Connecticut currently has a unique opportunity to advance its laudable renewable energy goals. By selecting the best in-state grid-scale solar power proposals submitted pursuant to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Zero Carbon RFP, Connecticut would not only bring renewable energy to the state, but also deliver significant economic and electric reliability benefits.
To achieve our 40 percent renewables by 2030 commitment the state will need to support the development of many renewable energy projects including wind – both onshore and off-shore – and large and small solar projects. In order to meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals, it will also contract with other large zero-carbon energy resources.
While some of our neighboring states have significant wind resources, solar is Connecticut’s most readily accessible renewable resource for meeting our environmental goals, while also lowering electricity costs for local ratepayers. Yes, you read that correctly — grid-scale solar energy will save Connecticut ratepayers money. During a one week heat wave this past July, when energy demand was skyrocketing, Synapse Energy Economics and SunCommon reported that solar power was responsible for saving Northeast ratepayers nearly $20 million in wholesale energy costs.
Of the 100-plus proposals submitted to the state under the Clean Energy RFP, the majority are utility-scale solar projects – with many proposed within the State of Connecticut. In its request for proposals, the state required that these projects be less than 20 megawatts in size and located on sites that preserve Connecticut’s core forests.
Because of the decentralized nature of these projects, solar developments also improve the reliability and resiliency of the grid. The reduction in demand on congested circuits that solar provides can alleviate expensive system expansions. In addition developers of these projects are often required to make significant upgrades to the electric transmission and distribution network adding more reliability and resiliency to the system and delivering power to local homes and businesses.
Beyond the grid reliability, capacity, and financial savings, solar projects also benefit the local economy by bringing desirable jobs and strong tax benefits to host communities. Projects are often sited on properties that historically generate little municipal tax revenue so their reuse delivers a new source of funding to support local schools, emergency services and other community priorities.
In response to some concerns about the siting of earlier solar projects sited in the state, at least seven of the projects submitted for this RFP include a permaculture initiative i.e. a management approach that aims to find ways to enhance the natural productivity and ecosystem services of the land by co-locating solar farms with things like apiaries (beehives) and native, pollinator-friendly vegetation.
The solar technology available today is cost-competitive with traditional generation sources and can be readily sited using proven environmentally sensitive development practices. And, most importantly, it can deliver jobs, tax revenue, and economic benefits to host communities, while lowering energy costs for Connecticut consumers and advancing our environmental goals.
Given the number of in-state solar projects included in responses to the Clean Energy RFP, policymakers have the opportunity to choose affordable developments that will provide environmental, economic and electric reliability benefits to Connecticut ratepayers.
Jessie Stratton, former Co-Chair of Legislative Environment Committee and former Director of Policy for Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).