Connecticut Adds Hydropower to Renewable Mix

Published June 12, 2013

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed legislation allowing large-scale hydroelectric power to qualify under the Constitution State’s renewable power mandate. Both houses of Connecticut’s Democrat-dominated state legislature passed the legislation by comfortable margins before sending the legislation to Malloy.

Democratic Governor Led the Battle
Malloy, a Democrat, vigorously championed adding large-scale hydropower to the renewable power mix, pointing out hydropower is substantially less expensive than wind and solar power and emits no greenhouse gases.

To appease environmental activist groups who sought to preserve the favored status of wind and solar power, legislators added an amendment requiring power companies to give priority to those forms and add hydropower to the mix only when they cannot meet the state’s 20 percent renewable power mandate through wind and solar power alone.

Trade protectionists urged legislators to keep large-scale hydropower banned from the state’s renewable power mix. Hydro Quebec generates enough inexpensive hydropower in eastern Canada to power all of New England, and the company is eager to export the power to Connecticut. Adding this hydropower to the state’s power mix would reduce consumer electricity prices, but protectionists argued it would be better to force Connecticut residents to buy more expensive power produced locally.

Hydropower Gaining Momentum
Todd Wynn, director of the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force for the American Legislative Exchange Council, says state legislators across the country are attempting to freeze, repeal, or reform their renewable energy mandates in order to dampen their negative economic impacts.

“Hydropower is an emissions-free source of electricity that is generally, and inexplicably, excluded from renewable energy mandates,” said Wynn. “Although a better approach would be full repeal of Connecticut’s renewable energy mandate, the inclusion of hydroelectricity is a small step towards making sure electric utilities can use more affordable and reliable sources of energy to meet the mandate.”

Diverging Power Company Interests
Heath W. Fahle, policy director for the Connecticut-based Yankee Institute, a free market think tank, says there were many moving parts to the legislative deal. Fahle pointed out hydropower affects competing Connecticut power companies in different ways, so the power companies took different stances on the legislation.

Dominion Energy, for example, operates the largest nuclear power plant in the state and did not take a strong position on the issue. However, Northeast Utilities, which owns Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P), will benefit the most from hydroelectric power because CL&P owns the majority of the power lines that would bring it from Quebec into Connecticut. CL&P will get carrier fees for all that power.

Consumers Anticipate Lower Rates
Fahle pointed out Connecticut residents will get some much-needed relief in lower electricity prices.

“Connecticut residents have the third highest residential retail electricity rates in the nation,” he said. 

Renewable power mandates in Connecticut and elsewhere still retain some popularity because most of the expensive renewable power requirements have yet to kick in, Fahle said.

“The issue is that there has not been a lot of pain from the ’20 percent by 2020′ Connecticut renewable power mandate yet, but now they’re getting to the point where it will be painful for the consumers. The hydro issue is a punt that will allow environmental activists to feel good about themselves and say, ‘Oh look, it’s working,'” Fahle explained.

Daniel Simmons, director of regulatory and state affairs for the Institute for Energy Research, said consumers will benefit from a large source of hydropower, which offers some of the cheapest energy in the nation.

“States like Washington, Oregon, and Idaho have large rivers, so they have ready-made sources of inexpensive hydropower. People often forget that Connecticut has Quebec [nearby]. The power that Connecticut will import from Quebec will be cheaper and more reliable than any other renewable power source available. If the point is to generate more power from renewable sources, then legislators should certainly highlight hydroelectricity,” said Simmons.

“States in the Northeast have some of the highest electricity costs in the United States, and they need some relief,” Simmons said.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.