HARTFORD – Connecticut lawmakers approved legislation codifying as law Gov. Ned Lamont’s goals for a zero-carbon emissions from Connecticut’s electric supply by 2040, in addition to expanding two programs aimed at incentivizing large solar projects.
The measure breezed through the Senate unanimously earlier this week, and passed the House overwhelmingly on Thursday by a 113-35 vote, with some lawmakers questioning whether it was a practical goal, and others questioning what the goal really accomplishes if Connecticut will need to buy credits from renewable energy projects in other states in order to reach it.
In a statement, Lamont said codifying his target is a “critical direction” for those involved in planning and implementing Connecticut’s energy policies, and follows Rhode Island – which set a zero-carbon target of 2030 – and New York, which shares Connecticut’s goal of zero-emission electricity by 2040.
“Committing Connecticut to a 100% zero-carbon electricity supply by 2040 not only will have a positive impact on improving our air quality, but it will also support the growth of clean energy jobs,” Lamont said. “This is an important action we are taking to help mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis that we are already starting to experience.”
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection was tasked with modeling potential pathways to zero-carbon electric generation by 2040, and Commissioner Katie Dykes has said she’s optimistic the state can achieve that goal – especially if the Millstone Nuclear Power Station continues to run.
Several Republican representatives questioned what it really meant to achieve a zero-carbon electric supply if natural gas-fired power plants will continue to run in the state, and Connecticut has to buy credits from renewable energy projects in other states.
Connecticut shares a regional electric grid with the other New England states, and more electricity is produced in Connecticut than consumed. Meeting the zero-carbon goals doesn’t mean the gas plants in Connecticut will shut down, since they serve the entire region, State Rep. David Arconti, D-Danbury, explained.
Energy credits allow Connecticut to “buy” electricity from generators from other states, paying those plants to generate electricity, even though it won’t be used directly by Connecticut residents.
Asked what the point of the goal is if a “zero-emission” electric grid doesn’t mean there are zero emissions generated by power plants in Connecticut, Arconti said it sends a signal to the regional market that the state is serious about its commitment to renewable energy, and that the grid operator needs to change its market rules that renewable advocates say block them out.
“We’re sending the signal to the market that we want our state-sponsored resources to be counted and used in the market, and that will then [lead to] more clean energy resources being used across the region,” Arconti said. “Even if we are taking it from outside our state, it’s a zero-emission resource.”
Expanded solar incentives meant to build momentum in industry
Lawmakers also agreed to double the caps on two solar incentive programs – the Non-residential Energy Solutions program that allows businesses to seek incentives for solar projects; and the Shared Clean Energy Facilities program that allows customers to subscribe to a “shared” clean energy project larger than what they could build alone.
The measure passed the House by a vote of 129-18, after unanimously passing the Senate on Tuesday. It doubles the amount of solar generation that can be incentivized through these programs each year, and increases the allowed size of individual projects.
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, who sits on the Energy and Technology Committee, said he believed expanding those programs would re-establish Connecticut’s momentum towards its renewable energy goals.
“The only way we’re going to reach those goals is if we double down and really scale up grid-scale solar,” Steinberg said.
Some Republican lawmakers said they were concerned about what expanding the programs could cost Connecticut electric customers already struggling with high electric bills.
DEEP estimated that it could increase costs to electric customers who aren’t participating in the programs by about $6 a year once the programs have fully expanded, though solar advocates argue the idea of solar incentives leading to a “cost-shift” onto other customers is overstated.
State Rep. Harry Arora, R-Greenwich, said he believed expanding the programs was a good idea because they award incentives based on the results of competitive auctions, which can result in prices below the prices for fossil fuels – saving customers money, and reducing emissions.
State Rep. Charles Ferraro, R-West Haven, the ranking House Republican on the Energy and Technology Committee said he wasn’t happy with the projected costs of expanding the programs, but said the “ship has sailed” in Connecticut, as the state is already working towards a zero-emission electric grid.
“We have to pick our poison and decide what area we want to go in as a state,” Ferraro said. “If we’re on track to do renewable energy, then we have to understand that rates are necessarily going to go up.”