Malloy targets greenhouse gas emissions, rising sea levels

Hartford — Gov. Dannel Malloy touted a pair of bills Monday aimed at ramping up the state's reliance on renewable energy while slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

Malloy and Rob Klee, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said the measures combat climate change at a time when the region faces unprecedented storms and scientists say sharp rises to sea levels could put Connecticut's coastal communities at risk of increased flooding.

"Climate change isn't an abstract challenge," Malloy said in a news conference. "It's here and it's an immediate threat."

Senate Bill 7 calls for a 45 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, while Senate Bill 9 requires 40 percent of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources such as wind, solar and fuel cells by 2030.

Some business groups and environmental advocates question parts of the measures, saying they could stunt solar industry growth and potentially impede development.

But Klee argued the aggressive targets and policy proposals were "common sense solutions that work for the state of Connecticut."

Scientists say sea levels could rise almost 2 feet by 2050

Senate Bill 7 requires all future state projects along the coast, including projects funded by state or federal grants or loans, to meet planning recommendations based on projections that sea levels could rise almost 2 feet by 2050.

"Tide gauges in Long Island Sound have already measured sea level rise along Connecticut's coast," said James O'Donnell, University of Connecticut marine sciences professor and executive director of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Action (CIRCA), which made the sea level projection.

The bill calls for Connecticut's coastal boundary maps to take CIRCA's recommendations into account, and for updates to sea level projections every 10 years based on new data from tide gauges and satellites.

But some challenged the bill's requirement for municipal planners to adjust their coastal boundary maps and submit them to DEEP for review.

"We don't believe DEEP should have any role in approving or disapproving local zoning regulations," said Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, in testimony submitted to lawmakers.

Gara said the bill could move coastal boundaries farther inland, causing "more property to fall under the Coastal Management Act. It is unclear how this would impact existing homes and businesses in these areas."

Eric Brown, senior counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, questioned the purpose and need for "changing the effective definition of sea level change." He argued much of the bill emphasized climate change over "other considerations that affect Connecticut's economy and electric ratepayers."

"The last thing Connecticut, our citizens and our economy need right now is DEEP doubling down on highly aggressive carbon reduction goals without regard to our struggling economy," said Brown, who argued Connecticut's policies alone could not impact global climate trends.

But Klee argued DEEP "studied and debated the best course of action to address the very real changes we are seeing all around us. The flooding and erosion you have witnessed will happen more and more frequently if we do not take action this legislative session."

Solar advocates question proposal

Klee said the state is on track to meet its prior goal for utilities to buy 20 percent of the state's power from renewable sources by 2020.

Klee said the ambitious 45 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions required "a very clean grid" and a "move toward electrification" in transportation, heating and cooling systems and building stock.

"But we need to do it in a cost-effective manner," he said.

Klee noted Senate Bill 9 calls for replacing the current net metering system, in which homeowners with rooftop solar panels receive credits from utilities at retail rates for the power they inject into the grid.

While current homeowners and solar installations will be grandfathered and keep net metering through 2039, the measure calls on regulators to establish a competitive bidding process among utilities to set a fixed amount homeowners will receive for solar power.

DEEP says the move is fairer to ratepayers overall, but solar advocates and companies worry the change could steer homeowners away from the growing solar industry.

"Eliminating net metering would stifle growth in what has been a thriving sector of Connecticut's economy, employing more than 2,100 people," said John Humphries of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs.

Stephan Hartmann, of Danbury-based Ross Solar Group, testified recently that the change would "stunt solar technology innovation and drastically limit its potential as a benefit to the grid and the average ratepayer."

But the Office of Consumer Counsel, an independent state consumer advocacy agency, argued net metering was not cost effective. As retail rates rise, non-solar ratepayers across the state end up paying more for distribution and transmission of solar power into the grid, the OCC said.

Klee said the bills remain under consideration by General Assembly committees — Environment for Senate Bill 7 and Energy and Technology for Senate Bill 9.

b.kail@theday.com

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