A solar array outside the Bloomfield Board of Education was the backdrop for Gov. Ned Lamont's ceremonial bill signing. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

Gov. Ned Lamont and his Republican challenger, Bob Stefanowski, clashed last year over the tabled Transportation and Climate Initiative, disagreeing over what it would have meant to Connecticut’s environment and the price of gasoline.

But the extent of their differences on climate change is only now being explored: As Lamont aggressively promotes his record, Stefanowski is non-committal regarding his support for meeting clean-energy goals set by the governor.

On Tuesday, Lamont conducted a ceremonial signing of two bipartisan clean-energy bills near a solar array in Bloomfield, a predominantly Black suburb chosen to underscore the racial justice component of curbing greenhouse emissions. 

One sets a goal of 2040 for all electricity supplied to Connecticut ratepayers to be carbon free, codifying in law an executive order issued by Lamont in 2019. The other increases the market for electricity generated for commercial customers by small-scale renewables, generally solar and fuel cells.

The ceremony was about more than two bills: It also is an element of a campaign to reboot an energy debate in which concerns over costs have overwhelmed consideration of environment needs and benefits.

“I don’t want an opposition between ratepayers and environmentalists. I want to show how we’re able to do this together,” Lamont said. “We’re able to save you money and save the environment.”

With inflation rampant and Connecticut’s electricity costs the highest in the continental U.S., Lamont and Stefanowski each stepped warily around the prospect of doing anything that would raise the cost of gasoline or electricity.

“This was Ned Lamont’s pivot after people rejected his gas tax initiative that would have added nearly twenty-six cents per gallon to the price of gas,” Stefanowski said in a text message.

The “gas tax initiative” was a reference to the TCI, the regional Transportation and Climate Initiative, a complicated cap-and-invest plan that would set limits on carbon emissions from motor vehicles, initially estimated to add 5 cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline. A Tufts University study projected the costs eventually could go as high as 38 cents by 2032 as the limits fall.

On the broader questions of the state’s role in combating climate change and his support for the current clean-energy goals, Stefanowski indicated support for alternative energy — so long as there was no cost.

“I believe the future has to be in alternate energy sources, we see the opportunity for new energy sources like green hydrogen to bring jobs and support a cleaner environment, but we cannot do that at the cost of residents and taxpayers,” Stefanowski said by text.

Stefanowski will hold a press conference Wednesday, his first since accepting the Republican nomination on May 6. He spoke against TCI last year, long before formally opening his second campaign for governor.

TCI would require fuel wholesalers to purchase, at auction, allowances permitting them to sell gasoline — essentially putting a price on carbon pollution. The intent was to raise money for green-energy investments while pushing consumers away from fossil fuels.

While Lamont and Katie Dykes, the commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, spoke Tuesday about Connecticut’s progress towards a carbon-free electric grid, they acknowledged that transportation emissions are increasing — and they are the largest source of greenhouse gases.

Despite that trend, Lamont displayed no appetite for another debate on TCI. He was noncommittal when asked about its possible resurrection. 

“It’s one step at a time. I think we’re making incredible progress here right now,” Lamont said, “And frankly, gasoline prices are pretty darn high.”

Lamont will hold another ceremonial signing at a time to be determined for Senate Bill 4, the Connecticut Clean Air Act. It is intended to accelerate Connecticut’s embrace of electric vehicles with investments in charging infrastructure, tax rebates for e-bikes and electric motor vehicles, and tighter deadlines for electrifying transit and school bus fleets.

Unlike the bills celebrated Tuesday, its passage was partisan.

On Tuesday, the emphasis was on the progress in generating electricity from renewable sources. Today, the electric grid is 65% carbon free, Dykes said.

A commitment to the purchase of electricity generated by off-shore wind turbines  scheduled to come on line off Martha’s Vineyard in 2026 will put the state’s 100% carbon-free electricity goal in reach, Dykes said.

“When those turbines start spinning off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, we’ll be at 92%,” she said.

The cost of reaching a carbon-free grid by 2040 was deemed to be “indeterminate” by the legislature’s non-partisan legislative analysts.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.