PA 17-218—SB 943

Environment Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING THE INSTALLATION OF CERTAIN SOLAR FACILITIES ON PRODUCTIVE FARMLANDS, INCENTIVES FOR THE USE OF ANAEROBIC DIGESTERS BY AGRICULTURAL CUSTOMER HOSTS, APPLICATIONS CONCERNING THE USE OF KELP IN CERTAIN BIOFUELS AND THE PERMITTING OF WASTE CONVERSION FACILITIES

SUMMARY: This act makes various changes in the environment and energy statutes. It does the following:

1. requires the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) commissioner and the Connecticut Siting Council to consider the impact of certain proposed energy-related projects on the environment, prime farmland or forest land, or agriculture, before allowing them to proceed;

2. requires the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to authorize additional funds for agricultural hosts using an anaerobic digestion Class I renewable energy source as a virtual net metering facility;

3. authorizes DEEP, with the state Department of Agriculture (DoAg), to help businesses apply to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approval of kelp oil as heating oil feedstock;

4. removes, from laws that apply to resources recovery facilities, facilities that use thermal, biological, or chemical processes to convert solid waste to energy or other products (“waste conversion facilities”); and

5. includes mixed municipal solid waste (MSW) composting facilities as waste conversion facilities.

The act also makes several technical and conforming changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2017, except for the kelp oil provision, which is effective upon passage.

1 & 2 — ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT CONSIDERATION

The act requires the DEEP commissioner, when considering proposals received after July 1, 2017 in response to certain energy-related solicitations, to consider (1) their environmental impact, including the impact on prime farmland and core forests, and (2) the reuse of sites with limited development opportunities, such as brownfields and landfills.

He must consider these factors in response to proposals from the following:

1. providers of Class I renewable energy sources (“Class I sources”) built on or after January 1, 2013 to meet up to 4% of power distributed by electric companies;

2. providers of Class I sources or large-scale hydropower to supply up to 5% of the load distributed by electric companies;

3. providers of Class I run-of-the-river hydropower, landfill methane gas, or biomass sources to meet up to 4% of the load distributed by electric companies; and

4. providers of passive demand measures (e.g., energy efficiency), Class I providers, Class III combined heat and power sources, large-scale hydropower, or natural gas resources, subject to various limits.

In practice, DEEP has already solicited and selected proposals for parts of these procurements.

Under the act, “prime farmland” is land that meets federal regulatory criteria for prime farmland (see BACKGROUND) and “core forest” is unfragmented forest land that is at least 300 feet from the boundary between forest land and non-forest land, as determined by the DEEP commissioner.

3 & 4 — SITING COUNCIL DECISIONS

Declaratory Ruling Approvals

The law generally requires developers to obtain a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need from the Connecticut Siting Council before they can build certain electric generating facilities.

For customer-side distributed resource and grid-side distributed resource projects, the law requires the council to approve a certificate by declaratory ruling as long as the project meets DEEP's air and water quality standards (see BACKGROUND).

The act requires the council to additionally determine that these projects will not have a substantial adverse environmental effect. And if the project is a solar photovoltaic facility with a capacity of at least two megawatts (MW) on prime farmland, DoAg must represent in writing that the project will not materially affect the land's status as prime farmland. DEEP must do the same for such a project proposed for forest land if DEEP finds the project will not materially affect the land's status as core forest. The act allows DoAg and DEEP to consult with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and soil and water conservation districts when evaluating these solar facility projects. The act's additional requirements for solar facilities do not apply to facilities that DEEP selected in solicitations issued before July 1, 2017 for categories 1, 2, and 4, described above (see 1 & 2).

Certification Decisions

The law requires siting council certification decisions to determine the nature of a facility's probable environmental impact and specify every significant adverse effect on various aspects, such as ecological balance, public health and safety, and air and water purity. The act requires the decisions to also specify significant adverse effects on agriculture.

5 — AGRICULTURAL VIRTUAL NET METERING EXPANSION

Existing law generally authorizes $10 million per year for virtual net metering for all customer hosts (i.e., state, municipal, and agricultural customers) and an additional $6 million per year for certain municipal customer hosts (see BACKGROUND). 

Under the act, PURA must authorize an additional $3 million per year for agricultural customer hosts that use an anaerobic digestion Class I renewable energy source as a virtual net metering facility (see BACKGROUND). The act authorizes PURA to apportion the additional funds to electric distribution companies based on the consumer load (i.e., approximately 80% to eligible Eversource customers and 20% to eligible United Illuminating customers). But at least half of the $3 million must be used for anaerobic digestion facilities (1) located on dairy farms whose goal is to to use 100% of the manure generated on the farm and (2) that complement the farm's nutrient management plan. Existing law limits the capacity of agricultural virtual net metering facilities to three MW.

6 — KELP OIL

The act allows DEEP, in consultation with DoAg, to help companies submit petitions to EPA to approve kelp oil as a feedstock under the fuel pathway for the Renewable Fuel Standard Program's heating oil program (see BACKGROUND).

It provides that DEEP's assistance may include:

1. asking about the status of kelp and kelp oil for consideration as feedstock for heating oil by EPA;

2. providing relevant or required information that may support the petition; and

3. facilitating timely communications between other relevant state agencies, EPA, and a petitioning company.

7-10 — WASTE CONVERSION FACILITIES

Under prior law, a resources recovery facility was any facility using processes to reclaim energy from MSW. The act narrows the definition to facilities that combust MSW to generate electricity and eliminates a separate definition for mixed MSW composting facilities.

The act also creates a new category of “waste conversion facilities” which are facilities that use thermal, chemical, or biological processes to convert solid waste, including MSW, into electricity, fuel, gas, chemical, or other products.

In separating the types of solid waste facilities in this way, the act removes waste conversion facilities from requirements that applied to them as a resources recovery or mixed MSW composting facility, including a law requiring the DEEP commissioner to determine that such a facility is needed to meet the state's solid waste needs and will not result in substantial excess capacity (“determination of need” process, CGS 22a-208d).

And as the act includes mixed MSW composting facilities as waste conversion facilities, it eliminates a law requiring DEEP to require, as a condition of granting a permit to build or expand such a composting facility, that items that could potentially contaminate the composting product be disposed of separately as part of a household hazardous waste collection and disposal program (CGS 22a-208q).

BACKGROUND

Anaerobic Digesters

Anaerobic digesters convert manure or other organic products into methane, the principal component of natural gas. Methane can be used to generate electricity, among other things.

Customer-side or Grid-side Distributed Resources

By law, a “customer-side distributed resource” is (1) an electricity generator that can generate up to 65 MW on a retail end userʼs premises, including fuel cells, photovoltaic systems, and small wind turbines, or (2) a retail end userʼs electric demand reduction through conservation and load management. A “grid-side distributed resource” is an electricity generator that can generate up to 65 MW and is connected to the electric transmission or distribution system, including units used primarily to generate electricity to meet peak demand (CGS 16-1).

Prime Farmland

Prime farmland means soils defined by USDA as best suited to produce food, feed, forage, fiber, and oilseed crops. In general, these lands 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 (7 C.F.R. 657.5).

Renewable Fuel Standard Program

The federal Renewable Fuel Standard Program seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the use of renewable fuels. It requires a certain amount of renewable fuel to replace or reduce the amount of petroleum-based fuel and heating oil. For a fuel to be considered renewable under the program, EPA must first determine that it meets federal statutory and regulatory requirements, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions beyond a certain amount. A renewable fuel pathway is comprised of the feedstock (i.e., renewable biomass), production process, and fuel type.

Virtual Net Metering

In general, virtual net metering allows customers to (1) receive a billing credit for excess power they generate (i.e., “run their meters backward”) and (2) share excess credits with certain other designated electric accounts. Existing law requires electric distribution companies (i.e., Eversource and United Illuminating) to make virtual net metering available, subject to a cap on credits, to agricultural electric customers that own their virtual net metering facilities and municipal and state agency customers that own, lease, or enter into a long term contract with virtual net metering facilities. Generally, virtual net metering facilities are renewable or clean energy systems that meet certain requirements.