Connecticut is having a clean energy moment — one that could launch a new wave of progress if the right policy decisions are made. This opportunity comes as somewhat of a coincidence. Two key planning processes, the Governor’s Council on Climate Change and the state’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Strategy, will likely intersect this year, with each issuing important policy findings in the coming months. These findings will guide the state’s actions on fundamental climate and energy issues for many years — with lasting consequences for Connecticut’s economy, public health, and environment.
Connecticut’s clean energy moment may also have legal significance. The state’s first mandatory greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cap is just a little over three years away. Established by Connecticut’s Global Warming Solutions Act, this cap requires a 10% reduction from the 1990 emissions level by 20201 — a modest goal, but crucial to setting Connecticut’s emissions trajectory on a declining path to meet the much more important long-term GHG emissions cap in 2050, an 80% reduction from the 2001 emissions level.2 With so much at stake, Connecticut’s policymakers need to have the latest GHG emissions data and analyses to make well-informed decisions.
Toward that end, Acadia Center released an updated GHG emissions inventory for Connecticut this past June. Constructed with the best available data from public sources, this report gives a comprehensive look at emissions from 1990 through 2015 and also analyzes emissions trends in more recent years.3 The results are below.
These results show a clear and concerning trend: GHG emissions have increased since a 2012 low and do not appear to be on track to meet the mandatory 2020 emissions cap. The recent uptick in emissions can be attributed to many factors outside Connecticut’s control, such as fuel prices, the economy, and weather, among others. The report explores those external factors in more detail.
However, even with these external factors, policymaking matters. Connecticut retains a significant degree of control over how much electricity it consumes, and thus how much carbon it emits. For example, New England states with more aggressive energy efficiency and solar policies than Connecticut will reap greater reductions in electricity consumption over the next six years, as shown below.
This chart shows that Connecticut’s energy policies have not kept pace with those in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or Vermont. And this reality has climate ramifications. Connecticut will be taking on an increasing share of the region’s GHG emissions from electricity consumption, which then negatively impacts its carbon profile.
While it is too soon to predict with certainty whether Connecticut will meet its mandatory 2020 GHG emissions cap, implementing additional short-term mitigation measures will increase the likelihood of doing so. The most promising opportunities for short-term reductions are likely in energy efficiency, distributed solar PV, and electric vehicles. The state has existing programs for each of these options,4 which could be expanded quickly to significantly reduce GHG emissions before 2020. Pending clean energy procurements now before Connecticut officials could also play a major role in bringing down the state’s carbon profile in the short to medium term.5
Acadia Center looks forward to working with Connecticut and other stakeholders to ensure that the 2016 Comprehensive Energy Strategy and the Governor’s Council on Climate Change offer pragmatic policy recommendations that can launch a strong and effective mitigation effort. Connecticut needs to take full advantage of this clean energy moment to align its energy decisions with its climate goals.
1 Public Act 08-98, An Act Concerning Connecticut Global Warming Solutions, §2(a)(1) (“The state shall reduce the level of emissions of greenhouse gas…[n]ot later than January 1, 2020, to a level at least ten percent below the level emitted in 1990”).
2 See id., §2(a)(2) (“The state shall reduce the level of emissions of greenhouse gas…[n]ot later than January 1, 2050, to a level at least eighty per cent below the level emitted in 2001”).
3 Acadia Center has published multiple GHG emissions inventories for Connecticut beginning in 2003. The most recent used a traditional inventory approach through 2014. The current analysis described here is an update using a hybrid approach and 2015 data.
4 Connecticut offers high-performing statewide energy efficiency services through its Conservation and Load Management programs. Connecticut encourages the deployment of distributed solar PV through a residential incentive program offered by the Green Bank and through the Zero-Emission Renewable Energy Credit (ZREC) program administered by the electric distribution utilities. The CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection oversees the CT Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate (CHEAPR), which offers rebates for the purchase or lease of various low-carbon vehicles.
5 See the clean energy procurements enabled by Public Act 15-107, An Act Concerning Affordable and Reliable Energy, §1(c) (authorizing RFP for grid-scale clean energy resources) and §1(b) (authorizing RFP for energy efficiency and/or small-scale clean energy resources).
Bill Dornbos is the Director of the Connecticut Office and Senior Attorney for Acadia Center. Bill focuses on advancing policy and regulatory solutions that seek to transform the energy system and move Connecticut towards a climate-safe, sustainable future.