May 18—BLOOMFIELD — After notching several legislative victories for his ambitious plan to cut fossil fuels from Connecticut's power grid by 2040, Gov. Ned Lamont is now faced with a test of his own administration's ability to get up to speed.
Promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have lagged behind schedule under both Lamont and his predecessor, former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, driven mostly by increases in both vehicle exhausts and home energy emissions. Officials, however, have depicted the power sector as a bright spot in the state's climate change goals with successes such as the closure of coal-fired power plants and the deployment of solar and wind projects.
Hoping to continue that streak, Lamont on Tuesday said that the next benchmark of his clean-power goal could come in just a few years as contracts with offshore wind projects are expected to boost zero-carbon sources to around 92 percent of the state's total electricity needs.
"That's a pretty good start for a 2040 goal," Lamont said. "I want to set a very clear road map. I want all decisions made by business, made by municipalities, made by schools, made by state government all oriented toward honoring that goal."
While Lamont made the 2040 clean energy goal a hallmark of his climate plan in 2019, during his first year in office, lawmakers voted on a largely bipartisan basis this legislative session to codify that plan into state law. The governor re-committed to his timeline Tuesday during a ceremonial signing for that legislation and a related bill to increase caps of solar electricity.
The legislation does not come with any penalty for the state if officials fail to meet the 2040 goal, meaning the impact — if any — will come from voters judging the performance of Lamont and future administrations.
Ratepayers in Connecticut currently support the zero-carbon electricity generation that is equivalent to around two-thirds of the state's demand, according to a 2020 report from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Most of that clean energy comes from the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in East Lyme, which generates about 40 percent of the total electricity produced in Connecticut.
To help achieve the 2040 goal, lawmakers this session also passed the solar energy bill that Lamont signed on Tuesday as well as legislation to partially lift the moratorium on nuclear energy that has existed since 1979.
Lamont has not said whether he intends to sign that bill, which would allow new nuclear facilities at the Millstone site. The plant's owner, Dominion Energy, has not announced plans to build any new reactors at the site even if the moratorium is lifted.
State Sen. Norm Needleman, D- Essex, the co-chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, said a significant source of renewable power for ISO New England, the regional grid, could also come from a Canadian hydroelectric project that is currently stalled due to local opposition in Maine. Such projects may be vital to helping Connecticut reach its zero-carbon electricity goal, because they allow some fossil fuel plants to remain operational or available for use as a backup while Connecticut ratepayers support clean-energy projects elsewhere.
"I cannot tell you that no days a year in 2040 will we possibly be generating some fossil fuel-based energy," Needleman said. "But what I will say is that it's going to get less and less and less and less, to the point where it's de minimis, hopefully."
Meeting Connecticut's energy demands with zero-carbon sources will become even more difficult, however, as the state seeks to power thousands of new electric cars, trucks and buses through a set of transportation-related climate measures that Lamont signed last week.
Lawmakers and state officials are hoping that small-scale projects like the community solar facility in Bloomfield where Lamont held the bill signing can help pick up some of that demand.
The facility, which opened in 2019 under a pilot program that was expanded under the new solar energy law, provides about 1000 megawatts of electricity to around 50 residential customers and the town of Bloomfield.
"The folks who are now eligible to share use of this solar power can save money at home, the folks who are taking advantage of our energy efficiency fund can reduce their electric costs dramatically," Lamont said. "I don't want an opposition between ratepayer and environmentalists, I want to show how we're able to do this together and those two examples we're able to save you money and save the environment."
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