Ramping up renewable energy remains lawmakers' focus in 2019

Gov. Dannel Malloy and lawmakers paved the way for a pair of firsts in 2018 that state leaders say will guarantee clean energy for Connecticut for years to come: contracts for more than 1,000 megawatts from Millstone Power Station in Waterford in the zero-carbon electricity auction, and the state's first procurement of offshore wind power, from a 300-megawatt wind farm planned for federal waters south of Martha's Vineyard.

But clean energy advocates are pushing lawmakers in 2019 and beyond to consider much heavier investment in renewables, particularly offshore wind.

"We hope the incoming administration will support a more aggressive approach to offshore wind procurement and investment in order to take full advantage of the economic opportunity this industry represents," John Humphries, lead organizer for the CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, said recently.

Lawmakers and incoming Gov. Ned Lamont's administration follow a year that saw the General Assembly pass two major energy and environmental measures: Senate Bills 7 and 9, which called for sharp reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and increased reliance on renewable energy, respectively.

Like Malloy, Lamont, who will be sworn in Wednesday, has called for combating climate change in ways that could improve the energy grid and create jobs in the green economy. Lamont has pushed for Connecticut to remain in the Climate Alliance, a group of states taking action on climate change after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Accord; ramping up the state's sustainable energy portfolio by committing to greater investment in renewable sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower; and boosting training for students to create job opportunities in green infrastructure, renewables and research.

State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, who sits on the General Assembly's Energy and Technology Committee, said she expects no shortage of bills coming through the committee.

"The new administration and the legislature seem to be in agreement that a thoughtful but consistent procurement of new zero-carbon resources is important," Cheeseman said Friday, adding that she expects bipartisan cooperation on offshore wind development.

Cheeseman said the state's tight waste disposal capacity and the advancing age of many waste-to-energy plants remain pressing issues at a time when towns are wrestling with high disposal costs.

"I'm not sure that the state's renewable energy programs today incentivize new energy plants that manage the waste stream," she said. "Only one anaerobic digester has been built in Connecticut and more should have come online by now. It's an area I hope the Energy and Technology Committee will take up."

In its recent transition memo to Lamont, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said it would focus on a host of ongoing studies, environmental proposals, renewable energy procurements and sustainability measures. Plans and focus areas in 2019 include a resilience plan to help municipalities combat sea level rise; a state water plan; waste reduction and recycling cost reductions; deployment of zero-emission vehicles; grid modernization, and adopting a marine spatial plan for Long Island Sound.

Environmental advocates and many energy businesses also are hopeful that the incoming General Assembly could work with Lamont to hammer out a deal and avoid years of litigation over a $145 million sweep of clean energy funds that lawmakers approved last year to fill budget gaps.

b.kail@theday.com

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