Minutes of the January 25, 2017 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in the Holcombe Conference Room on the fifth floor of 79 Elm Street in Hartford.
PRESENT: Susan Merrow (Chair), Janet Brooks, Alicea Charamut, Lee Dunbar, Karyl Lee Hall, Alison Hilding, Kip Kolesinskas, Matt Reiser, Charles Vidich, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst).
At 9:33 AM, Chair Merrow convened the meeting, noting a quorum. No change to the agenda was proposed. Dunbar made a motion to approve the agenda, which was seconded by Charamut and approved unanimously.
Chair Merrow asked if there were any revisions to the minutes of December 14, 2016. There was none. Brooks made a motion to approve the minutes, which was seconded by Vidich and approved by all, with Hilding abstaining because of absence at that meeting.
Chair Merrow reported that she had attended the January 10 conference on energy sprawl and siting, sponsored by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) as part of its process to develop a comprehensive energy strategy. Also attending were Kolesinskas (who was a panelist), Vidich and Council staff. More about the conference would be discussed later in the meeting.
Citizen Comment Period
Mr. Steven Cerruto, Vice President of Operations at the Torrington Water Company (TWC), spoke about his company’s concern that a proposed sewage main between Woodridge Lake in Goshen and the Torrington Sewage Treatment plant crosses a stream that flows into Torrington’s water supply. Using a map, he showed the proposed routing. Although the proposed sewage main will have two sections so flow can continue if interrupted in one section, his company is concerned that a break could seriously contaminate the Torrington water supply. There is special concern about the valves which are designed to discharge trapped air because they are high-maintenance items. He said that the TWC objected to the permit applications before the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agencies of both Torrington and Goshen, but they were approved. He said there is a more expensive alternate route that does not cross streams that feed the reservoir. The water company has asked the state Department of Public Health (DPH) to intervene, and the DPH has sent letters to both towns expressing concern. In response to a question from Hilding, he said that the proposal would cost 18 million dollars and the alternate route would cost 3 million more.
Margaret Miner of the Rivers Alliance raised questions about the adequacy of public notice for the project’s public hearing, and the relationship between the requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) because the project is federally funded. Discussion followed on aspects of the project. Ms. Miner said the Woodridge Lake organization has been under orders for more than two decades; Dunbar noted that this problem has been worked on extensively. It was decided that Council staff should collect additional information about the project and report at the next meeting.
Executive Director’s Report
Wagener reported that in addition to the January 10 energy siting workshop, he attended the State’s Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan Advisory Board meeting. He said that DEEP is working with the Center for Public policy and Social Research at Central Connecticut State University to determine what the public is looking for in state recreation. In answer to a question from Wagener, all members expressed interest in participating in the “Avid Outdoor Enthusiast” survey, one of three surveys to be conducted.
Wagener discussed legislation briefly. One would direct DEEP to develop a plan for responding to terrestrial invasive species, a CEQ recommendation, and another would prohibit commercial trade in turtles. He said that the Council had been asked to support an effort to prohibit sale of running bamboo; the Council took no action at this meeting on legislation.
Dunbar asked for additional information about an email he received from Audubon Connecticut regarding “project green space” that would allow a land conveyance fee to be imposed by municipalities to fund land acquisition. Wagener said the Audubon Connecticut website has more details. Wagener said that the constitutional amendment to restrict transfers of state conservation lands will be voted on again in this legislative session. Merrow explained that to appear on the ballot, it must pass in two consecutive legislatures. She added that there is a new crop of legislators this session who will need to be informed about it.
Wagener said the governor’s proposed budget is expected on February 8.
Emissions From Heavy-Duty Vehicles – Wagener explained how a complaint about diesel exhaust from a motorist led staff to uncover the fact that Connecticut does not require emission inspections for trucks over 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight (GVW), while neighboring states do. He said that trucks over 26,000 pounds GVW can be stopped by state Department of Motor Vehicles inspectors for emission checks when there is suspicion of a problem. He noted that the state will receive $52 million from the federal settlement with Volkswagen. The terms of the settlement allow it to be used to subsidize replacement of older trucks or engines, and for establishing electric vehicle charging stations. He said the settlement cannot be used for improving the state’s emissions inspections program. Hall expressed concern that there is not parity between the automobile inspection requirements and those for trucks. She said the heavy duty diesels, especially from the construction industry, pose an air pollution problem. Wagener said that when the auto inspection requirements were put in place it was to address hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions, while diesels emit nitrogen oxides and particulates for which Connecticut is in attainment, though the particles from diesel have been linked with many health problems. Council recommended that staff keep an eye on the issue of emissions from trucks.
Others – Wagener said the staff is still working on complaints that were discussed at prior meetings, such as the Newington complaint about disposal of polluted soil. He said that staff received a complaint about lack of inspections for pesticide applicators; Brooks asked if this was a decline or the norm. Wagener said staff will find out.
Review of State Agency Actions
Energy Sprawl in Connecticut – Attorney Lee Hoffman, who was in the audience, was invited to speak. He had been in correspondence with the staff regarding its draft report on energy sprawl. Mr. Hoffman dramatically displayed the thickness of a Connecticut Siting Council (CSC) petition file, with which he was involved, to illustrate the thoroughness of the CSC in considering petitions. He said that in cases where a proposed solar facility is placed on farmland that might otherwise been used for housing development the solar project could be the better environmental option. He said that the deliberations at the CSC for solar projects are not a rote matter. He said the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported an upward trend in farmland acreage in Connecticut and that the amount of land lost to solar farms amounts to only one third of one percent of the state’s farmland. Wagener noted that the Council does not use the USDA estimates of farm acreage in its reports, as that acreage includes land not used for agricultural production. Wagener said the Council counts only cropland, pasture, vineyards and orchards, as determined by geo-spatial data from the University of Connecticut’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR). Hoffman replied that, even using those figures, the land affected amounts to less than one percent of the state’s farmland.
Attorney Hoffman said that, in answer to a question Wagener had posed, the effect of an increase of one half of one cent in the cost of electricity from a solar facility cannot be known exactly, but said that he ran some projections that it could amount to a 5.4 percent increase in a consumer’s bill. Wagener said that the question was referring to a half penny increase in the cost of electricity coming from solar alone, and that the impact on customers’ rates might be unknowable because of the multiplicity of other electric sources in the mix.
Attorney Hoffman suggested that Connecticut’s only viable renewable sources are solar and hydro power. He said that the draft report should add the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) to the agencies receiving recommendations because it offers grants and loans for revitalization of brownfields and for industrial development. He added that solar thermal is not a Class I renewable energy source. He noted that the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority had settled on a definition of farmland, which is defined in CGS Section 1-1; Brooks said that section defines farming but not farmland.
Attorney Hoffman noted that in another petition before the CSC the petitioner is being asked for bonding to assure restoration and for protection of farmland on the site. He thanked the Council for allowing him time to make his opinions known.
Chair Merrow suggested a point-by-point review of the “Comments on draft Energy Sprawl in Connecticut, by category” that was prepared by Wagener for the meeting.
Comment: Is Council’s focus on alternative future best uses of the land, or on the siting of energy facilities? Dunbar said although any given project could be the right choice for a given location, that the point of the Council’s report is that state policies to preserve farmland and forestland must be integrated with its energy policy to eliminate the conflict. Hall agreed that the focus must be on the government bodies making the decisions and that it must be clear that the Council is not launching an assault on landowners’ rights. Members affirmed that the focus of the report would be siting policy, not the regulation of land use or landowners.
Comment: Municipal preemption ends if there is a wetlands violation. Brooks said that CSC has wetlands jurisdiction when the wetland is on the project site. The municipality has jurisdiction when the site effects wetlands off-site.
At this point, Mr. Michael Jay, a resident of Kent, who was in the audience asked if he could add an editorial suggestion. He said he believes the report should reference the bidding process which set minimum generation sizes for the voltage to be generated by projects submitted in response to DEEP’s request for proposals (RFP). He said that minimum wattage capacity precluded towns that don’t have sufficient vacant land from participating in the effort to recast the energy supply to include more renewables. Wagener said the twenty MW RFP was only one and another for two-to-twenty MW was also held. Mr. Jay emphasized that, according to his understanding, the problem was with the requirement that there be a single point of linking to the grid, so that a project involving several smaller sites would not qualify.
Susan Masino, a resident of Simsbury, reported that at a recent meeting of the Connecticut State Grange, members made it clear that they supported renewable energy but did not want to see it at the expense of working farmland. She said she would like to see the report request a change in the definition of Class I renewable energy sources to include solar thermal.
The Council returned to the list of comments. Wagener said there were a number of suggestions that were easily added: list the locations of the projects selected in the 2011 bid process, add a link to the Three-State RFP, add a sidebar to explain in greater detail the CSC process for applications and petitions, make it clearer when referring to the two councils – CEQ and CSC – which is being discussed, add the fact that the Connecticut Council on Soil and Water Conservation submitted comments indicating that it could help develop site assessment and evaluation tools, note the importance of grasslands to birds. Kolesinskas added that grasslands are important to mammals, too.
The Council discussed the comment that the state’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES) was being revised and that the Council should work with DEEP on the CES rather than publish a separate report. Wagener said that the January 10 siting workshop was part of the CEW revision process. Chair Merrow and Vidich said that the Council’s report need not be on hold while the CES is being revised; members concurred
Wagener said there were a number of suggestions that made contrary assertions to what was stated in the draft report:
Solar panels do not damage cropland and have positive environmental effects: Kolesinskas said it has the potential to damage soil and has negative social and economic effects on the agricultural economy.
Connecticut’s clean energy procurement laws are neutral on technology and location: The Council agreed that by being neutral the consequence is that locational decisions favor solar on farmland, since that is the lowest-price choice. The draft report argues that the policy should not be neutral.
CSC review is not “nearly automatic” as stated in the report: Brooks said that in describing the fact that the grounds for disapproval by the CSC is greatly constrained by law, the use of the phrase “approval is nearly automatic” is a poor descriptive choice. It was agreed to use a phrase that does not diminish the deliberative work and analysis that is performed by the CSC. Vidich suggested “non-discretionary.” Regarding the volume of information required of petitioners, Wagener said that the CSC has jurisdiction over construction and post-construction of projects, so it asks for construction details for all projects, which are not directly relevant to making a decision on the appropriateness of a site.
Efficiency cannot get Connecticut to its goals, and Connecticut is among the most efficient states in using energy: Vidich said the U.S. lags far behind the rest of the developed world in achieving energy efficiency. Wagener that efficiency can reduce demand thereby assisting the Electric Distribution Companies (EDCs) in meeting their ultimate goals for renewable energy, but the point is not hugely important at present because renewable sources are needed.
The Council’s recommendations will lead to higher costs for ratepayers or taxpayers: The Council agreed that external costs are not assessed in such a contention. Dunbar gave the example of solar placements raising the cost of farmland and potentially the cost of some farm products.
The Council’s recommendations would make siting a gas-fired turbine easier than siting a solar facility: The Council did not see this as relevant to the issue of solar siting.
Solar and wind power are disruptive to the grid: The Council saw this as beyond its expertise and also immaterial to the question of where they are being sited.
Less land is impacted than reported by the Council: Wagener explained why the figures in the report are accurate. Staff counted only the acres affected by proposed projects, not the size of the properties. He also noted that the projects approved by the CSC add up to fewer acres, but that the 2016 procurement decisions, most of which have not been approved yet by the CSC, caused a big spike in the acreage numbers.
The Council moved on to the next section of the summary of comments received. These were suggestions for recommendations to be made by the Council in the report.
End secrecy in the bidding process: Vidich said that trade secrets and contract negotiations are routinely kept from the public in government bids, but questions arose about confidentiality after the decisions are made. The Council decided that whether this information is disclosed is not critical to the report.
Other suggestions were considered to be potentially useful but not within the scope of the report: incentives for pollinator-friendly plantings, increasing education and communication on these issues, expanding recommendations to the siting of the police shooting range, poll the public on where solar locations are suitable, encourage off-shore wind, encourage fuel cell technology. The suggestion to define agriculture and farming was determined to be unnecessary since the definition exists in state law and regulation. A suggestion that merits attention, said Wagener, is to include in the next State Conservation and Development Policies Plan to discourage state actions that promote the siting of solar energy projects on farmland and forests.
Chair Merrow suggested that, having completed the review of the public’s comments and suggestions for recommendations, it was time to review the draft report’s recommendations for repairing deficiencies in state policy. She referred the Council to the document prepared by Wagener before the meeting, “Potential Recommendations for Remedying Identified Deficiencies.”
The draft report identified as a deficiency the fact that site selection is based on short term cost of delivery of electricity above all other considerations. It recommended that price not be the overwhelming consideration. Chair Merrow asked for input on the methods to achieve this recommendation. Most of the subsequent discussion focused on the question of whether DEEP should be prohibited from selecting projects on certain types of land, selection criteria should include assessment of external costs, or DEEP should consider impacts to land and farming in its decision-making. It was agreed that attempts to calculate external costs would be nearly impossible for DEEP. Additional questions raised were whether in making its decision to select a project DEEP should: consider the likelihood that the property will be developed for other purposes, involve the Department of Agriculture in the deliberation, be authorized to require a payment by the developer to a farmland preservation fund, give preference to projects that can co-locate with farming, and develop siting tools to assist the developer to choose an appropriate site. After considerable discussion of all the considerations above, it was decided that the report’s recommendation would be that the procurement statutes should be amended so that DEEP, in making project-selection decisions for procurement, shall give meaningful weight to other factors beside the cost of the delivered electricity; such a recommendation would be the basis of the Council’s testimony.
With regard to the recommendation that solar developers should realize substantial incentives if they select previously developed land, it was decided that the recommendation should apply to all renewable technologies.
With regard to the draft report’s identification of the “nearly automatic” nature of the approval process as a deficiency to be remedied, there was unanimity that the phrasing needs changing, as does the approval process. Discussion centered on whether and how an improved process would allow consideration of locational factors such as farmland, forests, grasslands and other resources. Wagener noted that the CSC itself had discussed the irony that a tiny cell tower project was subject to the full certificate application process while a hundred-acre solar facility was not. After considerable discussion it was agreed that the Council would recommend that projects should be required to obtain a Certificate of Public Need and Environmental Compatibility and that the CSC should be authorized to consider impacts to farmland, and that if the petition process were to remain in place then the CSC should be authorized to consider the impacts named above.
Brooks suggested that the report should also note the importance of the “five-acre” stormwater rule, and that solar projects should be required to comply with it. Members concurred.
Some members had to leave to tend to prior commitments. Chair Merrow asked those remaining for a vote that would summarize the Council’s decisions thus far. Dunbar made a motion that the Council recommends: 1) Legislation to state that DEEP, in making project-selection decisions, must give “meaningful” weight to other factors beside the price of the delivered electricity, 2) renewable energy developers should realize substantial incentives if they select previously developed land, and 3) projects should be required to obtain a Certificate of Public Need and Environmental Compatibility and that the CSC should be authorized to consider impacts to farmland, and that if the petition process were to remain in place then the CSC should be authorized to consider the impacts named above. Furthermore, the special report shall be amended to include these recommendations and the editorial improvements discussed above, with the Chair authorized to approve the final wording. Charamut seconded the motion, which was approved by all the remaining members (Charamut, Dunbar, Hilding, Kolesinskas, and Vidich).
Discussion continued on the remaining potential recommendations. Members agreed that an inventory of state non-conservation state lands that might be suitable for requesting proposals for renewable energy facilities would not be completed for a long time, if ever. There might be value, members agreed, in simply announcing that it will consider bids from developers for state properties, which can then be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. There was discussion about future avenues of research, including utility rights of way and their potential use for photovoltaic inputs that counter line loss.
Wagener said there were currently at least three bills before the legislature addressing the topic of procuring or siting renewable-energy projects.
Off-Airport Tree Obstruction Removal for Hartford-Brainard Airport, Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) – Wagener said a tree removal was conducted at this site in the 1980s without proper notice or environmental analysis; a consequence of the enforcement proceeding was that some of the land south of the airport was covered by a conservation easement in favor of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Wagener said that the EIE noted the role of TNC. Charamut said she attended the recent public meeting for the project and believes there remain some unanswered questions, including impacts in areas not covered by the easement. She said the Flood Control Commission was not consulted to determine if the project might undermine the levee that protects the airport from flooding. Wagener said that, if such comments were being submitted by other parties, the Council could pay close attention to see that they were addressed in the Record of Decision.
Annual Report Topics
Wagener said that the charts for some indictors have been completed and by the next meeting there will be many pages to present to the Council for discussion.
Hilding, referring back to the discussions of renewables, asked if the staff could look into the technology of floating solar panels on water bodies and what negative environmental consequences might result.
There being no further business Chair Merrow asked for a motion to adjourn, which was made by Dunbar and seconded by Charamut. The meeting was adjourned at 12:29.