Hugh McQuaid photo
Rep. Lonnie Reed, co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee (Hugh McQuaid photo)

Large-scale Canadian hydropower will still count toward the state’s renewable energy goal, but the House made sure that the hurdles it must clear first are higher than they were earlier this month.

The underlying bill, which now heads back to the Senate, dictates how the state will reach the goal of obtaining 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. While most agree the goal is laudable it’s how the bill gets the state there that’s caused the most controversial.

Environmentalists don’t believe hydropower should play any role in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, but lawmakers like state Rep. Lonnie Reed believe the bill that passed the House Tuesday, strikes the right balance.

Reed, who calls herself a “card carrying environmentalist” and brags about helping kill a project to put a natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound, said the bill, which passed 112-33, does a lot of good because it rolls back the amount of credits going to “dirty biomass plants” outside the state of Connecticut. It also helps the state avoid paying penalties for failing to reach the goal.

“How much of a percentage has been going out-of-state as opposed to in-state renewables is not a story that anybody knew,” Reed said Tuesday.

She said New Hampshire was building more biomass plants where things such as wood-waste are burned “because they were sucking up Connecticut ratepayer dollars.”

The measure has caused unrest in other New England states.

New Hampshire’s Gov. Margaret Wood Hassan tried to get Connecticut lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to drop the legislation.

“This legislation could harm New Hampshire and the region’s existing biomass generation, costing jobs in our region,” Hassan wrote in a May 8 letter to Malloy. In that same letter, she described the damage the Hydro Quebec transmission line could cause in her state. 

The $1 billion high-voltage transmission line would bring 1,200 megawatts of electricity to New England for the next 40 years. But Hassan said the project would impact New Hampshire’s “most important natural resources, such as the White Mountain National Forest.”

Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, said she was sympathetic toward the arguments of New Hampshire’s governor because she wouldn’t want anything to ruin Connecticut’s natural vistas. She ended up voting against the bill.

Environmentalists spent the last month lobbying against the bill because they don’t believe large-scale hydropower should be included in the same category as wind and solar power. The amendment passed by the House didn’t make the bill any better.

Rep. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, called the bill a “rollback” of renewable energy.

“We are the first state to walk back our commitment to renewable energy,” he said.

While there was a lot in the bill for Lesser to like, such as the long-term contracting provisions, he said he couldn’t vote for a bill that rolls back Connecticut’s commitment to renewable energy to 15 percent. Lesser doesn’t count the 5 percent of the goal that could be met by large-scale Canadian hydropower, which he said is already highly-subsidized.

The League of Connecticut Conservation Voters didn’t mince words in a press release about passage of the bill.

“The legislature blew it,” they said. “The state legislature’s vote today to retreat from our state’s clean energy goals practically guarantees that we get locked into large, environmentally damaging HydroQuebec power to flood our energy market and damage the growing industry that creates jobs related to clean, renewable power in Connecticut”

Reed said the new language in the amendment adopted by the House creates more “oversight” of the goal by setting up triggers and making sure that every renewable avenue is pursued before hydropower is allowed to enter the equation.

The amendment will now go to the Senate for approval. The Senate passed the bill without the House amendment earlier this month.

This is the second time in less than a week that the House has amended a bill previously passed by the Senate. The Senate will have to take up the bill again in the last seven days of the legislative session in order to send it to the governor’s desk.

“We knew that the bill had some issues a couple weeks ago after the Senate passed it without consulting with us,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said Tuesday. “It’s always good for both houses to talk and try to come up with consensus before bills get run. That’s a good thing because these kinds of things can happen when you go ahead and run the bill without talking to the other side…other house.”

Adam Joseph, a spokesman for Sen. President Donald Williams, sidestepped the question about the communication between the two chambers.

“We’re committed to lowering energy costs for consumers and look forward to working with House and the governor to accomplish that goal,” Joseph said.