CT Senate Passes Legislation to Include Large-Scale Hydro Power in Renewable Standard
The Connecticut Senate passed legislation yesterday by a vote of 26 to 6, to expand the state's underlying renewable power requirement to allow large-scale hydroelectric power to qualify under the standard when wind and solar are not available. Despite the lop-sided vote, the legislation has come under increasing scrutiny by environmental groups and some power providers because they believe it will give the state department of energy and environmental protection to much authority to rollback renewable energy requirements.
Connecticut first passed its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in 1998, and after several revisions, the law requires each electric supplier and each electric distribution company to meet at least 20% of its power demand by using "Class I" renewable energy by January 1, 2020. The state's RPS law defines "Class I renewables" as: “(A) energy derived from solar power, wind power, a fuel cell, methane gas from landfills, ocean thermal power, wave or tidal power, low emission advanced renewable energy conversion technologies, a run-of-the-river hydropower facility provided such facility has a generating capacity of not more than five megawatts, does not cause an appreciable change in the river flow, and began operation after July 1, 2003” as well as including provisions for biomass and distributed generation. Electric providers that are unable to meet the requirement must pay an annual fee of $0.055 per kWh (kilowatt hour) to the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund (CCEF) for the development of Class I renewables.
The legislation passed on Wednesday would allow, for the first time, for Canadian hydroelectric power to be counted towards meeting the requirements of the states 20% Class I renewables mandate. The bill was supported by Governor Dan Malloy and it was shepherded through to final passage by Senator Bob Duff who said in a release, "Connecticut has some of the highest electricity costs in the country. Bringing those costs down is important for our economy, our households and businesses. At the same time, we must make real progress on renewable energy. I believe this bill strikes the appropriate balance to achieve both.” Another supporter of the compromise, Lonnie Reed, House Chair of the Energy & Technology Committee said, "For years, we’ve known that Connecticut has been forced to buy some less desirable, out of state energy resources in order to meet our State’s bold and admirable renewable energy goals... We had two choices to correct the situation. Either diminish our goals or replace dirtier renewable generation like Maine biomass with clean options. This bill does that and protects the integrity of our whole renewables program. Hopefully, it will help lead to more affordable energy as well.”
A spokesman for an environmental group, Environment Connecticut, said while the group supported parts of the legislation that cemented long-term ties to wind and solar power produced in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, "The rest of the bill really would take a huge step backwards in Connecticut's commitment to clean energy." Many groups object to using hydro power to meet Class I standards because of the negative effects they believe it has on watersheds, fish habitat, and environmental degradation. Officials within the the New England Power Generators Association expressed skepticism that provisions within the bill to empower the state department of energy and environmental protection to purchase additional large-scale hydro would not necessarily guarantee competitive prices. The Malloy Administration says the state needs an "insurance policy" to protect consumers when traditional renewables like wind and solar aren't available and this authority would only be triggered if there is "a verified shortage" of Class I resources. Additionally, the legislation also includes a refund provision of alternative compliance payments (penalty payments that must be made if the state falls short of its RPS goals) to ratepayers to help provide rate relief.
The bill now heads to the House for consideration.