Rhode Island's emissions are far higher than previously estimated, but the state can feasibly decarbonize its economy in just one or two decades using established technologies, according to a new study from the Stockholm Environment Institute and Brown University's Climate and Development Lab at IBES.
Researchers will present the study to the state's Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council at a public meeting on Thursday, Sept. 12. Brown University commissioned the study after the Office of Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo indicated to researchers that it would be interested in deeper emission reduction targets, if their feasibility was demonstrated.
To estimate Rhode Island's emissions, researchers built a model in SEI's Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning (LEAP) system. They used the state's 2016 GHG Reduction Study as a starting point, and updated that emissions baseline using the latest science.
"The updated science on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure changed the game dramatically. It showed that the state needs to quickly rethink its energy strategy," said SEI Senior Scientist Jason Veysey, lead author of the study. "The good news is that the modeling also showed that with the right programs and policies, the state can be a leader and quickly make a transition off of fossil fuels."
Block Island Wind Farm is located off the coast of Rhode Island. Photo: Chris Bentley / Flickr.
The study charts three pathways – to 2030, 2040 and 2050 – that would lead Rhode Island to deep decarbonization. All use established technologies, and all require the state to stop buying new fossil-fueled equipment. Steps include using modern heat pumps for heating and cooling, shifting to electric vehicles, and expanding offshore wind development.
"This study seeks scientific rigor on fundamental issues," said study co-lead Timmons Roberts, Professor at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. "The findings are clear and positive: the transition is feasible, with sharply cleaner air, locally produced electricity, and quality jobs. It's a transition that a growing number of states and nations have seen is inevitable, affordable, and beneficial."
The study's highlights include:
- Rhode Island's greenhouse gas emissions were 45% higher in 2017 than estimated in the state's latest climate planning study, according to a new analysis in LEAP that considers a more realistic natural gas leakage rate and shorter time-horizon.
- The state can feasibly reduce its emissions by between 70% and 80% by 2030, 2040, or 2050.
- Emissions can be wrung out of the state's economy now by focusing on electrifying transportation and heating, sharply improving efficiency, investing in low-carbon power generation, and making other changes in urban form.
- For the first time, this study estimates total costs of transitioning away from fossil fuels in Rhode Island, considering costs for the electricity sector, transportation, buildings, and industry.
- The study includes first-ever estimates of what public education and increased conservation efforts could achieve, and what their effect could be on the cost of the transition.
More research is needed to understand the equity implications of the report's findings, and to identify policies that address impacts of climate action and inaction on Rhode Island's frontline communities and fossil fuel workers.
Deeper Decarbonization in the Ocean State calls for further research and the development of a plan to systematically move the state off of natural gas. It does not suggest waiting for those results: the study demonstrates that most of the picture on this necessary transformation is now well-understood, feasible, and affordable.