May 9, 2018

Sweeping energy reforms clear House

Photos / Pablo Robles
Photos / Pablo Robles
A solar thermal system at Dowling on Main in Manchester.

The House of Representatives voted just before 3 a.m. Wednesday to approve wide-reaching changes to the state's energy policy that drew mixed reviews from environmental advocates.

Senate Bill 9, which had been approved by the Senate on Monday, passed the House by a vote of 100-45. It now heads to the desk of Gov. Dannel Malloy, one of the chief proponents of many parts of the bill.

Malloy hailed the passage of the legislation, saying it takes "real steps toward reducing our overall emissions and creating good jobs in the green economy, all while decreasing costs for ratepayers."

The bill doubles the amount of renewable energy that Connecticut utilities will be required to purchase over the next decade, from 20 percent in 2020 to 40 percent in 2030. That is expected to increase electricity costs for ratepayers, but it's not clear by exactly how much.

S.B. 9 also extends $8 million in renewable incentives for commercial users for an eighth year. The low-emission (L-REC) and zero-emission (Z-REC) programs allow commercial users to sell their output to utilities in 15-year contracts.

The bill also removes a cap on virtual net metering, which will allow more municipalities to employ renewable power to reduce their energy costs across their various public buildings.

Regular ratepayers who can't afford solar or don't have homes suitable for it could similarly benefit from the bill's creation of a 25-megawatt community solar program, which was previously relegated to a modest pilot program.

In addition, S.B. 9 also seeks to protect energy efficiency funds from future legislative raids.

S.B. 9 also includes a potential boost for the state's fuel cell industry.

Rooftop solar concern

One provision that environmental groups decried is the sunset of a program next year that provides energy credits to residential solar owners, instead setting up a process for the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to determine what price utilities should pay owners for their electricity. Advocates and some lawmakers worry that the process will almost certainly lead to owners receiving less than retail rates for their solar output.

John Humphries, organizer of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, praised much of S.B. 9, but said it is ultimately flawed.

"It dramatically changes the structure of net metering for solar customers in ways that could threaten jobs in the solar industry," Humphries said. "It also imposes an artificially low annual cap on commercial solar development. Connecticut needs more solar projects, not fewer..."

Amy McLean Salls, Acadia Center's Connecticut director and senior policy advocate, warned that the net-metering provision would imperil the future of rooftop solar in the state and put 2,170 solar jobs at risk.

While some lawmakers said S.B. 9 preserves net metering in the state, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport), a member of the committee that birthed S.B. 9, said that's only true for now.

"We're preserving it in the near term with a hope and a prayer that when it gets to PURA we're going to work out a system that's going to work for the state of Connecticut," Steinberg said.

He added that he thinks PURA is a capable agency, "but it doesn't always work out the way we expect."

Despite his concern, Steinberg ultimately voted in favor of S.B. 9, calling it "every bit as critical" as a 2011 law (Public Act 11-80) that jump started solar deployment and renewables in the state.

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