCoRaHS 'State Climates' Series, Rhode Island's Climate, accessed April 30, 2017.
8 U.S. Census Bureau, Resident Population Data (Text Version), Population Density, 2010.
9 U.S. EIA, State Energy Consumption Estimates 1960 through 2014, DOE/EIA-0214(2014) (June 2016), Table C12, Total Energy Consumption Estimates, Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Energy Consumption Estimates per Real Dollar of GDP, Ranked by State, 2014.
10 U.S. EIA, State Energy Consumption Estimates 1960 through 2014, DOE/EIA-0214(2014) (June 2016), Table C13, Energy Consumption Estimates per Capita by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2014.
11 U.S. EIA, State Energy Consumption Estimates 1960 through 2014, DOE/EIA-0214(2014) (June 2016), Table C10, Energy Consumption Estimates by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2014.
12 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.
13 Rhode Island Tourism Division, Visit Rhode Island, Facts About Rhode Island, Economy, accessed April 30, 2017.
14 U.S. EIA, Rhode Island Profile Data, Reserves and Supply, accessed April 30, 2017.
15 U.S. EIA, Petroleum and Other Liquids, Company Level Imports, Rhode Island, accessed April 30, 2017.
16 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, Providence, p. 41.
17 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).
18 Sprague, Materials Handling, Our Terminals, Providence, RI, accessed April 30, 2017.
19 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F15, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates, 2015.
20 U.S. EIA, State Energy Consumption Estimates 1960 through 2014, DOE/EIA-0214(2014) (June 2016), Table C2, Energy Consumption Estimates for Major Energy Sources in Physical Units, 2014.
21 Gardner, K.W., U.S. Gasoline Requirements, ExxonMobil (June 2015).
22 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gasoline Standards, Reformulated Gasoline, updated December 5, 2016.
23 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, Rhode Island, Table B25040, House Heating Fuel, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate.
24 U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve (NEHHOR), accessed May 10, 2017.
25 State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Department of Environmental Management, Office of Air Resources, Air Pollution Control Regulation No. 8, Sulfur Content of Fuels, Effective 21 October 1971, Last amended 9 January 2017, p. 2.
26 U.S. EIA, Rhode Island Profile Data, Reserves and Supply, accessed April 30, 2017.
27 U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Connecticut, 2015, accessed April 30, 2017.
28 U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Rhode Island, 2015, accessed April 30, 2017.
29 Spectra Energy, Where We Are, Algonquin Gas Transmission, accessed April 30, 2017.
30 Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC, System Map, accessed April 30, 2017.
31 Iroquois, System Map, accessed April 30, 2017.
32 U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Pennsylvania, 2015, accessed April 30, 2017.
33 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End Use, Rhode Island, Annual, 2016, accessed April 30, 2017.
34 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.7.B.
35 ISO-New England, Fuel Security for Natural-Gas-Fired Generators, updated February 20, 2017.
36 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, Rhode Island, Table B25040, House Heating Fuel, 2011–2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate.
37 U.S. EIA, Rhode Island Profile Data, Reserves and Supply, accessed April 30, 2017.
38 ISO-New England, Fuel Security for Natural-Gas-Fired Generators, updated February 20, 2017.
39 U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Massachusetts, 2015, accessed April 30, 2017.
40 U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Rhode Island, 2015, accessed April 30, 2017.
41 U.S. EIA, U.S. Natural Gas Imports by Point of Entry, Liquefied Natural Gas Volumes, Annual, 2011–16, accessed May 10, 2017.
42 U.S. EIA, Rhode Island Profile Data, Reserves and Supply, accessed April 30, 2017.
43 U.S. EIA, Quarterly Coal Report (Abbreviated), October–December 2016 (April 2017), Table 20, Coal Imports by Customs District
44 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.4.B.
45 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Form EIA-860, detailed data, 2015, 3_1_Generator Data_Y2015, Operable Units Only; Retired and Canceled Units Only.
46 ISO-New England, "2014/15 Winter Outlook: Sufficient Power Supplies Expected, But Natural Gas Pipeline Constraints an Ongoing Concern," Press Release (November 20, 2014).
47 ISO-New England, Retirements of Non-Gas-Fired Power Plants, accessed May 11, 2017.
48 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.5.B, 1.14.B, 1.15.B, 1.17.B.
49 State of Rhode Island, Public Utilities Commission and Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, Summary of Major Provisions of the Rhode Island Utility Restructuring Act of 1996 (H-8124 Substitute B3) (April 3, 2014).
50 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Table 1.3.B.
51 Leone, Steve, "Offshore Wind: Making an American Industry, Part 1," Renewable Energy World (May 11, 2012).
52 Guevara-Stone, Laurie, "From Diesel to Wind on Block Island," Rocky Mountain Institute Outlet (June 19, 2015).
53 Shuman, Cassius, "Island operating on wind farm power," Block Island Times (May 1, 2017).
54 Shuman, Cassius, "How the wind powers the island," Block Island Times (May 5, 2017).
55 U.S. EIA, Status of State Electric Industry Restructuring Activity (February 2003), p. 5.
56 Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission and Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, Competitive Energy Suppliers, Q&A, updated November 7, 2016.
57 ISO-New England, Rhode Island State Profile, 2013–14 (February 2014).
58 Sherman, Eli, "Interstate Reliability Project Completed to Upgrade Southern N.E. Electric System," Providence Business News (January 6, 2016).
59 State of Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), accessed May 12, 2017.
60 U.S. EIA, Rankings: Total Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2014, accessed May 1, 2017.
61 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Table 5.4.B.
62 U.S. Census Bureau, State Population Totals Tables: 2010-2016, Table 1, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016.
63 Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, The CoCoRaHS 'State Climates' Series, Rhode Island's Climate, accessed April 30, 2017.
64 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, Rhode Island, Table B25040, House Heating Fuel, 2011–2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate.
65 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.14.B, 1.15.B, 1.17.B.
66 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Form EIA-860, detailed data, 2015, 3_1_Generator Data_Y2015, Operable Units Only.
67 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.14.B, 1.17.B.
68 Solar Energy Industries Association, State Solar Policy, Rhode Island Solar, accessed May 3, 2017.
69 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.14.B, 1.17.B.
70 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).
71 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.
72 Deepwater Wind, "RI Supreme Court Upholds Block Island Wind Farm Power Contract," Press Release (July 1, 2011).
73 Kuffner, Alex, "Providence's Deepwater Wind leads the way in U.S. offshore power," Providence Journal (October 28, 2016).
74 NC Clean Energy Technology Center, DSIRE, Rhode Island Renewable Energy Standard, updated June 29, 2016.
75 Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission, Rhode Island Renewable Energy Standard Annual RES Compliance Report for Compliance Year 2014 (April 2016), p. 5, 7, 9.