HARTFORD – Renewable energy producers say the state’s electricity is cleaner than ever, but the struggle with traditional power sources continues.
“Renewable and traditional energy industry is at odds,” said Mike Trahan, executive director of Solar Connecticut.
“Both can work together for the betterment of ratepayers,” Trahan said. “But I don’t see us both growing in the same direction.”
Trahan and others representing renewable energy — those who produce electricity through solar, wind, fuel cells or food waste — on Thursday told members of the General Assembly’s energy and technology committee that progress in reducing the state’s reliance on carbon-based energy has been significant.
But they warned that other states — New York and Massachusetts, most notably — are doing more and making more progress.
Matt Morrissey, vice president of Deepwater Wind, a wind farm off Block Island, said other states are pressing hard to obtain wind and other renewable energy developments.
“There should be consideration of a long-term program that gives the industry a view of what kind of opportunity exists in Connecticut,” Morrissey said. “If you see the market opportunity you start to invest…New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts are pressing heavy to invest in their states.”
Connecticut recently issued a round of clean energy contracts, handing the lion’s share to the Millstone nuclear plant in Waterford and the Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire.
Those two contracts accounted for some 1,256 megawatts of power, or more than 82 percent of the overall bids accepted.
The state also accepted 104 megawatts of offshore wind power and approved nine solar projects offering 164 megawatts of power. Three of the projects are located in the state.
Environmentalists and the renewable energy industry complained that while Millstone produces clean electricity, the award did little to advance other forms of clean power.
Brad Kranz, a vice president for NRG Energy, said traditional energy generators — natural gas and oil burners — are not attempting to stall renewable energy.
“We are not about putting up roadblocks or preserving the status quo,” Kranz said. “We looking forward to working on a plan to decarbonization.”
But Kranz noted the impact of the subsidies paid to make renewable power affordable can be higher bills for consumers.
“The cost of fuel for solar and wind is zero,” Kranz noted. “It’s nearly impossible to ensure carbon-based energy is being obtained at the best possible price.”
Rules and rates
Daniel Collins, director of government relations for the New England Power Generators Association, said wholesale electric prices have been declining.
But Collins noted transmission rates have gone up 400 percent. Those rates are a main source of revenue for electric companies such as Eversource and United Illuminating.
“There is a certain amount of gold plating of the system,” Collins said. “We feel in New England, there has been a more aggressive buildout compared to other systems in the country.”
Wind farm production has grown significantly in 10 years and the cost of production has dropped dramatically, said Francis Pullaro, executive director RENEW Northeast, which represents the renewable industry.
“We have reached parity,” Pullaro said, referring to the cost of many renewable sources when compared to traditional power sources.
“If you compare [solar] to a large scale natural gas plant, it’s about the same,” Pullaro said. “Prices in Europe have reached the subsidy free zone.”
Pullaro added “We would encourage [the state] to set up a program of long-term contracting for large projects over the next decade. Don’t make it harder than other types of lawful development. And work collectively with the New England states.”
“Incentives more generous”
Paul Michaud, executive director of the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Business Association, said one problem is current rules restrict how much solar power can be built in a given setting,
“Energy policy is trying to promote solar but environmental policies are saying you must have a letter from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Agriculture Department before going to siting council,” Michaud said
“It is restricting many projects in the state,” Michaud added.
Trahan said the solar industry is looking for a development system that ensures the 2,000 jobs already created are retained and homeowners see lower electric bills.
“Incentives for solar in Massachusetts are more generous,” Trahan said.
“The effort [in Connecticut] has been to drive the incentive down as quickly as we can,” Trahan noted. “Programs are set to expire this year. Confidence in state government is at an all-time low, and there is fear about keeping people in work.”