DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty appears to have convinced the Energy and Technology Committee’s chairmen this week that the state should focus more of its renewable energy portfolio on wind, solar, and Canadian hydropower. But he didn’t win over everyone.
The change would come at the expense of the state’s current focus on biomass and landfill gas. Dozens of environmentalists and industry groups turned out Tuesday to testify against specific portions of the proposal, which calls for expanding the state’s renewable energy portfolio to 20 percent overall by 2020 and 25 percent by 2025, and allows for Connecticut to join states like Vermont and Massachusetts in investing in large-scale projects.
Sen. Bob Duff, co-chairman of the Energy Committee, said Monday during a conference call with reporters that he was absolutely “bullish” on the proposal to partner with other states to invest and eventually purchase energy from large-scale renewable projects through long-term contracts.
However, environmentalists who testified Tuesday don’t believe Canadian hydropower necessarily fits that bill. Hydroelectric power won’t receive a credit like energy produced by solar or wind projects, but the draft proposal does create a special sub-tier for it and for the first time will count up to 7.5 percent of it toward the state’s renewable goal.
Chris Phelps of Environment Connecticut testified that the proposal “creates a carve-out benefiting large-scale foreign hydropower generators that have significant environmental problems associated with their operation and which are already a commercially mature technology.”
Phelps encouraged the committee to keep the goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, but he urged them to reject the carve-out for hydropower.
Roger Smith, co-director of Clean Water Action, went even further and accused the state of drafting the hydropower portion of the bill to benefit Northeast Utilities, which could reap financial rewards if the Northern Pass transmission line from Canada down through New Hampshire and Vermont is ever built.
“This section of the bill strikes us as a narrowly tailored giveaway to Northeast Utilities to support their controversial partnership with Hydro-Quebec,” Smith said. “It’s an open door to let hydropower flood Connecticut.”
Northeast Utilities, one of Connecticut’s public utility companies, is currently partnered with Hydro-Quebec and Boston’s NSTAR to construct a proposed $1 billion high-voltage direct current line from Quebec into the New England power grid.
That project, known as Northern Pass, would bring 1,200 megawatts to New England for the next 40 years.
But Esty said there are other transmission lines being built to bring Canadian hydropower to New England.
Sandi Hennequin, vice president of the New England Power Generators Association, told the committee that these “large-scale” Canadian hydro projects already are subsidized by the ratepayers in Canada so there’s no need for Connecticut to offer them any help by allowing them to be counted as a renewable.
“It does not require an additional RPS [Renewable Portfolio Standards]-type subsidy by Connecticut consumers that will be used to hold down power prices in Canada, while making it harder for Connecticut’s economy to compete,” Hennequin wrote in her testimony.
She believes that the way the bill was written, it gives “a no-bid, single-source contract — to Hydro-Quebec.”
But the co-chairs of the committee don’t agree.
“We are definitely not eyeing any types of winners or losers here,” Duff said Monday.
Rep. Lonnie Reed, who co-chairs the committee with Duff, said she thinks all the people in Connecticut with “deep pockets” already have purchased solar and this new proposal gives the state an opportunity to spread out access to renewable energy.
Currently, most of Connecticut’s funding for renewable energy is going to technologies that are outside the state, such as biomass plants in Maine or landfills in New York. Esty said the revised energy credit system and purchasing agreements will favor more in-state renewable projects.
“The goal here is to ensure that we are expanding our commitment to clean energy, but at prices that are consistent with Gov. Malloy’s commitment to cheaper, as well as cleaner power,” Esty said.
The legislation codifying the proposal also gives Esty the power to contract with energy producers for up to 20 years, if he chooses.
Esty said the proposal has been fast-tracked because there are some federal energy credits for producers of these types of energy that expire at the end of the year.
The state has been working on developing these new standards over the past year.