Student activists protest in Hartford and demand state action to cancel natural gas plant in Killingly

Stephen Singer, Hartford Courant

A couple of dozen youthful protesters angry at Connecticut’s steps toward approval of a natural gas plant in Killingly took their complaints to the Capitol Wednesday, demanding the project be halted.

Environmental activists staged a “die-in,” lying down on the icy ground at the edge of Bushnell Park in Hartford to call attention to their opposition to the 650-megawatt natural gas-fired electric generating plant. They say Gov. Ned Lamont and Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes are undermining their own clean energy policies by permitting the Killingly plant.

“Do you want the plant to be a stain on your legacy?” asked Mitchel Kvedar, a UConn student and a leader of Sunrise Connecticut, a climate action group of college and high school students.

Shutting down the plant isn’t simple: New England energy policy restricts state officials and the region’s grid operator operating in complicated energy markets.

Will Healey, spokesman for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said pending permits are required by law and officials respect the concerns of opponents. Dykes is calling for New England’s grid operator, ISO-New England, to revamp energy markets to bring them more in line with clean energy goals, he said.

ISO has said states control power plant construction and that the objective of New England’s competitive wholesale markets is to select the lowest-cost, most efficient resources to provide reliable power.

Lamont has issued an executive order requiring the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to analyze and recommend strategies to achieve a 100 percent zero carbon target for the electric sector by 2040.

His administration also has expanded Connecticut’s reliance on wind power, upping the megawatts of off-shore wind for the state’s energy portfolio. And it’s seeking legislative approval of plans to join with Massachusetts and Rhode Island to establish a program designed to reduce vehicle emissions.

Yet state officials have issued permits to push plans along for the power plant, including an air discharge permit and a water quality certificate for impacts to wetlands. In addition, a public hearing solicited comments for a permit for sewer discharge.

Connecticut also has temporarily determined that a 2.8-mile natural gas pipeline sought by Eversource Energy has “modest and largely temporary” impacts on wetlands and waterways. A final decision on a water quality certificate is expected after Jan. 21.

Developer NTE Energy said that until renewable energy storage is more broadly available commercially, the Killingly plant will step in during the absence of sunlight and wind. It also defends the plant as a cleaner energy source that would replace older units that have higher emissions.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal told the protesters gathered on the edge of Bushnell Park that he was an early supporter of the Green New Deal, a package of proposals intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst consequences of climate change while also addressing economic inequality and racial injustice.

“We’re going to take it piece by piece. It’s a job creator. It’s an environment saver,” he said in an interview.

Opponents say a Green New Deal would cost trillions of dollars to establish a low-carbon electricity grid, a net zero emissions transportation system and social programs for expanded health care and “green housing.”

Stephen Singer can be reached at ssinger@courant.com.