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Green power's promise

Published 09/25/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 09/24/2013 11:41 PM

Renewable energy sources will not displace fossil fuels as a primary electricity source at any point in the near future, but they can play an important role. By supplementing fossil fuels, renewables can continue the nation's declining dependence on foreign fuel sources, while meeting increased power demands without boosting greenhouse gas emissions.

That is why this newspaper has welcomed the development of a state energy strategy that aggressively promotes renewable energy. Working with the legislature, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his commissioner for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Daniel Esty, deserve credit for giving the energy issue the attention it deserves.

That effort produced results last week when Gov. Malloy announced that two clean-energy projects won approval to move towards development. As part of the state's energy strategy, the legislature authorized DEEP to seek proposals on renewable-energy projects. Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating, the state's two major power distributors, have contracted to buy energy from the winners of the competition.

DEEP based its decision primarily on price, accounting for 80 percent of the scoring. Mr. Esty contends that pushing competition can drive down prices for renewable energy, which in the past has suffered because of its inability to compete with fossil fuels. The two selected projects will meet about 3 percent of the state's electricity needs, a significant number.

An additional benefit will derive from one of the projects being local, providing an economic boost for the region. Virginia-based HelioSage Energy will construct a massive solar photovoltaic system on 145 acres spanning the Lisbon-Sprague border.

The second project award went to the Number Nine Wind Farm in Aroostock County, Maine, operated by EDP Renewables North America. It will produce 250 megawatts per hour, enough to power about 85,000 homes, 12.5 times the electricity of the Lisbon/Sprague solar project.

Some might criticize the administration for not keeping the competition in-state, but regulations governing fair competition prohibited such an approach. For meteorological and geographical reasons, a wind farm generating that sort of energy is not feasible in Connecticut.

Meanwhile, a separate solar field planned for 35 acres off Grassy Hill in East Lyme, able to power 750 homes, demonstrates that even green energy is not free from not-in-my-backyard scrutiny.

The state Siting Council determined the Greenskies Renewable Energy project would have no adverse environmental effects. Neighbors are not so sure and express concerns that construction will adversely affect their homes. First Selectman Paul Formica stepped up and said he will make sure contractors address all neighborhood concerns.

On balance, this is all good news, evidence that the state's goal of getting 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 is achievable.

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