The state’s top environmental official continued to thread an awkward policy needle this week as opponents of a proposed natural gas power plant in Killingly reaffirmed their call for the project’s termination. The commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said the project secured key go-aheads because of problems in broader regional energy markets.
Environmental advocates joined together on a Zoom call Tuesday to share their opposition to the proposed Killingly Energy Center, which they said would harm Connecticut’s water and air while also running in direct conflict with Gov. Ned Lamont’s stated goal of transitioning the state to a 100% clean energy grid by 2040.
In addition to advocates, some lawmakers also spoke in opposition to the Killingly project.
State Sen. Mae Flexer (D-Killingly) deemed the new gas plant “unnecessary” and an unwelcome drag on the state’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions.
“It clearly does not fall in line with our targets for Connecticut for moving towards green energy and clean energy. It’s the absolute opposite of that,” Flexer said. “If we say Connecticut is committed to green energy, why is this power plant moving forward? It makes absolutely no sense.”
The project’s momentum is a mixture of opaque -- and, yes, sometimes boring -- regional energy markets, politics and a healthy number of permitting decisions.
Construction of the plant has not yet begun, but if built, it would be Killingly’s second natural gas-fired generating plant. The town already has a facility near the I-395 corridor.
The Killingly energy plant would provide enough power for about 500,000 homes. A spokesperson for the developer, Florida-based NTE Energy, said Tuesday the company would like to break ground in early 2021 and have the plant operational by 2024.
But the prospect of a new natural gas-fired power plant breaking ground as Lamont pushes the state to reduce its reliance on carbon-based fuels has repeatedly put his administration in an awkward position.
Speaking Monday on Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live, DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said the reason the Killingly project is still under consideration is due to a broader energy market operated by the regional grid manager, ISO New England -- a market she said needs to change.
“If we halted a brand-new plant here in Connecticut, without reforming the ISO New England market, we’re just going to see older, dirtier, fossil fuel power plants running more,” Dykes said.
When asked in a follow-up email Tuesday if the commissioner opposed the Killingly project, DEEP spokesperson Will Healey responded by saying “statutorily required permits for the Killingly Energy Center are currently pending at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.”
“We have heard the concerns expressed by those opposed to the construction of this facility, and we respect those concerns,” Healey wrote. “That’s why the Commissioner has called for reforming the ISO New England market, to bring it more in line with the clean energy vision Gov. Lamont has for our state.”
A spokesperson for the governor did not immediately respond to a request from Connecticut Public asking whether the state opposed the Killingly project.
While the Killingly proposal did originally secure a power “obligation” through the ISO New England market, such a bid is not an automatic go-ahead that ensures a resource will be built.
Matt Kakley, a spokesperson for ISO New England, said new plant developers still have to meet environmental and siting requirements for the states where they are trying to build. In other words, he said, states make the final call.
“The state -- not the ISO -- determines if a plant gets developed within its borders,” Kakley wrote in an email. “The wholesale markets are highly competitive, and result in the most cost effective set of resources to provide electricity to the region.”
But Kakley said the ISO is working with states to examine how future energy projects are selected and approved by the regional grid’s energy markets.
“Discussions are already underway on how the region can work together to maintain reliable, competitively priced electricity through the clean energy transition, a transition that will require broad collaboration,” Kakley wrote.
Advocates Tuesday said they planned to present Lamont with thousands of signatures in support of ending investments in fossil fuel-based infrastructure.
But for now, the future of the Killingly plant remains unclear. Advocates expressed hope Tuesday that those signatures would help advance their goal of ending the plant before it is built.
“We’ve all heard a lot of words about Killingly from Gov. Lamont and the commissioner of DEEP,” said Sam Dynowski, state director of Sierra Club Connecticut. “And we’ve seen a lot of blame getting passed around. But what we haven’t seen is action.”