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If Lamont is serious about climate change he will block Killingly plant

The Day’s Dec. 5 editorial, “Minds and hearts: a political will for climate fix” spotlights urgent messaging by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on opening this year’s summit on climate in Madrid. “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling toward us.” These prospects are frightful and tempt us to look away.

Here in Connecticut we see increasing record-level tides and flooding, worsening storm intensity, torrential rains, gale-force winds, and power outages. Sites in southwest and southeast Connecticut are hotspots of 2-degree Celsius temperature elevation above the year 1895. The natural habitats of birds and other wildlife are threatened. Marinelife suffers – shellfish populations are diminished, lobsters are nearly gone, and people’s livelihoods are upended. Waves of insects never seen – such as mosquitoes that transmit eastern equine encephalitis – bring us indoors by dusk. The speed of the climate crisis is accelerating. Connecticut is in the thick of it.

In response, on September 3, early into his first term, Governor Ned Lamont issued Executive Order 3 directing the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to evaluate pathways to transition to a 100% clean energy grid by 2040.

Defining this climate goal was commendable, but reaching the goal will require concerted action. Nowhere is this more glaring than the need to tackle the ongoing expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in the state, including the planned construction of a new, natural gas burning power plant in Killingly. Unless stopped by Lamont, build-out is on-track to begin next spring, 2020.

Located on 70 acres in the upper northeast corner of the state, the planned Killingly Energy Center is set to be a 650-megawatt electric generating facility, that could power up to 500,000 homes. The plant owner is a Connecticut affiliate of NTE Energy, an international company with $5 billion in power sale contracts. According to NTE, the projected cost will be up to $600 million.

At full capacity, the plant would produce 2.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, contributing up to 13% of Connecticut’s CO2 emissions. On this basis alone, KEC would thwart Lamont’s goal of carbon-free electricity by 2040, and any possibility of meeting the interim target of a 45% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030. Furthermore, the process of fracking that supplies natural gas, and the burning of natural gas to produce electricity, both result in substantial leakage of methane, which is 25 times more potent than CO2 in contribution to global warming.

NTE pitches the plant’s value as the reliable provision of electricity at lower prices. However, this new fossil fuel plant will lock in higher greenhouse gas emissions, divert crucial investment away from carbon-free energy sources, and worsen climate change impacts, for years.

Proponents of natural gas call it a “bridge fuel” needed during the development of renewable electricity sources, with the frequent refrain: When the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, we need to keep the lights on. Without question, reliable electricity is critical. However, there is substantial evidence that Connecticut has no need for a new fossil fuel power plant. Electricity use in Connecticut has flattened in recent years, primarily due to increased efficiency. Furthermore, Independent Systems Operator-New England, the electricity grid manager for the six states, reported an excess system capacity for 2018 of over 1,000 MW, even without accounting for growing solar and wind contributions. This is the time to be investing in carbon-free energy sources, not fossil fuels.

Residents in Killingly, and a growing network of advocates throughout the state, have opposed the KEC plant since the inception of the project. By the time Lamont took office, plans for the Killingly plant were well underway. Quoted in the Connecticut Mirror earlier this fall, the governor appeared to question the plan: “Is this important for Connecticut’s energy future? Right now, I’m sort of doubtful.”

What Connecticut urgently needs are transformative changes in policy and practice to wean us off fossil fuels in favor of the development of clean, renewable energy sources. This transformation must be led by our elected officials, at every level, in response to the rising voices of an alarmed constituency.

Lamont has formulated critically important climate goals and demonstrated increasing support for the development of renewable energy sources, particularly wind energy. He has the power to stop the expansion of fossil fuel energy throughout the state. The governor’s definitive action now to halt the Killingly project is a crucial step toward a sustainable future.

Kris E. Kuhn is a physician living in Mystic and recently retired from the clinical practice of geriatric medicine. Kuhn is working with a local group of scientists and other citizens concerned about fossil fuel emissions.

 

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