Jack Kramer file photo

HARTFORD, CT – Efforts to accelerate the state’s population use of greener energy sources are being hampered by the low cost of traditional fuels, a group of experts told an environmentally conscious audience at the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters Environmental Summit this week.

The summit, the 16th such held by the group, was held at the Riverfront Boathouse Tuesday.

“It’s kind of a good news, bad news situation,” William Dornbos, one of the panelists and director and senior attorney at the Acadia Center, said.

People are driving more and gas prices are dropping. The combination of those two factors, Dornbos said, isn’t good for pushing a clean energy agenda.

Also on the panel was Bryan Garcia, president and chief executive officer of the Connecticut Green Bank, an organization that attracts private investment in clean energy projects; John Humphries, organizer for the CT Roundtable, an organization that advocates for both creating local jobs and protecting the climate; and, Leah Schmalz, who oversees CFE Save the Sound, a group that addresses threats to the state’s environment.

The group held a discussion on “The Connecticut Climate Action Plan,” talking about major strategies to reach emission goals and the hurdles in light of federal uncertainty facing the states.

Dornbos circulated a report to the audience from the Acadia Center that showed that Connecticut’s share of the New England region’s electricity consumption is “not forecast to decline as quickly as other states in the region, particularly in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.”

The report notes that the first mandatory greenhouse gas emissions cap established by Connecticut’s Global Warming Solution Act – a 10 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 – is only 3-and-1/2 years out.

“The New England states with bigger reductions in electric load have all implemented more aggressive energy efficiency and/or solar PV deployment policies than Connecticut has in recent years,” the Acadia Center report went on.

“This means Connecticut will be taking on an increasing share of the region’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electricity consumption over time, which then negatively impacts its carbon profile,” the report said.

In a time when environmentalists believe Connecticut should be looking to use greener energy forms, such as solar power, there are still so many traditional energy initiatives being pushed, such as natural gas plants. The reason, according to Dornbos, is money.

“Market economics favor natural gas plants,” Dornbos said. “Gas plants are the power plant of choice.”

Garcia agreed with his fellow panelist that those pushing new energy initiatives are facing “financial challenges.”

“The economy is always the top priority,” Garcia said. But, he quickly added, that even though traditional fuel price costs are at a low point currently, that homeowners and business owners are still spending a disproportionate amount of money on fuel.

“We have to find ways to help,” Garcia added.

The Connecticut Green Bank, since its founding five years ago, has leveraged more than $800 million in clean energy business investments, created the equivalent of more than 12,000 jobs, and reduced over 2 million tons of CO2 emissions over the lifetime of its financed projects.

A Green bank is a public-private financing institution that obtains low-cost capital and then uses that cheaper money to support clean energy projects at a cost that is lower than purely private sector transactions, resulting in significant cost savings.

Green banks have the authority to raise capital through various means, including issuing bonds, selling equity, legislative appropriations, dedication of utility regulatory funds, or foundation grants for the purpose of supporting clean energy and energy efficiency projects through financing tools such as loans and guarantees, often below commercial rates.

Audience members asked the panel what they could do to keep Connecticut on the right track – when it comes to pushing the green energy initiative.

Dornbos answered: “Please keep talking about climate change.” He said just having the conversation is important in keeping the issue front and center in the myriad of challenges the state faces.

Humphries said doing simple things such as using public transportation, bicycling instead of driving a car, and converting home heating to solar power are all positive steps that can help the environment.

And Garcia added that supporting Connecticut agricultural by “buying local,” is a good, first step.

And, he added, “Buy an electric vehicle.”