Esty: Alternative energy not a near-term solution

NEW HAVEN–On the day his nomination was confirmed by the House, the new commissioner of environmental protection told a green jobs conference Wednesday that he does not see alternative energy as economically viable in the near future.

“I don’t see an alternative source that meets the test of economic viability,” Daniel C. Esty said. But the state must gradually transition away from fossil fuels, he said.

Esty said electricity generated by natural gas-fired turbines will remain Connecticut’s cheapest and cleanest source of electricity for years to come, even as the state encourages innovation in renewable energy sources.

The new commissioner is Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s choice to oversee a department that Malloy intends to reorganize as the expanded Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Malloy wants Esty to help bring down the cost of electricity in Connecticut, currently among the most expensive in the U.S.

The conference, sponsored by The Connecticut Mirror, was held at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, putting Esty back on the campus where he has taught for 17 years.

The commissioner said he continues to be wary of efforts by government to “pick winners” in alternative energy, including a current legislative proposal to direct funds to solar energy.

Instead, he favors a portfolio of incentives to encourage innovation, letting science and the markets determine which technologies will succeed.

“It’s all about incentives and investment,” Esty said.

Esty promised rigorous enforcement of environmental law as he works to build partnerships with business to help generate jobs.

Esty, a former top official in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the administration of the first President Bush, said the Malloy administration is trying to remake environmental protection.

By contrast, he said, the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives is trying to destroy the EPA with a 40 percent budget cut. “That’s not a remake,” Esty said.

Esty said he sees a leaner state Department of Environmental Protection that will have to set priorities.

“We can’t continue to do everything,” he said.

Esty said the department must continue to shorten the time DEP takes to review permit applications, noting it still takes 14 months to review an application to build or repair a dock.

“Frankly, that should take 14 days, perhaps less,” he said.

Esty said he may end site inspections for dock applications, perhaps utilizing Google Earth instead.

“If I get the dock wrong, nobody’s going to die,” he said.

By prioritizing types of applications based on a risk, the department can devote greater resources to the review of projects with the potential for jeopardizing the environment or public health.