by Claire Coleman
Despite President Trump’s best efforts to return to dirty, outdated fuels, clean energy is spreading like a wildfire across the country – in red and blue states alike. From California to Iowa, and Minnesota to Massachusetts, states are building affordable, local wind and solar power because they know the long-term benefits will free them from outdated fuels that pollute our air and water and change our climate.
Connecticut has historically been a leader on clean energy for the same reasons, and as a coastal state, knows the impacts of climate change: intense storms, serious drought, and unusual weather patterns. But despite the rising tides, recently our efforts to combat climate change are lagging behind many of our neighboring states. For example, Connecticut is largely absent from a recently published report by Union of Concerned Scientists, ranking states for leadership on “clean energy momentum,” and was not ranked among the top 15 states.
So what can Connecticut do to keep up clean energy momentum?
A first critical step is to make Connecticut accountable for the commitment the state made to reduce carbon pollution when it passed the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2008. Despite the robust, science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 10 percent below 1990 emissions by 2020, and by 80 percent below 2001 emissions by 2050, Connecticut’s GHG emissions are rising rather than declining. We need to change course and ensure Connecticut stays on track by adding interim targets. Connecticut Fund for the Environment supports a 55 percent reduction by 2030 and 75 percent reduction by 2040. Additionally, state agencies should be required to take climate change impacts into consideration when making planning and policy decisions. These new targets will hold our government accountable to stop further damage to the climate and create healthy and safe communities.
A second crucial step is to strengthen standards that require cleaner energy in the electric sector. Connecticut’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires electric suppliers to obtain 20 percent of their energy from renewables like wind and solar by 2020. But Connecticut can realize greater returns by establishing longer-term targets. Other states in the region have put more aggressive standards in place: New York has a mandate of achieving 50 percent renewable generation by 2030; Rhode Island’s mandate is 38.5 percent by 2035; and Maine’s is 40 percent by 2017. Extending and strengthening our Renewable Portfolio Standard as our neighbors have done will make the air we breathe safer and drive investment in solar and wind development in Connecticut.
Ramping up local clean energy efforts will also create high-wage work in Connecticut—rather than buying our clean energy from neighboring states and Canada, fueling their economy instead of our own. Establishing a full-scale shared solar program, like so many other states already benefit from, would promote equal access to clean energy and spur local, private investment. Likewise, developing off-shore wind resources would create jobs at our ports and generate low-cost, reliable wind power for Connecticut residents.
This legislative session, the Connecticut legislature can put us back on the map of clean energy leaders. They can take action to create stronger standards that will halt further damage to our climate and reduce unhealthy air pollution. Connecticut’s residents deserve robust metrics to hold our government accountable, to prevent climate damage, and to ensure Connecticut is prepared to take advantage of clean energy innovations that will bring jobs to the state.
Delays in renewing our commitment to clean energy will harm our families, our children, and future generations. The time is now to go all-in on a solid clean energy future for Connecticut.
Connecticut Fund for the Environment climate and energy attorney Claire Coleman previously served as Counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where she worked on issues including energy policy and regulation, and in private practice.
Connecticut Fund for the Environment and its bi-state program Save the Sound protect the land, air, and water of Connecticut and Long Island Sound. CFE uses legal and scientific expertise to benefit our environment for current and future generations, and in 2008 helped lead a grassroots coalition to pass the groundbreaking Global Warming Solutions Act.