HARTFORD – Governors across New England on Friday agreed to a rare cooperative pact designed to develop new energy sources, lower electric prices and boost reliability.
The governors said the commitment will result in new gas pipelines and more renewable energy from clean sources such as wind and hydro, despite the fact that Connecticut is the only state to ban wind farms.
They pledged to build new electric transmission lines, gas pipelines and establish regional bidding for energy projects.
“We have enjoyed some success but energy prices are still higher here than in other parts of the country because of severe constraints on the flow of electricity and natural gas into our state,” said Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The agreement comes several weeks after Connecticut lawmakers again declined to establish rules to locate wind farms that produce renewable electricity through turbines.
The General Assembly’s Regulation Review Committee declined to act on rules proposed by the Connecticut Siting Council to govern where and how wind farms can be built.
Chris Phelps, campaign director for Environment Connecticut, praised the regional agreement, but said it’s time to adopt wind farm regulations.
“I think it does increase the pressure and highlights the need for Connecticut to allow wind development,” Phelps said. “The opposition is a small and vocal minority. We are not going to have massive wind farms but we ought to develop the potential that’s here.”
Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Gov. Malloy, disagreed that the agreement increases pressure on Connecticut to allow wind farms, but stressed Malloy supports developing the energy source.
“The governor is clear that this has been put off for far too long,” Doba said. “The region as a whole has been at a disadvantage because we don’t have this regional approach. As for wind, the governor is clear there should be regulations.”
In announcing the agreement, Malloy said it’s time to cooperatively address the region’s energy needs.
“By working closely with New England neighbors who face similar challenges we can thoughtfully plan and develop the network of electric transmission lines and natural gas pipelines needed to meet our goal of providing cheaper, cleaner and more reliable power for Connecticut,” Malloy said.
“This is an economically and environmentally important collaboration,” said Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick. “By expanding opportunities for large-scale hydro, wind and other renewable energy sources, we are putting thousands of our residents to work and creating a healthier region for the next generation.”
In a joint statement, the governors said they are committed to more “thoughtful and strategic investments focused on expanding the region’s energy portfolio” and promised regional cooperation will bring New England lower electricity and heating costs, increased economic development and competitiveness, job growth, improved reliability and better air quality by reducing emissions from fossil fuels.
While stressing individual state perspectives will be respected, the governors said the agreement will “ensure we are on a course toward a transformed energy, environment, and economic future for our region that offers a model for the nation.”
Staffs in each state were directed to work over the next few months – through the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE) and in cooperation with ISO-New England, operator of the region’s electric grid network – to develop a regional strategy that “meets our common needs and goals.”
“Coordinating electric and gas transmission in the region will put downward pressure on power rates into the future and ensure any infrastructure built is both needed and cost effective for Vermonters and all New England consumers,” said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Connecticut environmentalists say wind farms in the state are being held “hostage” by special interest groups and property rights advocates. Opponents have complained about a proposed waiver of formal hearings for certain projects and are insisting developers post bonds to reimburse communities if wind farms are shut down or abandoned.
Wind power is gaining steam across the nation and Maine, with its vast rural territory, is a leader in New England. The federal Energy Department estimates 43 percent of new power facilities use wind to produce electricity.
State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, and a member of the regulations review committee, said he hopes pressure will increase to allow wind farms and that the regional agreement will help bring more renewable energy to each New England state.
“This six state consortium is very exciting and makes other states take notice of what we are doing. We don’t have oil and gas at our disposal. It’s important to work with other states. We have power line issues. There is wind from Maine and hydro. There are gas capacity issues and getting pipelines into Connecticut. It is good news and I applaud the governor,” Duff said.
“New England states will pursue a diversified energy portfolio,” Rhode Island Gov. Chaffee said. “I remain committed to the advancement of clean, affordable hydropower, as well as other renewable resources that can improve electric reliability, stabilize and lower long-term energy costs, and help reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.”
“New England’s energy costs are not competitive,” Maine Gov. Paul R. LePage said. “Our high energy prices drain family budgets and are a significant barrier to attracting business investment, especially in energy-intensive industries.”
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