Connecticut Takes Promising Steps Towards Our Clean Energy Future

State officials recommend immediately downsizing and wrapping up a Connecticut plan to expand gas heat.

Shannon Laun

On the first Friday of 2022, a thick coat of snow blanketed much of New England. Canceling daycares, schools, workdays, and more, this snowstorm sent many of us indoors to thaw as temperatures took a dip outside.

In Connecticut, where I live, that meant warming up in homes and apartments heated by fossil fuels like oil and gas – dirty fuels that pollute our air and climate and leave many of us scrambling to pay bills when their prices spike.

Sadly, that’s the reality we face as a region addicted to fossil fuels. Connecticut specifically relies too much on gas for heating and electricity. The state’s policies promoting conversions from oil to gas heating have long contributed to the problems we now face with high costs and concerns about keeping the lights on.

However, I do see encouraging signs that Connecticut is ready to move away from gas. One of those signs is that the Office of Education, Outreach, and Enforcement (part of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, or PURA) recommends immediately downsizing and ultimately ending the state’s gas expansion plan. That plan aimed to convert 280,000 of Connecticut’s homes and businesses to gas heat, which meant expanding climate-damaging gas infrastructure and service.

This recommendation is a move in the right direction for Connecticut and its state mandate to cut climate-damaging emissions. CLF has been engaged in the process that led to these recommendations. We agree that it’s time for Connecticut to stop encouraging more gas usage and start getting serious about ending its reliance on this dirty fuel altogether.

A Plan that Proved Expensive for Gas Customers

Connecticut established its gas expansion plan in 2013, when gas heating was (temporarily) much cheaper than oil. However, eight years into the plan, we know it hasn’t met its goals. For one, gas companies were supposed to meet targets for adding new customers, but they failed to do so because of higher gas prices, which dampened people’s interest in converting to gas heat.

Not to mention, the cost of adding each new customer for gas companies has doubled and even tripled since the plan started. And gas customers – who have already subsidized the program by more than $64 million – are unfairly bearing the plan’s financial risks.

The Gas Expansion Plan Also Stymies Our Climate Law

What’s more, gas has devastating impacts on our health and environment. From leaky, explosive pipelines to air pollution, gas is a dangerous, climate-damaging fuel we need to move beyond.

Converting oil customers to gas doesn’t make sense as a climate strategy because it keeps us reliant on dirty fossil fuels. Instead, Connecticut should focus on converting all fossil fuel heating to electric heat pumps, which significantly reduce emissions.

Connecticut’s Global Warming Solutions Act requires a 45% cut in climate-damaging emissions by 2030 and an 80% reduction by 2050. Connecticut must eliminate all fossil fuels in favor of clean energy solutions to meet these targets.

Where Should We Go Next? Beyond Gas

The state’s public utility commission (PURA) needs to make a final decision about whether to allow the failing gas expansion plan to expire in 2023 or to end it early. We expect PURA’s final decision on the gas expansion plan at the end of April. Ultimately, it’s time for Connecticut – and every New England state – to leave gas in the past. And CLF will continue pushing for the expansion program to end as soon as possible.

Connecticut should focus its efforts instead on following other states, like Massachusetts, that are investigating how to phase out gas rapidly and equitably in favor of clean energy. This transition is the only way we can meet our climate targets and ensure a healthier future for all of Connecticut’s families and communities.

So as we brace for the rest of this winter, with the inevitable snowstorms and cold snaps, we must focus on keeping the ways we heat our homes clean and affordable – for the sake of our families and our climate. The recommendations to downsize and ultimately end Connecticut’s gas expansion plan are a step in the right direction to protect both.

 

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