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Connecticut Senate votes for renewable energy reform

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The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection would be able to take bids for renewable energy sources if a new bill is passed by the Connecticut House, a press release said. Photo by Pixabay user tpsdave

HARTFORD, Conn. – Renewable energy reform legislation that will help the state continue to meet its renewable energy goals while also taking steps to reduce the cost of electricity across the board passed the Connecticut State Senate Wednesday afternoon, a press release said.

State Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), senate chairman of the Energy and Technology Committee, led passage of the legislation, saying that it addresses the state’s urgent economic need to lower overall electric rates, while also deriving more power from renewable sources, the release said.

“Connecticut has made one of the most substantial commitments to renewable energy in the country, even the world. With this bill, we are reaffirming that commitment, but carrying it out in a more affordable way,” said Duff in the press release. “Connecticut has some of the highest electricity costs in the country. Bringing those costs down is important for our economy, our households and businesses. At the same time, we must make real progress on renewable energy. I believe this bill strikes the appropriate balance to achieve both.”

The legislation was adopted by the senate in a 26 to 6 vote. It now proceeds to the floor of the House of Representatives, where it will await further action.

The bill would permit the commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to initiate a competitive bidding process for the construction of new “Class I” (ex: solar, wind) renewable energy generation facilities, effective immediately upon its passing, the release said. Long-term power purchase contracts of up to 20 years would be signed with winning bidders to provide a stable source of revenue for their projects.

These contracts would harness competitive market forces to significantly drive down the cost of building new renewable electric generation facilities, the release said. Existing state law calls for 20 percent of all the state’s electricity to come from Class I renewable sources by 2020.

Without displacing any of Connecticut’s existing renewable energy commitments, the legislation would also permit the DEEP to enter into 15-year power purchase agreements for either Class I renewable energy or large-scale hydroelectric energy from New England or the Northeastern provinces of Canada, totaling up to 5 percent of Connecticut’s total electric load, the release said. This provision would reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions while also helping to displace the need to operate older, dirty fossil fuel generators at times of peak electric demand. These “peaking” generators dramatically increase overall electric rates on any day they operate.

In a separate provision, and only in the event that the state is not able to meet its Class I renewable energy targets in a given year, the bill permits DEEP to allow 1 percentage point of the state’s Class I RPS requirement to be met by large-scale hydroelectric power, secured through a power purchase agreement. By 2020, no more than 5 percentage points of the RPS may be satisfied in this way.

Further provisions of the bill would:

· Gradually transition away from subsidies for biomass plants and landfill gas facilities that do not provide optimal economic or environmental benefits.

· Expand eligibility for low-impact, small-scale “run-of-the-river” hydroelectric facilities under the state’s Class I renewable energy classification, aligning Connecticut policy with our neighboring states.

· Add electricity derived from anaerobic digesters and biologically derived methane (from plant matter, food and animal waste) to qualify as a Class I resource.

· Expand support for combined heat and power (CHP) projects and third-party energy efficiency providers by discontinuing Class III renewable energy incentives for utility-sponsored efficiency programs that are already ratepayer funded.

· Refund alternative compliance payments (penalty payments that must be made if the state falls short of its RPS goals) to ratepayers to provide rate relief.

Rep. Lonnie Reed (D-Branford), house chairwoman of the Energy and Technology Committee, also had positive words about the bill.

“For years, we’ve known that Connecticut has been forced to buy some less desirable, out of state energy resources in order to meet our State’s bold and admirable renewable energy goals,” she said in the release. “We had two choices to correct the situation. Either diminish our goals or replace dirtier renewable generation like Maine biomass with clean options. This bill does that and protects the integrity of our whole renewables program. Hopefully, it will help lead to more affordable energy as well.”

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