OLR Bill Analysis
AN ACT CONCERNING THE INSTALLATION OF CERTAIN SOLAR FACILITIES ON PRODUCTIVE FARMLANDS.
This bill generally restricts the construction of solar photovoltaic facilities (solar facilities) of two or more megawatts on forest land or prime farmland by removing a requirement that the Connecticut Siting Council approve such facilities and creating a rebuttable presumption that they are not environmentally compatible.
Existing law allows the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), subject to various requirements and limitations, to solicit proposals for (1) demand response measures and smaller renewable energy sources, (2) larger renewable energy sources and hydropower, and (3) natural gas resources. Existing law requires the DEEP commissioner to consider various factors when evaluating these proposals, including whether its benefits outweigh its costs and its environmental impacts. The bill specifies that a proposal's environmental impacts include its impacts to forest land and prime farmland. (In practice DEEP has already solicited and selected proposals for parts of this procurement.)
It requires the commissioner to create a pilot program to build solar energy facilities of two or more megawatts on brownfields, and requires him and others to identify property, including such state property as highway corridors and prisons, suitable for constructing or siting such facilities. It requires him to accept expressions of interest from municipalities interested in building or locating such a solar facility on their closed landfills.
EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2017
SITING OF CERTAIN SOLAR ENERGY FACILITIES
Although the law generally requires people building power generating facilities to obtain a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need (certificate) from the Connecticut Siting Council, it requires the council to approve, by declaratory ruling, the construction or location of certain generation facilities with a capacity of 65 megawatts or less that meet DEEP's air and water quality standards.
The bill exempts from the declaratory ruling process the siting, on forest land or prime farmland, of a solar facility with a capacity of two or more megawatts, thus requiring that it go through the certification process. It creates a rebuttable presumption that locating such a facility on such land is not environmentally compatible. The prohibition does not apply to agricultural virtual net metering facilities (see BACKGROUND).
Under the bill, the presumption may be rebutted (1) by evidence that the facility will not materially affect the land's status as forest land or prime farmland and (2) if the applicant, on receiving a certificate, posts bond for decommissioning the facility at the end of its useful life.
POTENTIAL SITES FOR SOLAR FACILITIES WITH CAPACITIES OF TWO OR MORE MEGAWATTS
The bill requires specified state officials to identify property, including state property, suitable for constructing solar facilities of two or more megawatts. These properties include highway and power line corridors, state prisons, and closed landfills.
The bill requires, by February 1, 2018, the DEEP commissioner, in consultation with the commissioners of administrative services, correction, and transportation, to report to the Environment Committee on state properties, including highway corridors and prisons, suitable for lease to private entities for constructing or siting solar facilities with a capacity of two megawatts or more. The commissioners must post the report on their respective department websites no later than 60 days after submitting it, and the DEEP commissioner must send a copy to the Siting Council to post on its website no later than 30 days after the council receives it.
Also by February 1, 2018, the DEEP commissioner must report to the Environment Committee on other types of property in the state (except for forest land or prime farmland) suitable to build or site such solar facilities. This report must include an analysis of the suitability for such use of power line rights of way not subject to restoration or revegetation orders, and abandoned or underused parking facilities.
The bill requires the DEEP commissioner, in conjunction with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, to identify closed landfills suitable for lease to private entities for constructing or locating solar facilities of two or more megawatts. It authorizes the commissioner to receive notice from municipalities interested in siting such a facility on their closed landfills. On receiving such notice, and following a reasonable evaluation of the landfill's suitability, the commissioner may post the municipality's notice on DEEP's website.
The bill requires the DEEP commissioner, in consultation with the economic and community development commissioner and the brownfields working group (see BACKGROUND), to create a pilot program to build or locate solar facilities of at least two megawatts on brownfields in the state. He must do this by July 1, 2019.
The program must include at least three such projects to be located on brownfields (1) that do not contain contaminated groundwater or volatile organic compounds that endanger human health or safety and (2) on which there is neither commercial nor industrial activity. A project may consist of brownfields that are not adjoining.
The DEEP commissioner must determine the suitability of brownfields for inclusion in the program and, regardless of any law to the contrary, may take any action necessary to create the program, including identifying applicants who wish to participate. The DECD commissioner and working group must provide the DEEP commissioner with any information or help he requests. No later than one year after establishing the program, the DEEP commissioner must report to the Environment Committee on the status of the program and identify any recommended legislation to further facilitate or expand it.
Prime farmland means soils defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as best suited to producing food, feed, forage, fiber and oilseed crops. In general, prime farmlands have an adequate and dependable water supply, a favorable temperature and growing season, acceptable acidity or alkalinity, acceptable salt and sodium content, and few or no rocks (Soil Survey Manual, U.S. Department of Agriculture Handbook No. 18, October 1993).
Brownfields Working Group
By law, the working group examines the remediation and development of state brownfields, including permitting and liability issues, and annually reviews the progress of the Special Contaminated Property Remediation and Insurance Fund (CGS § 32-770).
Agricultural Virtual Net Metering
The law allows virtual net metering for municipal, state agency, and agricultural electric customers with net metering facilities (renewable or clean energy systems that meet certain requirements). In general, virtual net metering allows these customers to (1) receive a billing credit for excess power they generate (i.e., “run their meters backward”) and (2) share their excess credits with certain other designated electric accounts (i.e., also run other meters backward).