DEEP is Protecting Eversource, not the Environment

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The state agency in charge of environmental protection here in Connecticut is proposing changes that will restrict its citizens’ ability to contribute to a cleaner energy future. This may sound crazy, but it makes perfect sense to our local utility companies, which are lobbying hard in Hartford for such restrictions, as are power companies in other state capitals.

Among those leading this retrograde charge nationwide are none other than those petroleum-loving Koch brothers, Charles and David of Koch Industries. These fossil-fuel plutocrats, whose minions now populate the Trump administration, apparently missed the memo about “draining the swamp.”

In the draft of its “2017 Comprehensive Energy Strategy,” the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) argues for drastically reducing the incentives that have fueled the growth of the state’s solar power industry. It would cap the annual amount of aggregate megawatts that could qualify for these reduced incentives each year to roughly 20 — as opposed to the 90 megawatts that solar power contributed last year to the state’s energy mix.

The DEEP draft questions “net metering,” which allows solar panel homeowners to send their excess power into the grid, to “bank it” and then draw on those banked credits when their demand is greater than what the panels are producing (for example, at night or on cloudy days). If solar users consume more power than they generate, or have banked from previous months, during a billing period, they pay retail for that like everybody else.

One possible new plan, favored by utilities, would have solar customers send all of their clean kilowatts directly into the grid; the power company would pay for that electricity at the wholesale rate, or close to it, and then bill the solar homeowners at the normal retail rate for all of the electricity they use.

What a deal for utilities like Eversource, Connecticut’s largest power company: the very deal that it and other hydrocarbon addicts have been lobbying for. As usual, the little guy— homeowners, small businesses and solar panel installers— get the shaft. Our state’s environment also takes a hit, since the new scheme would greatly reduce the number of people opting for clean energy.

The DEEP is pushing these proposals, while at the same time acknowledging that Connecticut will need to make “far deeper cuts [in greenhouse gas emissions] … in the coming decades to meet the Global Warming Solutions Act’s (GWSA) 2050 target.”

Just prior to this disturbing admission, the draft states in doublespeak worthy of “1984″ that progress in reducing GHG emissions “has been successful.” Champagne anyone?

So what is the argument for making it more difficult to put solar panels on your roof, as my wife and I did this year — it’s purportedly unfair to other ratepayers who will pay more to support the electrical infrastructure than solar folks. This is half true at best: solar panels people generate other benefits not mentioned by Eversource lobbyists.

For example, we use the grid less, getting much of our power directly from our panels. And if we do use the grid at times, we also, in aggregate, help utilities meet peak demand on scorching summer days when power is at a premium (and brownouts can occur). In addition, by increasing and diversifying Connecticut’s kilowatt portfolio, one roof at a time, we help mitigate the need for new generating and transmission infrastructure. Nobody wants a new power plant in their neighborhood. Furthermore, relying heavily on one or two power sources, whether nuclear or natural gas, is a recipe for trouble in the future.

But most important, solar power is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to global warming. My state and the planet need all the help they can get doing that.

The real but unstated problem that utilities have with the recent clean energy trend, in Connecticut and nationwide, is simple: they make less money off of solar customers.

There are government incentives (state and federal) in place that have helped fuel the recent boom in solar power. And Connecticut is in a financial crisis, but it is also experiencing a persistent environmental crisis that will have an infinitely greater effect on us, and on our grandchildren, than the upcoming biennial budget will.

Let the Koch brothers whine about government incentives while they contribute millions to tilt the political playing field, but they and their industry have enjoyed government incentives, including incentives by omission, for far too long. They have made obscene profits on fossil fuels without having to pay for the long-term consequences to our warming planet. Most of us clean up after ourselves when the picnic is over. A carbon tax is way overdue.

Connecticut citizens need to make it clear that these industry-friendly proposals won’t fly. The DEEP should drop them — or, failing that, at least be honest with us and change their name to the Department of Energy and Eversource Protection.

David Holahan is a freelance writer from East Haddam.

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