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Connecticut Seeks to Literally Water Down its RPS, Could it Happen in Your Region?

Since I live in New Hampshire and write about the global renewable energy industry, once in a while small local news that might appear to be of minor importance to my neighbors leaps out at me as something that could end up having a huge impact on the renewable energy industry.

Back in March of 2011, I wrote about the Northern Pass transmission project that seeks to build a large HVDC line through the mountains of Northern New Hampshire in order to bring additional low-cost Canadian hydropower into the New England grid.

Just like any other infrastructure project that could potentially alter the landscape, impact views and disturb wildlife, there are plenty of opponents to the project.  Not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) protests are at their loudest up in Northern New Hampshire where one of the main attractions is the ability to hike the mountains, fish and swim in the waters, ski, snowshoe, snowmobile, hunt and otherwise enjoy the outdoors.  A huge transmission line running through it will indeed have an impact. Sponsors of the project (which, two years later, really hasn’t progressed at all) have just announced that they have a new path for the line that they feel will have minimal impact on the land.  They haven’t yet announced where it will now run.

But NIMBY concerns aside, when I first heard about the project, I had renewable energy concerns as well. As it stands, large hydropower doesn’t count towards New Hampshire’s RPS, nor towards the RPS’ of any of the surrounding New England states.  But what if the New Hampshire RPS was amended so that large Canadian hydropower could be used to meet renewable energy requirements?  What would that do to the burgeoning renewable energy industry in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and other New England states? Experts that I interviewed for the 2011 article told me that smaller renewable energy developers in the region were concerned that a green light on the Northern Pass could lead to a dilution of surrounding state RPS’ and a decimation of indigenous renewable energy development.

Lo and behold just last week, the Connecticut State Senate passed by a vote of 26-6, legislation that would, you guessed it, allow large hydropower to be used to meet the state’s RPS.  And the bill adds a special caveat that says hydropower purchased from Canadian projects would qualify, too.

In reaction to the news, New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan yesterday sent a letter to Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy requesting that he withdraw his support for the bill. 

“For years, the New England states have worked together to ensure that our RPS policies provide appropriate incentives for renewable energy investments in our region,” Governor Hassan wrote. “These incentives are aimed at keeping consumer costs as low as possible, while also ensuring that our states reap the economic benefits of renewable energy production.”

“It’s clear that Connecticut’s proposal is designed to benefit large-scale hydroelectric projects, even from outside the United States, by enabling them to qualify for Connecticut’s RPS program,” Governor Hassan continued. “The regional RPS policies were carefully constructed to ensure that small-scale, local hydroelectric plants had incentives to keep operating for the benefit of the entire region. The RPS policies excluded large-scale hydro – even within the region – because these plants don’t need incentives to stay in operation. To include large-scale hydroelectricity in your RPS undermines our common goal of fostering new and small-scale renewable resources here in New England.”

“Many in my state believe that the impetus for Connecticut’s legislation is your state’s desire to benefit from the Northern Pass project,” Governor Hassan wrote. “As you know, Northern Pass raises many questions for New Hampshire. That project could have an impact on some of our state’s most important natural resources, such as the White Mountain National Forest, which are critical to the success of our tourism industry,” she wrote.

Hassan’s view on the viability of the Northern Pass project and request that Connecticut vote NOT to amend its RPS is good news for the renewable energy industry in this region. If Connecticut votes in favor of amending its RPS what is to stop other states from taking similar actions?

In fact, all across the U.S., state governments are wrestling with their renewable energy standards, weighing the costs associated with renewable energy economic development against the perceived added electricity costs to ratepayers.  The same is happening in Europe, where this week we discovered that its wildly successful Emissions Trading Scheme was also under fire.

The Connecticut House will vote on the RPS bill in the coming weeks.

What’s happening in your region that renewable energy enthusiasts should know about? Tell us about it in the comment boxes below.

Lead image: Big Waterfall via Shutterstock

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