RENEW Northeast submitted testimony to the Connecticut legislature’s environmental committee in favor of amending a law passed last year that is having a chilling effect on developers seeking new sites for utility-scale solar projects in Connecticut. Under the law, the Department of Agriculture is able to force a utility-scale solar energy project into the more expensive and lengthy Siting Council permit process designed for the evaluation of large (over 65 megawatts) fossil-fueled plants. To achieve Connecticut’s environmental, renewable and economic development goals, a solar energy project should not face a riskier and costlier permitting process compared to smaller projects (65 megawatts or less) to be fueled by natural gas or oil, or a permanent housing or commercial development.
Utility-scale solar projects provide economic benefits to host communities, including much needed new tax revenue streams, that often exceed hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Utility-scale solar does not need services or other forms of investment from the municipality. These solar projects create many short-term construction jobs and several full-time positions once the projects are operational.
Land payments for utility-scale solar help farmers diversify their revenue stream and alleviate the pressure to sell off the land, which may be slated for more permanent forms of development. Connecticut has many competing land uses, and residential and commercial development take up a large proportion of the state’s developable land. Even under these pressures, the most recent (2012) U.S. Census of Agriculture reveals agricultural land in Connecticut has actually increased by nearly 80,000 acres since 2002 – from 357,154 acres in 2002 to 436,539 acres ten years later. Unlike other types of development, solar is a temporary use of land. Site reclamation can occur as solar projects come offline and removed from the land. New solar developments and university research are also offering proof that solar arrays and agriculture can exist concurrently.