Block Island Wind Farm (Credit: CT Examiner/Clingman)

Democrats Split Over Proposed Moratorium on Fossil Fuel Plants in Connecticut

Amid finger pointing over who bears responsibility for approving a new gas-fired plant in Killingly — seemingly at odds with the state’s goals for zero-carbon energy — at least one state lawmaker says she wants the legislature to stop the plant from being built.

State Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, has introduced a bill proposing a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants in Connecticut – a move that would halt approvals for the 650 megawatt Killingly Energy Center that Gov. Ned Lamont says he doesn’t want, but can’t do much to stop himself.

State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee that would first need to approve Cohen’s bill, said he wasn’t in favor of going around a regulatory process that is already well underway, to stop the Killingly plant, and others, from being built.

Cohen noted that much of the fossil fuel-fired power generation in New England is in Connecticut, which produces more energy than it uses overall. Many of those plants are in environmental justice areas, and are disproportionately leading to health issues in communities of color, Cohen said.

Connecticut hosts 54 large fossil fuel burning plants, generating 6,937 MW of electric capacity – more than double the state’s total in 1996 before energy deregulation left ISO-New England in charge of setting up markets to determine what projects were to be built.

Seven of those plants, accounting for 1,965 MW, were built in the 1960s or earlier and have the most polluting emissions – producing less than 1.8 percent of Connecticut’s fossil-fuel energy, but accounting for 3 percent of its carbon and 28 percent of nitrogen emissions.

Twenty-three of those fossil-fuel fired plants are located in environmental justice communities, including the state’s last coal-fired plant in Bridgeport – set to retire this year – which accounts for 31 percent of the state’s nitrogen emissions, according to the draft Integrated Resources Plan from the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“While we’re making tremendous strides and setting badly-needed targets and aggressive goals, we simply won’t meet those initiatives by continuing to grow or create new fossil fuel power plants,” Cohen said. 

If Cohen’s bill is approved by the legislature, it would take control of regulatory approvals that the Lamont administration insists it’s nearly powerless to stop.

“I think the governor is absolutely correct that there are market forces ultimately taking over here,” Cohen said. “Our plan to move to clean energy has to be aggressive, and the system doesn’t quite fit that plan, so I think we have to be strategic.”

DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes and Lamont have pinned responsibility for the plant on the regional market operator, ISO-New England, and its penchant, they claim, for favoring natural gas. 

Needleman echoed the position of Dykes, saying Connecticut is part of a network designed to ensure a reliable supply of energy for all of New England, and the state doesn’t necessarily make decisions about where plants are located.

“I’m not prepared to do an end run around Killingly in that way, this far in the process,” Needleman said.

Needleman said he has similar concerns about efforts to stop the replacement of two decades-old turbines at a gas-fired plant along the Connecticut River in Middletown.

“We all want to move away from fossil fuels,” Needleman said. 

While new fossil fuel-fired plants like the Killingly proposal are cleaner than older fossil fuel plants – a frequent argument from NTE Energy, the company behind the Killingly plant – Cohen said they still generate carbon emissions. 

“We have an initiative to move to 100 percent, carbon-free electricity, so why are we powering up new plants that burn fossil fuels?” Cohen said. “We have an existential crisis on our hands with climate change, and we need to start getting serious about shutting down dirty energy and moving to cleaner options, such as wind and solar.”

Needleman said that when all of the renewable projects currently under contract with the state — including the 704 MW offshore Revolution Wind project – come on line by the end of 2025, Connecticut will produce enough renewable energy on its own to meet 91 percent of its energy needs. That puts Connecticut ahead of other states in meeting zero-carbon goals, said Needleman.

Because Connecticut produces more energy than it uses, it can reach zero-carbon production even with fossil fuel-burning plants still operating in the state if the amount of renewable energy generated covers all of the state’s energy needs.

“I agree with [Sen. Cohen] on just about everything, but I don’t want to do an end run around the agency, unless it’s in conjunction with a broader, comprehensive plan,” Needleman said.

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