In 2020, the rate of residential solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in Connecticut decreased compared to 2019, but was still greater than the 10-year average.
Thousands of Connecticut homes now use the sun to generate much of their own electricity. In 2020, 5,541 residential solar PV systems were installed with a total capacity of 47,275 kilowatts (kW). The high point for residential solar PV installations came in 2015 (8,163 installations and a total capacity of 61,814 kW). From 2005 through the end of 2020, the total number of approved residential solar PV projects in the state exceeded 42,134 projects with a total capacity of more than 334 megawatts (MW).72
Goal: Legislation adopted in 2011 (CGS 16-245ff) set a goal of 300 megawatts of new photovoltaic capacity installed on residential properties by the end of 2022.
The U.S. Department of Energy identified approximately 606 MW of small scale PV capacity in the state through 2020, while the Independent System Operator for New England (ISO-NE) reported total PV capacity at 682 MW (almost 54,000 sites) in the State.73 In 2020, the ISO-NE projected that approximately 1,070 MW of additional solar PV capacity may be installed in Connecticut by 2029.74
The environmental and social impact of solar PV installations in Connecticut is mixed. The primary advantage of solar PV electric generating equipment is that it produces electricity with zero emissions – no air pollution, wastewater, or noise. The 600+ MW of installed PV capacity in the state in 2020 is estimated to have produced more than 740,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) in 2020, which is calculated to have potentially displaced over 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. However, an issue with land-based solar PV installations, primarily for utility scale solar PV installations, is the impact such development has on farmland, forests, shrublands, and the species that inhabit these ecosystems.
Utility Scale Solar PV
As a result of citizens’ concerns regarding the proliferation of land-based solar PV systems in Connecticut, the Council issued a special report in 2017, Energy Sprawl in Connecticut, that identified deficiencies in state policy regarding the selection and siting of land-based PV installations and recommendations to ensure prime farmland and core forest habitats were protected. In response to citizen concerns about energy sprawl in Connecticut, Public Act 17-218 was enacted. Since Public Act 17-218 was enacted, the capacity of individual commercial PV projects, submitted to the Connecticut Siting Council for regulatory approval through the Petition for Declaratory Ruling process, has decreased.
The Council evaluated the impact of certain provisions of Public Act 17-218 and found that the potential loss of agricultural land that could result from the development of PV systems was almost half of the farmland acres preserved by the State in 2020. A review of proposals submitted to the Siting Council in 2020 for commercial solar PV systems indicated that there were a total of 22 proposals submitted (220 MW), nine were approved, two were denied or rejected, and 11 were pending a decision. The sum of the nine approved and 11 pending solar PV proposals in 2020 could impact a total of approximately 330 acres of woodlands and 450 acres of agricultural land in the state.
While the intent of Public Act 17-218 was to preserve both core forest and prime farmland, 13 of the 22 proposals for commercial solar PV systems submitted to the Siting Council in 2020 were exempt from the requirements of the law (59 percent). These proposals, which totaled 175 MW of PV capacity, were exempt either because the projects’ capacity was less than two MW, the project was reopened from an earlier date, the project was selected as part of a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) request for proposals (RFP), or because one of the projects (a 120 MW solar PV system) was submitted to the Siting Council as an application for a Certificate (as required by Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) Section 16-50k), not through the Petition for Declaratory Ruling process. These exempt solar PV systems accounted for over 760 acres of land disturbance, of which approximately 275 acres were identified as forestland and 318 acres were identified as agricultural land.**75
Technical Note: *Personal impact indicators illustrate trends in behavior or practices that can be expected to influence the condition of tomorrow’s air, water, land and wildlife. **Based on 2020 proposals approved by the Connecticut Siting Council or pending a decision.
72 Connecticut Green Bank; personal communication from L. Charpentier, January 8, 2021.
73 DOE, EIA, Electric Data Browser, Net Generation for Electric Power (Annual); www.eia.gov/electricity/data/browser/#/topic/0?agg=2,0,1&fuel=vtvv&geo=008&sec=008&freq=A&start=2001&end=2019&ctype=linechart<ype=pin&rtype=s&maptype=0&rse=0&pin= and ISO New England, December 2020 Distributed Generation Survey Results, Distributed Generation Forecast Working Group; February 22, 2021; www.iso-ne.com/static-assets/documents/2021/02/dg_survey_results_dec2020.pdf.
74 ISO-New England, Final 2020 PV Forecast, April 29, 2020; www.iso-ne.com/static-assets/documents/2020/04/final_2020_pv_forecast.pdf
75 Connecticut Siting Council; portal.ct.gov/CSC.