Legislative Battle Over Connecticut Renewable Power Mandate Ends in Draw

Published July 13, 2010

The Connecticut legislature seriously considered legislation rolling back the state’s aggressive renewable power requirement, but a back-and-forth battle between legislators seeking to loosen the mandates and those working to tighten the rules ended in a draw.

Senate Reversed Bill’s Provisions
Senate legislation that would have cut the state’s renewable power mandate from 20 percent to 11.5 percent made it through committee, spurring hopes Connecticut would be the first state to lower its renewable power mandate. Connecticut has the highest electricity prices in the continental United States and is particularly ill-suited for generation of renewable power.

The full Senate, however, stripped the bill of its provisions loosening the mandate, and it added provisions to subsidize expensive solar power generation. The Senate and House then passed the bill, sending it to Gov. Jodi Rell (R).

Rell defied the renewable power industry by vetoing the revised bill, noting it would add to Connecticut’s already-high electricity prices while failing to deliver on promises of making solar power more affordable.

If the initial bill had become law, the New England state would have been the first state in the union to reduce the amount of electricity utilities are required to derive from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power. Other states, such as Arizona and Utah, have similarly begun pulling back from regional climate initiatives, such as the Western Climate Initiative.

Ambition Meets Reality
Connecticut has problems meeting its ambitious renewable power mandates because it does not receive enough wind and sunlight to serve as reliable and affordable sources of energy. In addition, wind and solar power are both land-intensive, and Connecticut is one of the smallest, most-densely populated states in the union.

To meet renewable power mandates, Connecticut must import most of its renewable power from other states. Thus, the state faces a double whammy of residents paying higher renewable power electricity prices while the jobs and infrastructure for the industry remain out of state. 

Pullback Seen as Inevitable
It was inevitable that Connecticut would have to come to terms with the shortcomings of renewable fuels, says Ben Lieberman, a senior policy analyst for energy and the environment at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

“Connecticut is learning the hard way that renewable electricity needed a mandate for a reason: Wind and other high-priced alternatives could not compete without them,” Lieberman said. “Now that the state and its ratepayers are facing higher power costs and the technological challenge of producing affordable energy from wind, reality is finally setting in.

“The role for renewables, or any other energy source, is best determined by the market, not by government attempts to pick winners and losers,” Lieberman added. “To add insult to injury, the alleged environmental benefits—much like the claimed benefits of the fuel ethanol mandate—have proven illusive.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the Washington-based National Center for Public Policy Research.