Timing, they say, is everything. It certainly plays an outsized role in the public arena where momentous events can galvanize public perception around an issue. We are seeing that exact scenario play out with zero-carbon electricity, where a confluence of events has highlighted the need for every state to embrace clean energy as swiftly as possible.
The U.N. recently released a new report detailing how the global climate crisis is getting increasingly severe, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the national security and consumer protection necessities of energy independence, and the Northeast is experiencing the early stages of a clean energy industry boom that carries with it the prospect of significant job growth.
All of this is taking place as the Connecticut legislature is taking up a bill that would codify into state law the 2040 zero-carbon electricity goal Gov. Ned Lamont set back in 2019. As with all things, setting a goal is a crucial first step, but the real work is in making sure the goal is reached. By codifying the 2040 goal into law, state regulatory agencies would have the statutory authority to make sure the 100% clean electricity objective is reached.
Passage of this bill (An Act Concerning Climate Change Mitigation) would put Connecticut in the vanguard of states walking the walk on this issue.
New York also has a 2040 goal for zero-carbon electricity and Rhode Island is pushing for 2030. So the 2040 goal would help form a regional coalition of states moving to 100% clean energy.
Connecticut, largely thanks to nuclear power, already is at 74% clean electricity. As offshore wind and grid-scale solar projects come online, that percentage could increase to 92% by the middle of this decade. 2040 is a fairly modest target, though as we electrify things like our cars and home heating/cooling it will require more electricity pumping through our grid and we’ll need to make sure that’s coming from renewable resources.
That brings us back to current events. The latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change can best be described as strident. The short version is the climate crisis is worse than we thought, it’s happening faster than we thought and much of it won’t be reversible.
The conclusion of the report, offered with very high confidence, is “Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.” Essentially they’re saying it’s time to take all the plans we’ve made and put them into action. As luck would have it, Connecticut has some excellent plans when it comes to generating clean power.
Simultaneously we’re getting a real-time lesson on the importance of energy independence as a byproduct of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Fossil fuel companies usually seize upon moments like this to push for further public investment in their products, but that is part of a repeating cycle in which their products are a root cause for the very conflicts they argue necessitates deeper investment in their products. U.S. Admiral Dennis McGinn was as direct as possible on the inextricable link between fossil fuels and global conflict, saying, “Make no mistake if we were not addicted as an international community to fossil fuels, this war never would have happened.” He also penned a column going into deeper detail on how wars get fueled by fossil fuels.
This realization is forcing a reckoning on what energy independence truly means. It is time we learned we cannot extract our way to it. Oil and fossil gas are tied to extremely problematic and violent regimes all around the globe. On top of that, oil and gas producers are linked to global markets that will always spike during times of turmoil. That’s why the cost of gasoline has risen to more than $4 per gallon, because international instability directly affects fossil fuel prices.
Clean energy is locally produced and will be wholly oblivious to conflicts in Eastern Europe or the Middle East or anywhere else. The joke making the round on social media is that the costs of sunlight and wind remain unchanged. Yet it gets right to the heart of the issue. If we want energy independence and reliable consumer prices, then we must tap into the clean, renewable resources at our fingertips.
Finally, there’s a clean energy boom that’s starting to form. Much of it is around offshore wind. The Revolution Wind project, which should start supplying renewable electricity to Connecticut and Rhode Island by 2025, is getting underway, as are projects off the coasts of Massachusetts and New York.
A recent lease auction of six wind parcels off the coasts of New York and New Jersey fetched $4.37 billion. This is big business, and there’s a host of associated industries connected to it from port facilities to undersea cable manufacturing to inland electricity grid upgrades. Also, climate tech investment is growing rapidly–210% globally last year. Connecticut has always looked to stay ahead of the curve on embracing emerging technologies and the economic growth they bring. We are seeing a diverse climate economy take shape at this very moment.
It all adds up to what should be an airtight case for the legislature to enshrine Connecticut’s 2040 zero-carbon electricity goal into state law. It’s a pressing need in terms of climate action, it embraces the necessity of achieving energy independence and it would put Connecticut in position to catch the next wave of economic growth. Connecticut should seize this opportunity to become a national leader in clean energy.
Joe Curtatone is President of the Northeast Clean Energy Council.