Environmentalists tout offshore wind, plastic bag, solar measures

Hartford — Environmental groups on Wednesday touted several measures soon to hit Gov. Ned Lamont's desk, including a major push to compete for offshore wind, a phased ban on notoriously nonbiodegradable single-use plastic bags and an extension of net metering, which compensates people with rooftop solar systems at retail rates for power they feed into the grid.

By 2030, Connecticut will rely on at least 2,000 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind farms, with Lamont expected to sign legislation long pushed by renewable energy advocates and unanimously backed by the state Senate as the 2019 legislative session closed Wednesday night.

House Bill 7156, which passed the state House 134-10 in May, will ignite a bidding war among offshore wind developers two weeks after it becomes law, helping Connecticut quickly join New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Virginia in bringing between 2,000 and 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind power in the coming decade.

"We will look back at this as a historic moment in the effort to tackle climate change in Connecticut with pride," said Samantha Dynowski, Connecticut state director at the Sierra Club, one of many environmental groups touting the bill. "The Connecticut legislature has shown that clean and renewable energy is a bipartisan issue that supports the environment and good jobs."

John Humphries, executive director of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, said that after a much smaller-scale solicitation for offshore wind power last year, lawmakers had finally sent a "loud and clear message that our state is serious about securing a major share of this emerging industry."

"The rapid transformation of the state's interest in offshore wind development is good news for Connecticut's workers and their communities, because it can jumpstart the needed transition to a thriving clean energy economy with good local jobs," Humphries added.

The push to seize on a burgeoning industry along the East Coast comes as lawmakers look to eventually replace Millstone Power Station's 2,100 megawatts with renewable energy, though a recent deal struck between utilities and Dominion Energy should secure Millstone's continued operation for another decade.

The offshore wind bill comes a year after the General Assembly and former Gov. Dannel Malloy set aggressive targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions (45 percent below 2001 levels by 2030) and renewable energy (40 percent of the state's power production, also by 2030).

"To meet Connecticut's greenhouse gas reduction targets, we must broadly diversify and promote clean climate initiatives like energy efficiency, solar, and wind," said Leah Schmalz, chief program officer for Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound.

"Investing in offshore wind now means we will have clean alternatives to fossil fuels, natural gas and nuclear energy in the decades to come," said Connecticut League of Conservation Voters Executive Director Lori Brown.

The bill also comes a month after the Connecticut Port Authority, pier operator Gateway and developer Bay State Wind announced a $93 million private-public investment to turn New London's State Pier into an offshore wind hub with upgraded infrastructure and heavy-lift capability for a range of cargo.

Connecticut will already receive 300 megawatts of electricity by 2023 from the Revolution Wind project south of Martha's Vineyard, in development by Bay State Wind, a joint venture between offshore wind giant Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind and Eversource Investment LLC, an unregulated Eversource subsidiary. That project was initiated by Deepwater Wind — purchased by Ørsted for $500 million last fall — which built the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, the first completed offshore wind endeavor in the U.S.

With increased scale and competition, offshore wind prices have dropped significantly since Deepwater Wind built the Block Island Wind Farm, which delivered power at 24 cents per kilowatt hour in its first year of operation with a 3.5 percent annual escalator built into the contract.

In Massachusetts, New Bedford-based Vineyard Wind's 800-megawatt offshore project will sell power to three Massachusetts utilities at a fixed rate of 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour, according to EcoRI News. In Rhode Island, which will receive 400 megawatts from Revolution Wind, National Grid will pay 9.84 cents per kilowatt hour for 20 years.

State-regulated utilities Eversource and United Illuminating will buy electricity produced at Revolution Wind and deliver it to Connecticut consumers, but the proposed price per kilowatt hour — which is also fixed, unlike the Block Island Wind Farm — remains undisclosed while the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority reviews the proposal.

Some fishermen, including Joseph Gilbert, owner of Empire Fisheries of Milford, expressed caution in public testimony that "potential problems abound" unless the offshore wind companies, lawmakers and the commercial fishing industry work together to "ensure that the proper protections are in place — environmental, industrial, commercial and the safety of our fishermen."

In statements Wednesday, state Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club and Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound noted the offshore wind legislation includes protections for labor and mitigation for impacts on wildlife and the environment.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which leases federal waters to offshore wind developers, also requires developers to conduct extensive geophysical and archaeological surveys, and contracts stipulate that construction schedules must not impede right whale migration patterns, and vessels must maintain certain distances from a range of wildlife, including sea turtles.

Ørsted, U.S. Offshore Wind and Eversource in a recent statement called the legislation "another step in the right direction for the state to play a leading role in the United States' fast-growing offshore wind industry."

Vineyard Wind, meanwhile, is proposing to tap into the state's offshore wind market with upgrades to Bridgeport Harbor.

That proposed project lost out to Deepwater Wind in the state's first solicitation for offshore wind last year. But Vineyard Wind — backed by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables and partnered with Bridgeport Boatworks — hopes to compete again, with Chief Development Officer Erich Stephens saying the proposal would invest millions of dollars into Bridgeport and "put the state at the center of an industry that's poised for tremendous growth."

Tax, then ban, for pesky plastic bags

The two-year $43 billion budget package adopted by the state House and Senate this week includes a Lamont-proposed 10-cent tax on single-use plastic bags that would go into effect this summer and earn the state about $30 million in revenue, followed by a ban beginning July 1, 2021.

The proposal, backed by many lawmakers, environmental groups and the Connecticut Food Association, whose members operate 300 retail food stores and 135 pharmacies, would make Connecticut the fourth state to outlaw the nonbiodegradable bags, following New York, California and Hawaii.

"We're pleased with the final measure," said Bill Lucey, Long Island Soundkeeper for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound. "It will impose a ten-cent fee on plastic bags for two years and ban them after that, encourages recycling paper bags, and will study compostable bags. And critically, it continues to allow towns to pass stronger ordinances if they wish. That's a win for wildlife."

Lucey previously said the bags and other plastic items, which never truly decompose, can choke wildlife and cause starvation, and sometimes eventually break into tiny pieces that threaten both wildlife and humans. The bags also frequently clog recycling processes.

More than two dozen Connecticut communities, including Waterford, Stonington and Groton, have considered bag bans, and several local restaurants have given up plastic straws in favor of paper or metal ones.

The statewide ban will eventually force stores to provide only single-use carryout bags made of 100 percent recyclable paper containing at least 40 percent previously recycled material. The paper bags must "conspicuously display ... 'Please Reuse and Recycle This bag," and stores could be slapped with $250 fines for any violations after an initial warning from a town, health district or officials with the Departments of Consumer Protection or Energy and Environmental Protection.

Environmental advocates and solar businesses also applauded the General Assembly's passage of House Bill 5002, which included energy storage and land inventory provisions, improved energy efficiency regulations for state-funded construction projects, extended several existing renewable energy programs that help homeowners save on efficiency, solar and other environmentally-friendly projects, and kept net metering alive instead of phasing it out as planned according to a bill that passed last year.

The Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound said ending net metering, which credits homeowners' energy bills at retail rates for the extra power they produce beyond what they use, imperiled the state's 2,200 solar workers and would make installing solar panels less appealing to residents.

"It's a move that will save jobs and help keep rooftop solar practical for Connecticut residents who want to reduce their energy bills and protect our air," Schmalz said.

b.kail@theday.com

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