Hammonaset Beach State Park (Shutterstock)

HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut’s long overdue draft of its comprehensive energy strategy didn’t go as far as some environmentalists would like.

The plan does increase the state’s mandate to purchase energy from renewable sources, like solar and wind, to 30 percent by 2030.

The original energy strategy done four years ago targeted the purchase of renewable energy at 20 percent by 2020. Currently the state is close to 16 percent, according to Department of Energy and Environmental Protection officials.

“The draft strategy actually slows the state’s trajectory for increasing Connecticut’s percentage of energy from renewable sources,” Claire Coleman, an attorney with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said. “Stronger endorsement of the need to get a full-scale shared solar program up and running and procurement of offshore wind is needed to ensure we put in place a long-term plan to replace outdated fossil fuels and low-carbon energy sources like nuclear with renewable energy sources like solar and wind.”

The new draft 2017 Comprehensive Energy Strategy released Wednesday focuses on decreasing carbon emissions to advance the state’s climate goals; increasing supplies of renewable energy; expanding energy efficiency initiatives, supporting the modernization of the electric grid; and, lastly accelerating strategic electrification of transportation services.

“As currently written, the draft plan does a great job of identifying the critical need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but doesn’t get Connecticut where we need to be to meet these critical reduction targets,” Coleman said.

Groups backing more environmentally friendly energy usage don’t believe the report goes far enough in pushing clean energy.

“While Connecticut has made progress in advancing renewable energy and protecting the environment, it is disappointing that the state continues on a path to support major investment in fossil fuels.” Connecticut Sierra Club Chair Martha Klein said.

Environmentalists would like Connecticut to move at a more rapid pace away from fossil fuels to renewable clean energy sources.

“If Connecticut is to achieve its clean energy goals and lead the nation on combating climate change, we should be making ambitious investments in clean wind and solar, not forcing ratepayers to foot the bill for gas pipelines we don’t need.” Louis Burch, director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard is a policy that requires electric providers to obtain a specified percentage or amount of the energy they generate or sell from renewable sources. This policy creates a financial incentive for development of renewable energy projects by ensuring a market and steady stream of revenue for renewable generators.

The new draft does phase out things like biomass, which were considered renewable in the same class as wind and solar in the original study.

“We are pleased with many of the measures outlined in the new CES, including phasing down biomass in the mix of Class I renewables, but we are disappointed that the document does not clearly evaluate the overall impact on projected greenhouse gas emissions and whether the proposed strategies will be sufficient to achieve the state’s climate goals,” said John Humphries, organizer of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs. “We need to know whether this CES puts us squarely on the path to achieving even the 2020 goal of a 10 percent reduction in emissions, not to mention the broader vision of a clean energy future.”

The 2017 draft report said that to achieve the goal of cheaper, cleaner, more reliable energy, Connecticut energy policy must: align with the state’s environmental policies to meet clean air, clean water, land conservation and development and waste reduction goals.

Additionally, the report says the state needs to “focus on grid modernization, strategic electrification, increasing efficiency, and improving reliability and security.”

The draft energy strategy proposes a small charge to heating oil and propane customers to help provide a permanent and reliable source of funding for energy efficiency programs for those groups.

“Right now, electric and natural gas customers pay a small monthly fee on their bills to support efficiency programs that help families and businesses take steps to reduce their monthly bill for power and heat,” DEEP Deputy Commissioner Mary Sotos said. “Heating oil and propane customers are subsidized by customers of electric and natural gas utilities, because propane and heating oil customers are currently not paying into that fund for their heating consumption.”

The report notes that Connecticut has work to do in reducing emissions in the transportation sector, which accounts for 36 percent of the state’s emissions.

“Connecticut’s transportation sector emissions are well above the national average where emissions from the transportation sector are 27 percent,” according to the report.

DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee noted that the lower gasoline prices “haven’t helped” efforts to decrease the amount of vehicles driving on the road. He stated that the auto industry’s movement toward electronic and hybrid cars should help, in the future, in the effort to reduce emissions.

The report assumes that the Millstone Nuclear Facility in Waterford will continue to provide power through May 31, 2021.

Despite comments from Millstone’s owner, Dominion Energy, the report says “DEEP has not seen any evidence of an imminent retirement.”

Klee said they would work “collaboratively” with Dominion to address any issues.

But it’s unclear how far Connecticut is willing to go. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed an executive order earlier this week asking the DEEP and the Public Utility Regulator Authority to study the financial viability of the plant.

“We continue to conduct our strategic assessment of Millstone and will make a business decision regardless of Connecticut’s latest study,” Paul Koonce, CEO of Dominion’s Power Generation Group, said

Malloy, who added energy to the DEEP’s mission, said Connecticut has “put numerous innovative energy policies and programs in place” since its first-ever energy strategy in 2013.

“As a result, Connecticut has emerged as a national leader in addressing the related challenges of energy and climate change — and our updated strategy will allow us to continue setting an example that others can follow,” Malloy said.
DEEP has opened a 60-day comment period on the draft study, which will run through Sept. 25. During the comment period, DEEP will hold two technical meetings and a series of public meetings around the state. A final report will be released after comments are reviewed and considered. 

The first public meeting will be held Aug. 14 at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic.

Click here for a list of public hearings and meetings on the report.

Christine Stuart contributed to this report.