Stories in Rhode Island

Solar Power and Forest Preservation

Conservationists, labor and developers come together in unlikely alliance to advance clean energy without sacrificing forests.

Small glassy pond viewed from above with lush green forest on either side.
CORE FOREST Rhode Island’s largest, undisturbed forest areas play a critical role in absorbing and sequestering carbon emissions. © Ayla Fox

The climate crisis is urgent. We need rapid deployment of renewable energy to respond to the crisis and achieve the science-based goals in the Act on Climate, which was signed into law in 2021. At the same time, protecting our forested areas, particularly large tracts of undisturbed forest, is increasingly important in the face of climate change.

Currently, solar development and forest protection are at odds, but it doesn’t need to be this way.

A lush green forest floor with the sun peeking through the trees.
Our Forests are at risk Right now, solar development is the largest driver of clear-cutting in the state. © Ayla Fox

An unlikely coalition of environmentalists, labor unions and developers are supporting a compromise bill that shifts solar energy projects away from core forests and toward roof tops, parking lots and other industrial sites.

Why are so many solar projects being sited in Rhode Island’s forests?

Under current law, state programs to promote solar energy development benefit the lowest price options. And most of the time, it’s cheaper to clear-cut large tracts of forestland for solar than to install it in already disturbed areas.

But don’t we need forests to help achieve our climate goals? 

Yes. Rhode Island’s largest, undisturbed forest areas play a critical role in absorbing and sequestering carbon emissions. Forests also serve as the most effective water filtration systems ever invented, provide habitat for wildlife and offer recreational opportunities, like hiking, birdwatching and mountain biking, for thousands of visitors each year.

So how can we fix this?

House Bill 5853 Achieves These Goals

Organizations Endorsing Landmark Solar Siting

The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society of RI, Save The Bay, RI Land Trust Council, IBEW Local 99, Climate Jobs RI and Revity.

Solar panels with workers in yellow jackets walking under them and the sun peering out.
Solar Panel Array: Laura Crane and a Solar Star employee walking through the array of solar panels at the Solar Star plant in Lancaster, California. © Dave Lauridsen