Gov. Ned Lamont speaks at a solar array outside the Bloomfield Board of Education.
A solar array outside the Bloomfield Board of Education was the backdrop for a ceremonial signing of an energy bill in May 2022. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

Over the summer and fall, I spent countless hours at Connecticut fairs and farmer’s markets talking with vendors, shoppers, and families about clean energy.

After months of listening, I learned this: Connecticut residents strongly support expanding solar energy and clean heat initiatives. Nearly 500 people I spoke with felt so strongly that they signed and sent postcards to Gov. Ned Lamont and local legislators supporting accessible solar and clean heat solutions to light, heat, and cool our homes. Here is what these individuals would like to see change in Connecticut. Policymakers, take note.

First, many residents I spoke with were surprised to learn that Connecticut is not a top solar energy state. In reality, Connecticut has fallen behind on solar production and now significantly lags behind other New England states on per capita installed solar. Given the climate crisis and high electricity costs, the people I spoke with believe Connecticut must double down on clean energy and become a leading solar state. Residents support making solar a much larger part of our state goals and strategies to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040.

Further, several market-goers said they would like to power their homes with solar energy, but they rent, own a condominium, or can’t put solar on their homes. Many were disappointed to hear that other New England states have more robust community solar programs than Connecticut’s existing Statewide Shared Clean Energy Facilities program, which expires in 2025 and is due for expansion and improvements. Residents are eager to see Connecticut strengthen its slow-to-start and limited SCEF community solar model, enabling it to benefit many more people.

Finally, there is an eagerness to see more promotion and adoption of clean heat solutions and energy-efficient appliances to help decarbonize our highly-polluting building sector.

Electric appliances work well, are energy efficient, and offer valuable versatility in heating and cooling. Heat pumps, for example, are three to five times more efficient than gas furnaces and can both heat AND cool buildings. Citizens I spoke with like the idea of a statewide campaign modeled after Maine, one that sets lofty heat pump adoption goals.

They would also like to see additional resources put towards educating others about the availability of clean heat solutions, the ways clean heat would help clean our air, and how heat pumps and other electric appliances can reduce building carbon emissions.

Connecticut has set vital and ambitious goals to achieve greenhouse gas reductions and decarbonize our electric grid well before 2050. However, goals are meaningless without a robust strategy to meet them.

Connecticut policymakers must commit to start urgent and meaningful progress. Rapidly accelerating the deployment of clean heat solutions and solar on rooftops, commercial buildings, schools, parking lot canopies and other locations that do not conflict with forest, farm, and open space preservation is a path our state should speed down.

In doing so, Connecticut can give the people what they want: greater access to clean energy solutions for their homes and families. While Inflation Reduction Act tax credits and rebates will help finance much of this policy, the state must commit to leading the clean energy transition.

Now is the time for Connecticut to take real climate action and live up to the leadership its residents demand.

Stephen Lewis is Chairman of the Greater Hartford Sierra Club.