Minutes of the March 28, 2012 meeting of the Council on Environmental Quality, held in Holcombe Conference Room on the 5th floor of 79 Elm Street, Hartford.

PRESENT: Barbara Wagner (Chair), Janet Brooks, Bruce Fernandez, Karyl Lee Hall, Richard Sherman, Norman VanCor, Karl Wagener (Executive Director), Peter Hearn (Environmental Analyst), Eric Walsh (Intern).

At 9:06 AM Chair Barbara Wagner called the meeting to order, noting the presence of a quorum.

Chair Wagner asked if there were any additions or revisions to the minutes of the February 22, 2012 meeting. There being none, Chair Wagner called for a motion to approve, which was made by Brooks and seconded by Sherman.  VanCor abstained, having been absent at that meeting.


Chair Wagner welcomed the representatives from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) who had accepted the Council’s invitation to speak about the Title V permit renewal for the jet-fueled turbines at South Meadow in Hartford, and said she wished to rearrange the items on the agenda to take up that topic first.

Review of State Agency Actions

Proposed Renewal of Title V Air Quality Operating Permit for the South Meadow Station, Hartford, and Related Energy Policies – Wagener said that staff of DEEP's Bureau of Air Management would attend the April meeting to discuss specifics of the air permit. Because some of the Council's recommendations regarding the South Meadow facility were beyond the ability of the Air Bureau to influence, the Council, in its March 8, 2012 letter to Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection Dan Esty, had invited the Department to discuss those energy policies, and the Department had accepted. Present from DEEP were Tracy Babbidge, Chief of the Bureau of Energy and Technology Policy; Richard Rodrigue, Senior Engineer in the Energy and Climate Change Policy Division; and Kiernan Wholean, Supervising Air Policy Control Engineer.

Ms. Babbidge began with an overview of the state’s new energy policy initiatives to illustrate the nexus between energy issues and the state’s air quality. She described the draft Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) that was required under Public Act 11-80. The IRP assesses electricity demand and capacity three to ten years into the future and looks at “policy levers” that could affect the outcome. Because of recession-related decrease in demand and improvements in efficiency by consumers it is expected that there will exist excess capacity until at least 2022. The relative cost of electricity production by older coal and oil powered plants has increased relative to gas powered generation, with the expected consequence that the older, dirtier plants will be phased out. A benefit of this transition will be less pollution because gas is a cleaner burning fuel. This development has created the paradox that installing better controls on older plants could extend the life of facilities that otherwise would be closed for business reasons. The IRP recommends doubling the current rate of investment in efficiency, which would lower peak demand by 30 to 70 MW.

Ms. Babbidge said that the South Meadow facility runs infrequently. It consumes expensive jet fuel. ISO New England will hold a forward capacity auction in April; it is possible that the expense of running South Meadow will lead to it being “de-listed”. She explained that the Independent System Operator (ISO) is the organization that shifts power around the electric grid in New England to meet demand. ISO calls for bids from suppliers; the lowest cost providers are called upon first, with higher-cost facilities brought on as needed. Units like the South Meadow may be reaching the point that the high cost of the electricity they produce will lead to such infrequent use that it will not be worth the cost of keeping them available. Richard Rodrique added that the South Meadow units run only about four or five days a year now, and only for about four or five hours each time. Ms. Babbidge said that jet-fueled turbines and residual oil powered plants are now providing only two-tenths to four-tenths of the state’s generation. She said that distribution improvements and conservation have reduced the demand for generation during peak demand.

VanCor asked about the coordination of the energy planning at DEEP with the utilities that provide the power. Ms. Babbidge responded that Public Act 11-80 required DEEP to do this planning and it was being done in close cooperation with both electricity generators and electricity distributors. She said that the dynamics of electricity procurement in the future necessitates the state plan.

Hall observed that the shifting of generation within the grid during peak demand can impose an air pollution burden that is most acutely felt is certain neighborhoods and not in others. She asked if this burden could be taken into consideration when bids by providers are being considered. Rodrique described the improvements that had been made in distribution, mandated by the Federal Energy Independence Act. He said that there are no air pollution considerations explicit in the decision to bring a plant online to meet demand. He repeated that the most economical to run are the ones that submit the lowest bids. Those are not the older, dirtier coal and petroleum-fueled facilities. The proof, he said, is the infrequency of operation of South Meadow, which is providing mostly voltage support during high demand days. He said that Public Act 11-80 provides incentives for cogeneration and conservation through the Connecticut Energy and Finance Investment Authority.

Sherman asked about the wisdom of basing Connecticut’s energy future on natural gas which was being produced more and more by “fracking,” a technology with a questionable future. Ms. Babbidge responded that there is not expected to be more investment in new gas powered plants in the short term due to the adequacy of capacity. Ms. Babbidge noted the potential downside of overreliance on any one fuel. In the long term projections show that the cost of gas relative to other fuels will remain low even if regulations on fracking are increased. Sherman next asked about the role of photovoltaics in the plan. A discussion followed among Council members regarding the potential for photovoltaic generation in Connecticut before the conversation returned to the South Meadow facility.

Brooks asked about the consequences of the South Meadow plant being de-listed. Mr. Rodrique said that the bid system is for production 3 years out, so if it is de-listed it would not go offline until 2015. In response to a question form Wagener, Mr. Rodrique confirmed that air pollution is not considered in the decision to de-list. He pointed out that the decreasing demand for peak power has resulted in decreasing payments to facilities like South Meadow thereby changing the economic calculus whereby they are now kept available.

Hall observed that it appears that South Meadows will not be required to upgrade to a cleaner burning fuel so the pollution burden will continue to be borne disproportionately by the Hartford neighborhood in which it is located. Hall asked if it is possible that the anticipated investments in energy conservation be targeted to benefit those who reside in the communities that now bear the pollution burdens of energy generation. Rodrique said that PA 11-80 includes conservation incentives for small businesses. Hartford could be a start point for that program. Hall said that investment in conservation measures for Hartford businesses could have a direct affect on the South Meadows neighborhood. Rodrigue said this is a good topic for future discussion among DEEP, Connecticut Light and Power and Hartford businesses and residents. He asked the Hartford residents who were present in the audience to think about the potential for targeting some of the conservation programs to that area, and invited them to contact him. Rodrique noted that although the old coal and petroleum-fueled power plants may be dirtier than other options, the power outages due to this year’s hurricane and snowstorm led to the worst air in the state because of the large number of small generators that took over. Members asked staff to obtain more information on that. Ms Babbidge added that it is important that improvements not compromise the reliability of the power grid.

Sherman asked if anticipated climate change has been taken into consideration in the demand projections. Ms. Babbidge said that even with more days over 100 degrees the demand for electricity is expected to be four percent lower.

Chair Wagner thanked the representatives from DEEP for appearing before the Council to explain how the plant at South Meadow fits into the larger electric generation picture for the state.

She then said she would like to return to the order of items on the agenda.

Hall said she had not seen notice of the opportunity to comment on the IRP. Chair Wagner said that it will be important for the Council to keep abreast of developments in this area. Wagener said that DEEP’s next step is development of the comprehensive energy plan, and the Connecticut Siting Council’s 10-year assessment is up for public comment now and it should be examined to see how it relates to the IRP.

Mattabassett Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade – Wagener reported on the Mattabassett Sewer plant expansion that had been discussed at previous Council meetings. He said that after the Council and the Department of Environmental Protection had called attention to shortcomings in the EIE for the proposed expansion, the Office of Policy and Management and DEEP agreed that the sewer expansion could not occur in areas that were identified on the state’s Plan of Conservation and Development as conservation areas. Only existing sewer service areas were approved for Cromwell; Cromwell would have to request a change to the state plan if it wants to expand into agricultural or conservation areas. In addition, Cromwell must implement the agricultural preservation program that it had committed to when it received a prior state grant. Wagener said that DEEP reportedly was improving its processes to avoid a repeat of this type of case, and members agreed to the importance of such improvements.

Executive Director's Report

Wagener began with an update on legislative action since the last meeting. He said the Environment Committee reported out the bill regarding outdoor wood burning furnaces with the technical improvements that had been recommended by the Council. He said that those changes included provisions that would keep in place state controls if federal EPA adopts regulations. It allows only the burning of clean wood or wood pellets and it allows both the towns and DEEP to act on complaints. He said the last provision stipulates that the complaint must be from an adjoining landowner and must be in writing. Unless this last provision is amended it would prohibit action in response to a landowner who is not adjoining but nevertheless affected, and from persons who wish to remain anonymous and even from a public official who happens to observe a violation. Members agreed that it was the merit of the complaint, not its source, that should trigger any possible enforcement action, and encouraged Wagener to work with DEEP and legislators on any necessary amendments.

Another bill, recommended by the Council, amends the state’s Open Space plan to require updating at least every five years and directs DEEP to set priorities for land conservation. It also directs the Commissioner of DEEP to consult with heads of state agencies to develop a strategy for preserving other state-owned lands with conservation value, and to recommend the best way to create a conserved lands registry.

The wetland training bill that was supported by the Council and by many other organizations met with opposition from the Council of Small Towns, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and from DEEP over concern that funds would not be available in the future to cover the cost of training. It was not reported out of committee. Wagener said that the incremental cost to expand basic training to all wetlands commissioners in all the towns would amount to no more that an additional dollar per application. Chair Wagner said the desire of businesses to appear before commissioners that are informed about the law they are charged to administer was ignored and attention should be called to this. Wagner said it was regrettable that a few thousand dollars would impede expansion of training, the most important activity of the DEEP wetlands program. Members agreed that the DEEP perhaps could be encouraged to request the modest sum for the 2014 budget cycle.

Wagener said that the pending legislation to transform remediation and brownfields programs postpones action to the January 2013 session.

He said he had only learned the day before of Bill 447 that deems cell towers to be consistent with state park and forest purposes.

Wagener said there were several bills that would affect existing environmental laws that did not succeed. A requirement that all environmental regulations be subject to a cost benefit analysis was not reported out of committee. The same fate befell a bill to would deem a permit approved if DEEP had not made a decision within 90 days. He said that a bill to limit last year’s liability protection for towns that allow recreation on their lands would soon have a public hearing.

Bill #343 was reported favorably by the Planning and Development Committee. It would change the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act to require parties seeking to intervene in a permit hearing to “demonstrate” unreasonable environmental damage; he said this is a stronger requirement than the current standard that they must “assert” such damage. Both Brooks and Hall said this could render forty years of case law irrelevant. Wagener said the bill also requires potential interveners to disclose their funding sources. There was considerable discussion.

Wagener mentioned two other controversial topics still under consideration. One is potential zoning restrictions on rebuilding in coastal flood prone areas. The other is the proposal to eliminate the Underground Storage Tank Reimbursement Fund. The Fund does not have sufficient money to meet the claims against it. Hall suggested that a better alternative would have been fund the removal and remediation of leaking tanks with a state loan program, secured by a property lien.  

Citizen Complaints

Jean deSmet, Ruth Karl, and Tulay Luciano presented a summary of their concerns, details of which had been mailed to the Council office previously, regarding the failure by UConn to comply with its agreement to relocate its short term hazardous waste facility. Sherman asked if, in light of his prior involvement in this issue, the Council thought he should recuse himself; the Council did not see a conflict of interest that would preclude him from participating in the discussion should he wish. The facility is located within the watershed of the Fenton River which eventually flows to the Willimantic Reservoir. The search for the new location was to commence in 2001. Delay by the University led to a situation where in 2008 it claimed there were no suitable alternatives. They stated that it appears to be the university’s position that it should stay where it is currently, and that will be the conclusion of the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) it is conducting. They made three suggestions: 1) remove the responsibility from UConn and give it to a neutral party, 2) eliminate UConn’s exemption from having to follow the regulations that all water companies in the state have to follow, 3) make it clear to UConn that in accord with prior agreements the current site is inappropriate for storage of hazardous materials and should not to be considered as a permanent location. They pointed out the legal requirement that the facility should be located as near as possible to the source of generation, which the current location is not. Chair Wagner said that staff will continue to investigate and report to the Council.

Wagener said that staff had received a number of other complaints and had begun investigating them. He will report further at the April meeting. 

Discussion of Annual Report Topics

Wagener referred the Council to a one page summary he sent before the meeting. It showed that with few exceptions most indicators had improved or were unchanged. Some measures of the health of Long Island Sound had declined. A decline in recycling was noted as well. Chair Wagner said this seems a surprise and she would like to know to what DEEP attributes it. Discussion of a whether there is a theme apparent in the data followed.

Chair Wagner asked for a motion to adjourn. It was made by Sherman and seconded by Hall. Adjournment was at 11:51 AM.