Connecticut has many assets that can help us grow our economy, create jobs, and address our serious fiscal challenges. But one significant competitive hurdle that must be overcome is our distinction as the most costly energy state in the country.
New England has long been at an economic disadvantage for energy costs, largely due to the distance from where traditional energy fuels were harvested and processed. This meant we paid the costs associated with constructing and maintaining several thousands of miles of pipeline infrastructure and other costs associated with transporting fuels to our region.
But technologies have evolved and New England now has an enormous opportunity to eliminate a long-time drag on our competitiveness and transform our energy future into a driver for economic investment, while decreasing energy costs, increasing reliability, and helping the environment.
Connecticut is home to one of the largest zero-carbon emission electric generation facilities in the region – the Millstone nuclear facility in Waterford.
We also have a small but growing renewable power industry that includes technologies such as fuel cells and biofuels being developed, manufactured, and produced right here in Connecticut.
And we have access to enormous quantities of zero-emission, large-scale hydropower just to our north in eastern Canada.
Solar, wind, and energy storage technologies are also advancing.
In short, we can now look forward to the day when Connecticut and New England will have plentiful supplies of competitively priced, highly reliable electricity that will continue to build on the enormous progress we have already achieved in reducing the environmental impacts of electricity generation.
But to get there, without seriously disrupting our economy and even worsening our current competitive disadvantage with respect to energy costs, we need to continue to invest in our bridge fuel to that future — natural gas.
New England generates roughly half of its electricity from natural gas-fired power plants. Our plants are the cleanest burning in the country and have allowed Connecticut and New England to dramatically reduce harmful emissions from electricity generation over the past two decades.
ISO-New England, the entity responsible for making sure homes and businesses have access to the electricity they need, says the region will be highly dependent on natural gas to meet its energy demands for many years to come. In fact, just this past winter, a severe cold spell brought the region dangerously close to rolling blackouts and caused price spikes in energy costs, all due to constrained natural gas pipeline capacities.
Fortunately, access to natural gas no longer requires that it be transported from thousands of miles away.
Vast quantities of this clean-burning fuel are now available just to our west in Pennsylvania compliments of the Marcellus shale gas deposits currently being harvested there.
All we must do is invest in a few hundred miles of pipeline infrastructure upgrades and this clean-burning fuel will be available to us at reduced and more stable prices.
Unfortunately, some groups don’t want to build this bridge to our energy future.
They prefer we all take that leap immediately and risk paying whatever economic consequences that ensue.
One of their latest tactics is to scare the public into believing that using natural gas as the bridge fuel to the future will result in global environmental and public health harm.
But the reality is, our energy sector’s environmental profile has drastically improved in the last two decades — in no small measure due to the transition to relying more on natural gas for electricity generation.
Asthma-related health incidents are dropping, greenhouse gas emissions are lower, and emissions of smog-causing compounds from energy generation have also fallen in our region.
Everyone is looking forward to an even cleaner, more affordable and more reliable energy future.
Let’s make sure policymakers choose the smart path to get there.
Let’s build the natural gas infrastructure bridge we need to arrive there in a safe and economically responsible way.
Eric Brown is senior counsel with the Connecticut Business & Industry Association.