Environment Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-943

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING THE INSTALLATION OF CERTAIN SOLAR FACILITIES ON PRODUCTIVE FARMLANDS.

Vote Date:

3/10/2017

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

3/6/2017

File No.:

275

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Environment Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

The bill removes the requirement that the Connecticut Siting Council approve construction of solar facilities of two or more megawatts, and creates a presumption that these facilities are not environmentally compatible; therefore, restricting the construction of such facilities on forest land or prime farmland. Additionally, the bill (1) requires the commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to create a pilot program for the construction of such facilities on brownfields, (2) requires the commissioner to identify property suitable for constructing or siting such facilities, and (3) requires the commissioner to accept expressions of interest from municipalities interested in building or locating such solar facility on their closed landfills.

Concerns have been expressed in which Connecticut's growing preservation and protections of farmlands have been offset by the state's renewable energy goals and policies. Efforts towards renewable energy goals include incentives for the siting of solar projects. There is concern for construction of such solar facilities on prime farmland.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Robert J. Klee, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP): Commented on the bill and provided testimony on DEEP's existing authority and work that is underway to implement the goals proposed in the bill. DEEP has worked closely with the Department of Agriculture to assess the environmental and land use impacts of the state's renewable energy project proposals. There are several administrative steps that DEEP intends to take relating to the siting of renewable energy sources for future request for proposals, such as evaluating how environmental land use requirements can be included as threshold criteria. Additionally, the department is also in the process of creating threshold standards around the protection of prime and important agricultural soils, core forests and endangered species. The department supports the positive re-use of sites with limited development opportunities, such as brown fields; specifically DEEP supports Section 5 of the bill. However, the department recommends that Section 2 of the bill be amended to authorize the Siting Council to consider the environmental impacts of a proposal, rather than establish a preemptive ban on certain siting.

Steven Reviczky, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg): Supports the bill. DoAg has worked diligently for decades to preserve farmland for future generations. To date preservation efforts have protected more than 300 farms and more than 42,000 acres of prime and important farmland. Recently there have been numbers proposals to place solar photovoltaic facilities on farmlands, many of which were determined to impact farms and farmland. If all of these projects were implemented, 1,400 acres of farmland soils would have been lost. DoAg realizes that farmers “have a legal right to develop their land; however, the public's interest in protecting vital farmland soils and the viability of Connecticut farms must be balanced through appropriate modifications to the way the state incentivizes renewable energy projects.”

Robin Stein, Chairman, Connecticut Siting Council (CSC): Opposes the bill. The bill places a disadvantage in comparison to other renewable energy sources with impacts on (1) property rights, (2) economics, policies, (3) the environment, and (4) electric system reliability. Additionally, CSC recommends passage of HB 6547 which aims to determine the best practices for the placement of energy infrastructure, including solar facilities.

Karl J. Wagener, Executive Director, Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ): Supports the bill. Connecticut needs this bill because the state is in need of the following: (1) more solar energy, (2) more farmland, (3) more forest land, (4) productive uses for brownfields, (5) productive uses for closed municipal landfills, and (6) the revenue that could be realized by leasing state-owned non conservation lands for solar development. Additionally, CEQ points to a technical discrepancy concerning the definition of farmland. Section 1 refers to the definition of farmland as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); however, in Section 2 “the reference to USDA comes before the reference to forest land.” CEQ recommends replacing the definition in Section 2 (lines 61 and 65) with “prime farmland or forest land, as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture.”

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Amy Blaymore Paterson, Esq., Executive Director, Connecticut Land Conservation Council (CLCC): The Connecticut Land Conservation Council supports continued efforts to address the balance of land conservation efforts with renewable energy production. CLCC defers to the recommendations of the Council on Environmental Quality that address current deficiencies in state law and policies to better incentivize the siting of these facilities on alternative sites.

Eric Hammerling, Executive Director, Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA): This bill will help ensure that impacts to prime agricultural and forest lands are avoided if possible. CFPA defers to testimony by the Council on Environmental Quality to help find a better balance between renewable energy development and land conservation.

David Sutherland, Director of Government Relations, The Nature Conservancy: Although in support of the bill, the Nature Conservancy provides the following recommendations: (1) include language in Section 1 that requires environmental factors to be weighted significantly, and (2) amend language in Section 2 concerning the application of solar facility application for Certificate of Environmental Compatibility. Testimony includes mark-ups to Section 1 and Section 2 of the bill to reflect recommended changes from the Nature Conservancy.

Henry N. Talmage, Executive Director, Connecticut Farm Bureau Association: This is a complicated issue in weighing the support to farmers from additional revenue with the preservation of productive farmland. Voting delegates for the Connecticut Farm Bureau passed a policy resolution in which “We do not support the use of economic incentives for the development of solar projects on prime and important farmland.”

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Claire Coleman, Climate and Energy Attorney, Connecticut Fund for the Environment (CFE): The bill is overly restrictive and risks stifling growth of the solar industry in Connecticut. Developing robust in-state clean energy resources through proliferation of solar energy is critical to Connecticut's ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for 2020 and 2050 targets. There is concern that this bill would require a choice, pitting the solar and farmland against each other. Connecticut needs to ramp up renewable energy generation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stem effects of climate change.

Elizabeth Gara, Connecticut Water Works Association: There is concern that this bill will impact water utilities ability to utilize solar photovoltaic to improve energy efficient programs.

Sean Garren, Regional Director, Northeast, Vote Solar: Solar development supported by the state should be closely considered and involve a through and transparent stakeholder engagement process.

Lee D. Hoffman, Attorney, Pullman and Comley, LLC: This bill appears to be reactionary to a report by the Council on Environment Quality (CEQ) entitled “Energy Sprawl in Connecticut.” The CEQ report overstates the alleged problem of the reduction in agricultural land. It is important to recognize that Connecticut has the highest average retail electricity rates among the lower 48 states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's summary of Connecticut's energy profile.

Terry Jones, Steering Committee Chairman, Working Lands Alliance (WLA): WLA is supportive of the intent of Bill 943, but also recognizes that the lease payments from solar development on unprotected farmland may be key in keeping farming operation in business. Without additional income source, some farmlands may be in jeopardy of being sold for development. Other states have approached this problem with financial incentives for siting solar facilities on non-prime farmland soils. The committee should study and consider similar legislation.

Paul R. Michaud, Executive Director, Renewable Energy and Efficiency Business Association (REEBA): “This bill is premature to further regulate the installation of solar facilities until a thorough review of the placement of energy infrastructure has been completed.” REEBA recommends the passage of HB 6547 An Act Concerning a Connecticut Green Plan and Resources Use Inventory for Energy Infrastructure.

Francis Pullaro, Executive Director, RENEW Northeast Inc. (RENEW): Renew opposes the bill for the following reasons: (1) not all renewable energy projects that need to meet Connecticut's clean energy requirements can be built on urban and developed areas or former landfill sites, (2) renewable energy projects are providing positive economic benefits to hosting communities, (3) these projects provide additional revenue for struggling farmers, (4) ratepayer will face significant cost increases should developers build project of less efficient scale, and (5) the Siting Council will need to engage in scientifically complex and costly land assessment for each property to determine if it is considered prime farmland.

Reported by: Bonnie Gray / Ussawin R. Bumpen

Date: 03/27/2017