March 12, 2018
Other Voices

State can be a clean energy leader

Peter Rothstein

Viewers of January's State of the Union address need not look beyond references to a so-called "war on clean coal" to know that renewable energy is not a priority for the Trump administration.

In the midst of federal inaction on growing our clean energy economy and combatting climate change, states across the country have an opportunity to lead on these issues. Connecticut is one of them.

Recently, local clean energy business leaders met with legislators and policymakers in Hartford to discuss how an increase to a policy known as the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) can re-establish Connecticut as a major driver of New England's clean energy economy.

The RPS serves as the foundation for cost-effective renewable energy development at the state level, requiring utilities to provide an annually increasing percentage of qualifying renewables such as solar and wind in the electricity they supply.

Currently, Connecticut's RPS requirement is on pace to increase until it hits 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, where it will flatten off unless the legislature extends it. A recent analysis by Synapse Energy found that increasing the RPS by 2 percent to 3 percent per year would put Connecticut's economy, environment and energy mix in a much better position over the next decade.

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) commendably included a 2 percent annual increase to the RPS as part of its recently released final Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES). The DEEP proposal would track the RPS to reach 40 percent by 2030, making it the centerpiece of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's ambitious pronouncement to achieve 75 percent zero-carbon electricity that same year.

The General Assembly can and should go further to support 50 percent renewables by 2030 and preserve the ceiling price on renewable energy credits. This would solidify Connecticut's commitment to renewable energy and allow the state to reap the many benefits of a strong RPS.

Achieving 2030 RPS requirements between 40 percent and 50 percent will, without a doubt, be a major win for Connecticut.

According to a 2017 report by the Department of Energy and BW Research Partnership, there are nearly 37,000 energy efficiency and solar jobs in Connecticut. Rather than slowing this progress, increasing the state's RPS can add roughly 7,100 jobs throughout the region in solar, wind, energy storage and transmission.

The example Connecticut sets through aggressive clean energy policies can attract more investment from sustainably minded businesses and talented professionals contributing to a more robust and environmentally friendly economy.

Accelerating the RPS will put Connecticut in a better position to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 2001 levels by 2050. However, like most states in New England, Connecticut relies heavily on natural gas to generate electricity. Without an aggressive RPS that more effectively diversifies the state's energy mix with more renewables, Connecticut risks missing this ambitious target and straying from the interim 2030 targets recommended by the Governor's Council of Climate Change and proposed by DEEP (45 percent reductions by 2030).

The benefits of a diversified energy supply go well beyond the environment, supporting Connecticut residents and businesses as well. An overreliance on traditional fuels can spell trouble for customers who are susceptible to spikes in natural gas prices during frigid weeks.

Strengthening Connecticut's RPS provides an insurance policy that protects customers from the risk of fluctuating prices by relying more on renewable energy.

With inaction at the federal level putting us at a standstill in growing our nation's renewable economy and fighting climate change, states and localities have an opportunity to drive us into a cleaner, greener future.

Increasing the RPS is the most efficient and cost-effective way to put Connecticut back on the map of states leading this charge.

Peter Rothstein is president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council.

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