Connecticut may soon source more of its clean energy from within its own borders, if newly proposed projects are successful in a unique and ongoing multi-state bidding process.
A joint procurement by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island — the first of its kind for the states — garnered 24 bids from developers and companies for solar, wind, fuel cell and hydro projects, including five offering power that would be generated in Connecticut.
“This is good news for Connecticut’s ratepayers and signals the very real potential for us to deliver a cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable energy future for residents and businesses of our state,” said Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Rob Klee, whose agency oversaw Connecticut’s participation in the bidding process.
The RFP, authorized by a 2015 state law, could result in ground-mounted solar installations that are four to eight times larger than the biggest existing facilities in Connecticut. It could also boost an already approved 63.3-megawatt fuel cell park in Beacon Falls — which would be not only the largest in Connecticut, but in the world.
The proposals are a response to the scale of the RFP, which is Connecticut’s largest ever for renewables, and requires a minimum project size of 20 megawatts to qualify. The three states teamed up to see if they could attract better pricing together than on their own.
Pricing data was redacted from the bid documents posted online last week. DEEP Deputy Commissioner Katie Scharf Dykes said she couldn’t yet comment on the bid pricing or whether the buying-power strategy will work.
“The scale and scope of this suggest there’s a lot of potential out there,” Scharf Dykes said. “Some of the proposals are larger than what we’ve seen respond to previous RFPs.”
DEEP seeks to broker power purchase agreements between utilities and generators that total as much as 4,250 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year. That’s enough to power nearly 506,000 average Connecticut household utility customers for a year, out of a total 1.37 million households statewide.
The bids contain 240 megawatts of clean energy that would be generated in Connecticut from projects that are not yet built.
The largest proposal is the Beacon Falls Energy Park, approved last month by the Connecticut Siting Council. The park would use fuel cells from Danbury’s FuelCell Energy and be the biggest in the world. Owned by Torrington’s O&G Industries, Beacon Falls Energy Park was the sole fuel cell bidder in the RFP.
The remaining four in-state projects are photovoltaic, including a 26-megawatt solar installation off Hopmeadow Street in Simsbury, submitted by Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind, which is a major off-shore wind developer whose portfolio includes a 30-megawatt wind farm on Block Island that is expected to be operational this year.
The project would be housed on a 200-acre parcel near the International Skating Center. Local permits had not yet been received as of press time last week, a Simsbury official said.
The largest solar bid pledges 44 megawatts, located in North Stonington, less than two miles from Foxwoods Resort Casino. The bidder on the $54.6 million project is German energy company IB Vogt and Rhode Island’s Energy Development Partners.
Meanwhile, Maine-based Ranger Solar submitted a bid to sell power from two proposed solar installations in Connecticut — 20 megawatts straddling Enfield and Somers and 50 megawatts straddling Brooklyn and Canterbury. All bids redacted pricing and other competitive information.
The bids, for the first time, also include related transmission projects, like Eversource’s Northern Pass, which seeks to deliver hydropower from Quebec to New England.
Eversource spokeswoman Lauren Collins said if the Northern Pass bid is selected, it would be among the first delivery commitments secured by the proposed 192-mile line.
“I think the response to this RFP shows that there’s great interest in developing renewable energy projects in New England and certainly a prospect like this is a good incentive to get a lot of those projects off the ground,” Collins said.
The largest bids overall came from major wind players, many of which proposed bundling the power — and sometimes new transmission — from several projects in Maine and elsewhere. The companies include NextEra, EDP Renewables, SunEdison and Iberdrola, which recently acquired United Illuminating parent UIL Holdings.
Overall, the bids total several thousand megawatts. Several bids contain power from the same wind farms, complicating a more precise calculation.
Bidders are hoping to win power purchase agreements (PPAs) with utility companies, which for many would make projects financially viable.
DEEP expects to select winning bidders between April 26 and July 26. Power purchase contracts and regulatory approvals could take the process through year’s end.
It could take up to four years for some of the projects to come online.
DEEP plans to issue two more RFPs this month, both of which are only for Connecticut. The first is for smaller-scale renewables up to 20 megawatts and the second is for natural gas pipeline capacity, according to Dykes.
To meet its environmental green goals, Connecticut has had to buy much of its renewable energy from biomass plants in New Hampshire and Vermont, and wind from Maine. That means other New England states have reaped more of the economic benefits of construction and taxes.
In 2010, in-state renewables comprised just 11 percent of the state’s overall renewables procurement. There has been progress since then. Residential and commercial incentives and the evolution of the Connecticut Green Bank — which leverages private financing to spur renewable projects — helped contribute to a 10-fold increase in in-state renewables between 2010 and 2014, according to DEEP.
The agency is slowly phasing down ratepayer investments in dirtier biomass plants over the next decade.
Connecticut is the third smallest state by area, but has the fourth highest population density, making it difficult to site large wind projects, as evidenced by the multi-year legal battle that eventually led to the approval of several turbines in Colebrook — the first commercial wind farm in the state.
Gov. Dannel Malloy pledged in December that Connecticut would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, created in 1998, has spurred development, mandating that utilities and suppliers purchase an increasing amount of their electric load from renewable sources.