Enviros call energy bill a retreat

A Senate renewable energy bill that pitted environmentalists and consumer activists against legislative allies and the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was revised Tuesday by House of Representatives on a 112-33 vote and returned to the Senate.

The environmental community and power generators were quick to express disappointment, saying that the revised version still weakens Connecticut’s commitment to creating a market for renewable energy by allowing the well-established hydro-electric power to meet its renewable portfolio standard.

“This bill is going to get fewer renewables built,” said Chris Phelps, state director of Environment Connecticut.

“The legislature blew it,” said Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters. 

The legislation redefines the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires electric companies to rely on renewable sources for an increasing percentage of their power, reaching a maximum of 20 percent in 2020.

The administration says the bill creates competitive pressure on wind, solar and other renewable energy producers by giving the state greater flexibility to meet those goals by adding large-scale hydro-electric power to the mix. Critics say that is a gift to HydroQuebec and to Northeast Utiliies, which has proposed a transmission line to deliver more hydro-power from Canada to southern New England.

“The state legislature’s vote today to retreat from our state’s clean energy goals practically guarantees that we get locked into large, environmentally damaging HydroQuebec power to flood our energy market and damage the growing industry that creates jobs related to clean, renewable power in Connecticut,” Brown said.

Environmentalists say the effect will be a rollback of long-established goals to rely more heavily on cleaner, renewable sources of energy, which are graded as Class I, Class II and Class III. No other state has approved such a rollback.

Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, the co-chairwoman of the Energy and Technology Committee, who usually is allied with environmentalists, said the bill would end the state’s purchase of energy generated by out-of-state, “dirty biomass,” including creosote-soaked telephone polls and other wooden debris.

Reed said the existing RPS law was doing more to create a market in New Hampshire for biomass than wind, solar or other renewables in Connecticut.

“Why isn’t anybody telling that story?” she told reporters after the vote. “That really undermines the credibility of the whole RPS system.”

The Senate passed the original bill May 1 on a 26-6 vote, with four Republicans joining all 22 Democrats.

The vote was postponed a week over concerns about Daniel C. Esty, the commissioner of energy and environmental protection, participating in a conference call with stock analysts and investors on the day before the scheduled vote.

Esty has had a lower profile at the State Capitol since the call, which he says was a mistake.

Reed said the revisions adopted by the House require a review by the attorney general and the office of consumer counsel before the state is allowed to use hydro-electric to meet its Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Esty issued a statement hours after the vote, praising its passage.

“Today’s vote in the House sets Connecticut on a path toward a cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable electricity future where renewable power plays a larger role but at lower cost to ratepayers,” Esty said. “In updating our Renewable Portfolio Standard, the bill allows us to redirect resources away from not-very-clean biomass and landfill gas projects toward more cutting-edge technologies such as wind and solar power and other potential breakthrough future power sources.”

Malloy has said the changes are necessary to meet his goal of lower energy prices.

“We want cleaner, cheaper, more reliable energy in our state,” Malloy said weeks ago. “That’s what we want. We cannot compete with other states if we continually have the highest prices and then we drive them higher.”

But Dan Dolan, the president of the New England Power Generators Association, questioned whether a greater reliance on hydro-electric from Canada would meet any of those goals, especially since it must be carried over hundreds of miles of transmission lines.

“If it’s cheaper, then why isn’t it winning in the market today?” Dolan said. “Now we’re going to add 400 miles of transmission lines to to Quebec. We’re saying this is more reliable, too?”