September 27th, 2010

The Ups And Downs of Renewable Energy in Connecticut


“What’s the latest cleantech news from Connecticut?”

This past week I asked that question to a lot of smart people on my trip to Connecticut.  I attended three events in three days: 1) a Solar Connecticut member meeting, 2) a Solar PV certification training, and 3) a Geothermal heat pump certification course.  Here’s what I heard:

  • Last year a comprehensive energy bill passed the state house and senate, only to be vetoed by Governor Jody Rell because her advisers told her it would cost too much.  The bill would have been a huge win for the solar industry, so the group is watching to see who the new Governor is.  The group resolved to pass something in the coming year.

  • Senator John Fonfara, the biggest supporter of solar in the CT State Senate, said, “contrary to popular belief, not everybody’s supportive of progressive energy policy.  A lot of people think it will cost too much.  We need to be thinking differently about where we put our resources and how we communicate the importance of the bill in the coming session.”
  • Lobbyist Michael Dugan, a key figure in getting a solar energy bill through the House and Senate last year, gave the Solar CT members this advice, “Stay positive in all your communication.  Somebody who doesn’t agree with you now may come to your side down the road, but won’t if you’ve treated them badly.”  I thought that was good advice for life, too.
  • The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund has only spent 20% of the money they allocated for solar thermal projects.  Soon they will increase the incentive by 70% to ‘sweeten the pot’ because they’re on the hook to spend the money fast.
  • Northeast Utilities geothermal program is gaining popularity.  “The majority of new homes in Connecticut are putting geothermal in” according to a representative from Connecticut Light & Power.
  • The growth of the PV industry has slowed a bit, which has caused some big, national installers to exit the market temporarily.  Local contractors say projects are still happening, but the market has tightened as rebates have stepped down.

The trend I kept stumbling over was the fact that all the energy and debate are going into government and politics.  I’m someone who’s always avoided getting involved in policy, but it feels like you really can’t do that and stay relevant these days.  Any career changers I talk to lately, I’m urging them to look for policy and government positions that will put them in powerful positions as this phase of economic recovery plays out.

Interesting enough to warrant future trips to Connecticut, or should I try to stay more focused on Boston for GLD?

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Brian Hayden

About Brian Hayden

Brian Hayden founded HeatSpring Learning Institute in 2007. He's an accredited geothermal installer and creates technical training programs on geothermal and solar systems. HeatSpring has been featured in Business Week's "America's Top 25 Promising Social Entrepreneurs"