We Must Rapidly Expand Solar Power in Connecticut
April 2022 Newsletter
The vernal equinox has arrived and with it the amount of sunshine reaching the northern hemisphere is increasing and will do so for another three months. In the United States some of that abundant sunshine is being converted to clean, renewable energy from solar panels, and that production, which has grown rapidly in the last few years, now accounts for just under three percent of total U.S. energy production.
Here in Connecticut, solar energy represents 2.53% of electricity production which is enough to power 150,000 homes. While these statistics speak to the rise of solar power as a viable source of clean energy, they also highlight how far away we are from 100% clean and renewable energy powering our entire economy.
Today we are mostly dependent on fossil fuels to make electricity, to power our transportation and to heat our homes and buildings. In the United States, fossil fuels account for 60.8% of our electricity generation, with nuclear at 18.9% and renewables at 20.1% (includes hydro, wind, solar and biomass). In Connecticut our mix is 56% gas powered, 38% nuclear powered, and in a distant third place solar power at 2.5%.
Sadly, we are out of time for the slow and steady rise of solar and wind. The February 2022 Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has screamed “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss the brief, rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.” This is not hyperbole. The report outlines the horrible consequences of inaction.
And yet, here we are in Connecticut with solar representing a tiny fraction of our total energy production, and meanwhile neighboring states like Massachusetts are generating nearly ten times the amount of electricity from solar that we are. The time for emergency action is now. We have to rapidly accelerate the amount of energy we generate from renewable sources like wind and solar. The problem is that wind energy takes many years to deploy. We have started down that path, with a commitment to new offshore wind, but first we need to build out port enhancements in Bridgeport and New London. Permits for placing and building the turbines also will take time. This is a good long-term investment.
Our best hope for a rapid transition to renewable energy lies with a massive and rapid deployment of solar energy. The cost of solar has fallen so fast that it is cost-competitive with natural gas for electricity generation and significantly cheaper than nuclear power. The obstacle to deployment is political and regulatory will and resistance from our electrical utilities and their lobbyists.
There is a glimmer of good news in the Connecticut General Assembly in 2022. An important bill – Senate Bill 176, An Act Concerning Shared Clean Energy Facilities – was just favorably reported out of the Energy & Technology Committee. This bill had a lengthy public hearing where advocates for more solar energy in Connecticut pressed legislators to double the caps in the Shared Clean Energy program and the Commercial Solar program. The caps have clearly constrained the amount of solar that could be and would have been deployed in Connecticut each year and the bill now doubles those caps which will materially accelerate the growth of solar in the state.
But Senate Bill 176 is by no means certain to pass the House and Senate. We will need all members of the Sierra Club of Connecticut to advocate for the passage of the bill to help put this state on a path to 100% renewable energy while there is still time to avoid the calamity of climate change. And in the years ahead we will need much more solar energy than this, so we will be counting on your support and advocacy to keep up the pressure and momentum.
Take action to support the passage of Senate Bill 176 (and SB 10 that will set a goal of 100% zero carbon electricity supply in Connecticut by 2040)!
Stephen Lewis is our Greater Hartford Group Chair and serves on the Legislative and Clean Transportation for All committees of Sierra Club Connecticut.