The two co-chairs of the Energy and Technology Committee extended an olive branch to environmentalists and advocates Thursday by crashing a press conference that was being held in opposition to a bill they helped draft.
“We’re really all on the same side,” Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, told advocates Thursday before leaving so that the group could pan portions of the bill.
The bill, which passed out of committee earlier this week, seeks to establish new ways to help the state buy 20 percent of its power from clean, renewable generators by 2020. The state is paying financial penalties for not reaching its renewable goal and the legislation seeks to correct that.
“We want to have the cleanest energy possible. We want more wind, more solar, fuel cells, more clean biomass, and more affordable rates for ratepayers,” Reed said.
But what Reed failed to mention was that the legislation in several years would allow hydropower from Canada to count towards Connecticut’s renewable energy goal of 20 percent by 2020. Up to 7.5 percent of Connecticut’s renewable energy goal could be consumed by hydropower in 2025.
Allowing a “legacy” power source like hydro to count toward the state’s renewable goals is one of environmentalists’ concerns with the legislation.
“We are united in our opposition to introduce large-scale Canadian hydropower in a way that crowds out support for those new homegrown renewable energy sources,” Chris Phelps, executive director of Environment Connecticut, said.
John Olsen, president of the AFL-CIO, agreed. He said his concern is that if the state allows hydropower into the portfolio it will “choke out the ability for us to develop other forms of energy here in the state.” Purchasing energy is expensive so the state should focus on energy that is made in Connecticut, not in Canada, Olsen said.
The Rev. Thomas Carr, co-founder of the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network, said the key question is in whether this legislation takes into account what is needed to create good jobs here in Connecticut.
“Because good jobs and a healthy planet are not mutually exclusive,” Carr said.
Carr said the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network would say that changing the renewable portfolio to include big hydro really does nothing for the health of the planet and it doesn’t really do anything to create jobs.
But environmentalists were unable to cite how much renewable power is generated in the state now.
According to a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection report, 1 percent of the state’s electricity demand in 2012 was supplied by in-state renewables. That’s expected to jump to around 5 to 6 percent by 2022, but will not be able to cover the state’s entire renewable energy goal of 20 percent by 2020.
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.
Since power is purchased on a regional basis the department says the only way to meet the goal and keep costs down is to add hydro to the mix. It’s a move that other older power generators don’t like because it means they would have more competition in the market, including pressure to keep their prices down or their plants offline.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday that the state of Connecticut probably won’t be able to meet its renewable goals in the short run without adding hydro to the mix. He said Connecticut has committed to a higher stake in renewable energy than any other state in New England.
“Listen, I understand people’s fears. But this is the reality in Connecticut: We are paying more for electricity than any other state but Hawaii. It is to our detriment that we are paying more for electricity than any other state but Hawaii,” Malloy said at an unrelated event.
He said the idea is to invite “cleaner, cheaper energy to our state so we can be economically competitive.”
The environmental community doesn’t necessarily disagree with the end goal of buying 20 percent of Connecticut’s energy from renewable sources by 2020, but there’s also a concern about process.
A vote by the entire General Assembly was expected as soon as next week, but Reed and Sen. Bob Duff said the issue wasn’t as urgent as initially thought. So it is possible they will look to have a vote on the bill later than next week, but before a final report on the renewable portfolio standard is issued May 13.
The state first adopted renewable energy standards back in 1998. This is the first time they will be updated.
However, Phelps said he was encouraged by the words of the Energy and Technology co-chairs.
“I think there’s a commitment on all sides to get this right,” Phelps said. “And to take the time to get these issues right, in a way that works for business in the state, for our environment, for our communities.”
The procurement process created by the bill for Class I renewables has wide support and should move forward, Phelps said, adding that the process will help Connecticut-built projects in the region “that benefit all of us.”
Roger Smith, co-director of Clean Water Action, agreed that regional long-term investment in wind and solar projects will drive down costs and create jobs. He said the state should separate the long-term contracting and take its time to “get the rest right.”