Stories in Rhode Island

Solar Power and Forest Preservation

New compromise reflects agreement among conservationists, labor and developers 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 became law in Rhode Island 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.

For years, solar development and forest protection have been at odds, but that is changing. We can have both.

A lush green forest floor with the sun peeking through the trees.
Our Forests are at risk Since 2018, solar projects have been the largest driver of clear-cutting in Rhode Island. © Ayla Fox

In June 2023, the General Assembly approved long overdue solar siting reform legislation that shifts projects away from core forests and toward roof tops, parking lots and other industrial sites. The bill was championed by Rep. June Speakman and Sen. Alana DiMario and represented a hard-fought compromise negotiated this year by an unlikely coalition of environmentalists, labor unions and developers.

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

Under the old law, state programs to promote solar energy development benefited the lowest price options. And most of the time, it was 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 world's most effective water filtration system, provide habitat for wildlife and offer recreational opportunities, like hiking, birdwatching and mountain biking, for thousands of visitors each year.

How does the new legislation work?

Solar Siting Reform 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