Environmentalists, regulators push for Green New Deal for Connecticut
Hartford — Environmental advocates and state officials on Thursday urged lawmakers to forge a Green New Deal by expanding the state's efforts to decarbonize the economy, boost renewable energy production and create thousands of jobs in the process.
Co-sponsored by dozens of state representatives, House Bill 5002, an Act Concerning the Development of a Green New Deal, contains just one line. It calls on lawmakers to create programs and provide funding for energy efficiency, renewable energy, sustainability initiatives, resiliency of the electric grid and coastal protection.
What a final deal would look like remains to be seen. But environmentalists, advocacy groups and state officials on Thursday pushed a host of measures centered on green energy and combating climate change, including solar and small-turbine wind power along public highways, battery storage, thermal energy, improved building codes and the procurement of electricity from offshore wind farms and anaerobic digestion plants.
For a list of bills up for review, visit bit.ly/CTgreenbills.
"We are a coastal state in the front lines of climate change," Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Easton, told the Energy and Technology Committee. "I want this bill to support the flexibility to develop the young workforce in coming back to the state and putting us on the map of talent and leadership in the urgency of the threat of climate change."
Groups like the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, Connecticut fund for the Environment/Save the Sound, Sierra Club, the Connecticut Green Bank and others pushed for investment in "green collar jobs'; sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and greater emphasis on renewable energy; grid modernization; cleaner transportation; upgrades to coastal infrastructure, and ensuring climate and energy initiatives lead to lower utility bills for everyone, including low- to moderate-income households, seniors, people living with disabilities, communities of color and small businesses.
Coming two weeks after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., introduced a resolution calling on the federal government to create a Green New Deal, the public hearing in Hartford also came a day after Gov. Ned Lamont laid out a budget package that included environmental protection measures, including a 10-cent tax on all single-use plastic bags and a 5-cent bottle deposit on 50 ml liquor bottles, popularly called nips.
"We're pleased to see that the Lamont administration is looking to take action on this issue, but we prefer a slightly different approach where we phase out plastic bags altogether as opposed to taxing them," Louis Burch of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment said in an interview. "At the end of the day, the goal is to cut down on plastic consumption and change people's behavior."
In a move that pleased energy businesses and advocates alike, Lamont said he supports "fully funding clean energy and energy efficiency programs, which have been shortchanged over the last few years" through sweeps used by lawmakers to fill budget gaps. The sweeps of ratepayer-funded energy initiatives led to a federal lawsuit after businesses that conduct home energy audits and solar installations across the state lost hundreds of jobs.
Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, told lawmakers that economic development and fuel security are essential parts of a green new deal. Ramped up competition, she said, such as through the state's competitive requests for proposals for renewable and zero-carbon energy, can lead to better deals for ratepayers and improved fuel security for the New England power grid.
Lamont, she noted, has called for a procurement of at least another 1,000 megawatts of electricity derived from offshore wind; the state already is set to receive 300 megawatts of offshore wind power from Orsted by 2023. The costs of the project, and price per kilowatt hour, have not yet been publicly revealed, but officials note offshore wind costs have come down substantially in recent years. In Massachusetts, Vineyard Wind's 800-megawatt project will deliver power at a fixed rate of 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour, almost three times cheaper than the defunct Cape Wind project from about a decade ago.
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, urged DEEP to eventually seek a procurement close to 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind power. Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, recently announced lawmakers were considering calling for a 2,000-megawatt procurement at a time when negotiations are underway related to upgrades to State Pier, which developers and state and city officials say could serve as a long-term offshore wind hub.
Dykes said offshore wind power "can be a great economic driver for our state," with investments potentially leading to "cultivation of all aspects of the offshore wind economy, including staging and deployment and also hopefully capturing part of the supply chain network that other states are competing with us for."
Rep. Tim Ackert, R-Columbia, noted the General Assembly already passed a pair of bipartisan bills, signed into law by former Gov. Dannel Malloy last year, which called for ramping up renewable energy production and greenhouse gas reduction, among other green initiatives.
"Didn't that set us on a path?" he asked Dykes.
Dykes responded that decarbonization, particularly of state buildings and transportation sectors, is an example of an area that requires greater focus.
Dykes added that DEEP is working on an integrated resource plan to determine what the state's long-term resource goals should be, and that plans are underway to establish a schedule for competitive requests for proposals for "a broad range of technologies."
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