August 5, 2011

New legislation provides clean energy incentives for Wilton

More good news for the Connecticut green ones among us: renewable energy sources are becoming a more viable option for municipalities, thanks to a recently-passed legislation.

Selectmen support

On Monday, the Board of Selectmen voted to support the new clean energy legislation with a unanimous vote to allocate $3,307 for the purchase of needed renewable energy credits (more on that below) to remain in the program through 2015.

“This will show that Wilton is committed to being clean energy friendly in a state with the highest fuel costs in the country,” said Selectman Hal Clark.

“Enthusiastically supported,” said Selectman Richard Creeth.

What it means

Patch recently talked with Bruce Hampson, the Chair of the Wilton Energy Commission, to chat about the details of Connecticut Public Act bill 11-80, which offers incentives for government buildings, and even homeowners, to use clean energy sources.

“This [bill] establishes an energy department in Connecticut for the first time…. It’s a major, major, move and a huge step forward,” said Hampson.

The legislation, which was signed into effect by Governor Malloy on August 1, had been about eight years in the making, and passed with a unanimous vote for it in the senate and with only six dissenters in the house, a sign that Hampson believes a bipartisan support for the progression of clean energy usage. One of the goals in the act is to have Connecticut municipalities source 30 percent of clean energy by 2015.

“Mandated within the intent and execution of the act is that every initiative, every change or policy, should in addition to its tent, say ‘Does this help lower energy rates in Connecticut?’ So that remains a very specific provision of this bill,” he said.

Hampson pointed out that energy rates are much higher than average than the rest of the country's average, and “about 25 percent higher than those in our New England states. The bill addresses why and what can be done about it.”

Additionally, the bill provides for performance contracting, wherein companies will come into town, quote a price to make multiple upgrades to a facility, and then “guarantee the savings,” said Hampson. The company then takes up the front investment needed, and then the town pays for that energy upgrade out of the saving guarantees the company has quoted, he said. Additionally, the bill includes assistance from the state in evaluating proposals and providing a “road map” of some of the planning, said Hampson.

For homeowners

Public Act 11-80 “allows the community to float a bond issue” using Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, in which home owners can install clean energy upgrades in their facility or home, and then “pay back the town for the loan through his property taxes,” said Hampson. “Many states have used this to their advantage and now it is authorized in Connecticut.”

Specifically, "Section 100 [of the bill] allows municipalities to establish PACE-type loan programs for qualifying real properties to finance certain energy reducing or renewable energy measures," according to a summary of the bill by Environment Northeast, the full text of which can be found as a PDF accompanying this article.

Renewable Energy Credits

Perhaps the most confusing part of this bill is the requirement for utility companies to buy “recs”, or Renewable Energy Credits. Recs are generated from clean energy sources. For example, the high school has a solar panel that generates a number of clean-energy kilowatts (kws). Kilowatt data is recorded and sent to a utility provider, such as Connecticut Light and Power. This data is used to determine how many “recs” those clean-energy kilowatts are worth. Recs have their own monetary value. So if a building is producing a high amount of clean energy kws, they will receive monetary assistance from the utility company.

Why? Because the bill requires utility companies to purchase recs from facilities that use clean energy. This money comes from a line item bill called the Assistance Benefit Charge, which is a standing item used for funding energy efficiency: consumers already help pay for this with their energy bills. Beginning in 2012, utility companies are required to purchase recs in an increasing volume each subsequent year.

The result is facilities using clean energy receive funds from utility companies, encouraging municipal buildings to install more clean energy power sources, which would also curb costs associated with traditional energy producing methods.

Since Connecticut is new to the game, recs do not yet have an established value. Hampson noted that in New Jersey, the recs produced by the high school’s solar panels—about 23,000 kws—could sell” for approximately $30,000, although he said the upcoming Connecticut rec rates would be nowhere near as high as New Jersey’s.


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