State environmental officials are trying to decrease reliance on energy from wood-burning biomass and tap into hydropower from dams in Canada to help meet its escalating renewable-energy targets, something it expects this year to miss for the first time.
“The incentives in this marketplace haven’t produced enough on-the-ground renewable projects,” Commissioner Daniel Esty of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said in an interview.
The department on Tuesday will release details of a study addressing proposed changes in its renewable-energy strategy. A summary of the study was available for review Monday.
The plan supports proposed changes to state laws governing how much of which type of energy the state should promote.
Ratepayers suffer when the state falls short of its renewable energy targets, as is expected this year, Esty said. The main reason: State incentives have gone to the wrong technologies, he said.
The new study of renewable energy sources sets up the state to buy power from large hydropower projects such as Hydro-Quebec or those in the Canadian Maritimes. It would also wean the state off of old, out-of-state biomass plants and create more renewable projects in Connecticut.
But some critics say that the state’s approach might run against the goal of lower rates.
“They have a couple different priorities, and they tend to work at cross-purposes,” said Nick Culver, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “It will be very difficult to reduce reliance on out-of-state renewables and at the same time reduce electricity bills at home.”
The state wants more renewables, too, from sources such as solar, wind, fuel cells, tidal power and hydropower. The study plans to extend the state’s push for renewables from 20 percent of its total energy use by 2020 to 25 percent by 2025.
Pending legislation would include hydropower from large out-of-state dams in the state’s portfolio of renewable energy. The power would be acquired by contract, rather than the existing system of renewable energy credits. If the legislation goes through, the state hopes to join with Massachusetts and Vermont to procure renewable energy as a group, with the hope of buying the power at lower prices.
To get more energy from Connecticut sources, state environmental officials hope, through legislation, to change regulations on the largest source of out-of-state renewable energy: biomass.
The proposal would tighten emission limits for biomass plants – which burn mainly wood to create energy – and require the plants to buy carbon offsets for the energy it takes to transport wood. The state expects the new rules to drive some biomass plants out of the Connecticut market.
The changes could reform the market into “a game of survivor from here on for New England biomass,” Culver said. “Some plants won’t be able to stay afloat if Connecticut steadily tightens emission criteria. This could ultimately increase costs for ratepayers, forcing regulators to double down on imported hydropower.”
It’s also unclear how many biomass plants the regulatory tightening might push out of the Connecticut market. William Dornbos, Connecticut director of Environment Northeast, said that “existing and proposed biomass facilities in Massachusetts demonstrate that it is feasible to meet or exceed this limit.”
Further, some are warning that jumping into large hydropower could run counter the state’s call for more in-state renewables.
“This bill will stifle the growth potential of the state’s renewable energy industry by providing economic incentives for well-established, utility-owned Canadian hydropower,” said Paul R, Michaud, executive director of the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Business Association.
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