Singling out solar: How Senate Bill 943 will hurt Connecticut

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A shared solar field in Rehoboth, Mass. Investment in the concept is heavy in that state.

In 2016, Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) selected several local grid-scale solar energy projects as part of a competitive solicitation to provide clean, affordable and reliable energy to local utilities. The location of some of the selected projects have raised concerns over the appropriateness of using agricultural land for large solar projects.

Recently, the Connecticut General Assembly’s Environment Committee approved Senate Bill No. 943, “An Act Concerning the Installation of Certain Solar Facilities on Productive Farmlands” that singles out the least-cost form of solar development by imposing a permitting process established for large-scale fossil fueled power plants. This bill penalizing solar development placed on farmland will jeopardize past and future energy solicitations intended to bring clean energy, low electricity prices, economic development and sound environmental policy to the state.

First, before adopting legislation restricting solar energy development, the consequences to ratepayers and local municipalities should be considered. Connecticut residents and businesses already pay the highest electricity prices in the continental United States. These new restrictions will substantially increase the cost of solar energy for Connecticut ratepayers by limiting developers to more expensive sites.

If future price proposals received are higher than past solicitations, DEEP will likely need to select solar facilities outside of Connecticut where punitive requirements do not exist. As a result, our state’s municipalities won’t reap the local tax benefits from hosting a project, which often exceeds hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Senate Bill 943 means Connecticut’s ratepayers lose or we send the solar industry jobs and property tax payments to neighboring states.

Second, this bill will have adverse impacts to our local farmers. In many cases, land payments for solar can help farmers diversify their revenue stream and alleviate the pressure to sell off land, which may be slated for more permanent forms of development. The state has many competing land uses, and residential and commercial development take up a large proportion of the state’s developable land. By contrast, solar is a temporary use of land; unlike other types of development, site reclamation can occur as solar projects are decommissioned after their useful life.

Third, we must also consider the effects legislative action would have on promoting sound energy policy in the state. Let’s not change the rules at this stage in the process, particularly regarding projects that were already selected as part of DEEP’s solicitation process.

Reactionary legislation can be dangerous and have unintended consequences. State laws and policies should not hold solar projects to higher standards than other lawful forms of development and needlessly prohibit the opportunity for clean energy deployment and economic development in Connecticut.

Senate Bill 943 is not needed to address issues relating to the siting of solar projects. State agencies like DEEP and the Department of Agriculture should continue to bring together stakeholders including solar developers, land owners, farmers and environmentalists, to engage in proactive, productive conversations and make thoughtful recommendations on best practices for meeting our environmental goals at the lowest cost.

Francis Pullaro is Executive Director of RENEW Northeast, a non-profit association uniting environmental advocates and the renewable energy industry.

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