Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Sen. Gary Winfield with Rep. Lonnie Reed behind him (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — The Senate passed a bill Monday that would increase electricity costs for the state and its municipalities in 2020, according to the fiscal note.

The bill also changes how residential solar is calculated and increases the Renewable Portfolio Standards to 40 percent by 2030.

The omnibus energy bill passed the Senate 29-3 after just about 15 minutes of debate.

“What we do here under this bill is we move the state of Connecticut forward,” Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said.

However, the residential solar industry disagrees.

“Instead of restricting customers’ ability to choose solar and imposing a cap on solar investment, the bill’s community solar program should be strengthened to expand solar access,” says a statement from 18 residential solar installers and environmental groups. “Rather than building Connecticut’s local clean energy economy, the current bill language puts the future of solar in Connecticut and thousands of jobs at risk.”

Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, who watched the debate and co-chairs the Energy and Technology Committee with Winfield, said the solar industry is exaggerating the changes the bill makes.

Reed said net metering is back in the bill, which would allow homeowners to sell any unused portion of the energy they generate back to the grid.

“We protected net metering,” she said. “Otherwise why would you do it? I mean they’re ugly.”

She said some of the smaller solar installers are nervous because “it’s different and they can’t stand change.”

Mary Sotos, deputy commissioner of the energy in the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said that any residential solar customers who already have solar will be grandfathered.

She said Connecticut is committed to more renewables and this policy helps them get there. She said it’s just a different way of figuring out how much a homeowner uses and the price they’re paid for what they return to the grid.

Evan Dube, senior director of public policy for Sunrun Inc., disagrees.

He said the bill says that the Public Utility Regulatory Authority will determine the price of what a homeowner uses and sells back to the grid “on a daily or less than daily,” basis. He said it’s hugely complex for customers to determine what their usage is on any given day.

Under the current system, homeowners are able to size their system on a monthly basis and determine how much they may be credited. Also, PURA would determine the rate at which a homeowner could sell that power back to the grid, according to Dube.

He said it would make it difficult to sell solar to residential customers who might be scared off by the complexity of the system. That essentially lowers the value of solar in Connecticut, Dube said.

Sotos admitted that it may require the solar companies to obtain more information from customers, but she’s confident they’re skilled at doing those calculations.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy applauded passage of the bill, but focused his comments on improving Connecticut’s renewable portfolio. 

“Connecticut has been a national leader in policies designed to combat the effects of climate change and this bill is no exception,” Malloy said. “By promoting clean, renewable energy, we will not only reduce our overall emissions, we will create good jobs in the green economy.”

Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Rob Klee said it’s an acknowledgment that “climate change is real and its effects are impacting those around the globe.”

He said the vote is one step in “helping Connecticut meet not just its climate change goals, but in helping bring down the cost of renewables.”

The bill also enhances protections against future sweeps of money from the Green Bank, which helps fund commercial renewable energy projects.

It also increases the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s authority to procure energy from resources such as run-of- river hydropower, landfill methane gas, biomass, fuel cells, offshore wind, anaerobic digestion, or energy storage systems.

The bill now heads to the House.