Over the past decade, as the need for climate action became clear, New England started weaning itself off fossil fuels. First, it started shutting down its fleet of dirty coal plants. Now, New Englanders are working to curb the unhealthy appetite for natural gas before it’s too late.
The people of New England recognize that now is not the time to build new fossil fuel power plants, and it’s time that developers did the same.
That’s why I went to Killingly, Connecticut, to testify against an air permit that would allow a proposed gas power plant to increase the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than two million tons per year. This increase would not only be irresponsible, but also illegal under the state’s climate law, the Global Warming Solutions Act. Connecticut can – and must – do better.
New England Is Transitioning Away From Fossil Fuels
Recent information from ISO New England – our region’s electricity grid operator – shows that New England is successfully moving on from fossil fuels.
Just two months ago, ISO New England held its annual Forward Capacity Auction, which ensures that there’s enough power-generating capacity to meet the region’s energy needs three years from now (meaning, power suppliers bid this year to supply energy to the grid in 2020 – you can read more about how this works, here.)
The auction’s results: No new large power plants are needed to meet our region’s projected energy needs in 2020.
This is because we’re getting more efficient, we’re reducing our overall demand for electricity, and we’re generating ever more power from rooftop solar panels. And all this at a time when the grid operator has figured out how to make renewable-energy sources like wind and solar even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.
(None of this progress is an accident. It’s in part a result of policies CLF is working across the region to advance.)
We Don’t Need A New Gas Power Plant in Killingly
Despite this, NTE Energy has proposed a new power plant that would run off fracked gas most of the time, with oil as a backup fuel. NTE calls this proposed plant the Killingly Energy Center.
The process of approving a new power plant is complex. It must be approved by the Connecticut Siting Council (anyone who has been following CLF’s work opposing the Invenergy power plant in Burrilleville, Rhode Island, will be familiar with that process). And it must receive an air permit from the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The Siting Council is still deciding whether to permit the Killingly plant, but it has heard testimony from Robert Fagan of Synapse Energy Economics about how the plant is not needed in New England. My own recent testimony was about the air permit and the damage this new plant would do to our climate and our clean air.
This Dirty Energy Plant Would Ruin Connecticut’s Climate Goals
NTE Energy’s air permit application stated that the Killingly Energy Center would potentially emit the equivalent of 2,014,335 tons of carbon dioxide per year. And Connecticut blessed that number when it issued a draft permit for public comment, proposing to allow the plant to spew just that amount of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
Allowing over two million tons of annual emissions would be wholly inconsistent with the greenhouse gas emission goals established by Connecticut’s Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). The GWSA mandates that Connecticut cut its carbon pollution to 10% below 1990 levels by 2020 – and 80% below 2001 levels by 2050.
The state’s carbon pollution has actually been on the rise since 2012, so Connecticut is already at risk of not meeting its first deadline. Locking the state into another new fossil fuel power plant would further jeopardize its ability to meet its 2050 goal.
What’s more, this isn’t the only proposal for a gas-fired plant under consideration in Connecticut.
A plant proposed for Bridgeport would spew an estimated 1 million new tons of climate-damaging emissions. Combined with Killingly’s two-million-plus tons, Connecticut could soon be green-lighting upwards of three million new tons of greenhouse emissions every year.
At a time when climate science and Connecticut law tell us we need to slash these emissions, this is both irresponsible and illegal.
Are Annually Declining Emissions Limits the Solution?
Just like with the other proposed power plant, there are two ways Connecticut could reduce emissions to the level necessary to comply with the law:
- Connecticut could simply deny an air permit to NTE, in which case the new gas-fired unit could not legally be built.
- Or, Connecticut could require that the new gas plant commit to enforceable annual declining emissions. This is how Massachusetts is proposing to meet the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets established by its version of the GWSA (though we think the Commonwealth can do even better).
NTE has already announced that it would be ok with this second result. In fact, NTE has already committed voluntarily to an annually declining emissions cap and zero net emissions by 2050. Of course, the devil will be in the details. The cap’s starting point needs to be well below two million tons, the annual ratchet-down must be sufficient to meet GWSA goals, and all limits including the zero-by-2050 limit must be fully enforceable and listed in the permit. But a permit reflecting this approach could be sufficient to satisfy the Connecticut GWSA.
All this is what I told Connecticut last week. Now, CLF will be watching closely to see whether Connecticut follows the science and the law and imposes carbon pollution limits sufficient to comply with the GWSA (or better yet, denies the permit entirely).