Report Shows Big Climate and Economic Benefits from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

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Environment Connecticut Research and Policy Center

Hartford, CT — Cutting carbon pollution from power plants can reduce the risk of global warming and provide economic benefit to local communities at the same time, according to a report released today by Environment Connecticut Research & Policy Center. The group urged Connecticut and other states to strengthen the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to cut pollution 5% annually and increase its economic benefits.

“We can cut carbon pollution and build a stronger economy —which is a win-win for Connecticut,” said Melanie Perl, Environment Connecticut Campaign Organizer. “We’re proving it every day.”

The report details how businesses and organizations of all types and sizes are benefiting from clean energy as a way to create new economic opportunities and to save money. At the same time, they are helping states to achieve their goals for reducing dangerous carbon pollution. Connecticut has a mandatory target of cutting emissions 80 percent by 2050 and has joined other states in a commitment to at least 35 percent cuts by 2030. The report comes as Connecticut officials discuss how to deliver on this promise.

“The benefits of RGGI are clear and proven for Connecticut. The program has created local jobs and invested in our communities, all while reducing the impacts of fossil fuels on our health and environment.  It’s the best economic and environmental win-win out there” said Emily Lewis, Acadia Center.

The report highlights seven cities, businesses and institutions across the Northeast that have made groundbreaking progress in energy efficiency and renewable energy that dramatically reduce their contributions to global warming, while also helping their bottom lines. These projects were supported in part by revenue from RGGI – a program that caps carbon pollution from power plants and requires them to pay for the right to emit pollution. Much of the revenue is then invested in clean energy programs.

“RGGI is one of the great climate success stories. Since the program was developed a decade ago, it’s spurred new clean energy projects in Connecticut, cut air pollution that hurts our health and the climate, and lowered energy costs for families,” said Leah Schmalz, program director for Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “But that is not where the story ends: we know that sharper reductions in climate change-causing emissions are needed, and that the potential for deeper energy efficiency programs in Connecticut is substantial. RGGI is a proven investment that would not only help our state meet its climate commitments, but would also deliver an economy where green jobs are abundant and families can thrive.”

In Connecticut, the report highlights how the Children’s Medical Center in Hartford upgraded its cooling, heating and lighting systems, saving $23,000 per year on electricity. The project prevents 140 metric tons of carbon pollution per year – comparable to the emissions of 30 passenger cars.

“The public health impacts of climate change are one of the most pressing issues of our time.  Rising levels of ozone and particulate pollution cause exacerbations of asthma, respiratory illness, diminished lung function and risk of premature death. Extreme heat is linked to increased hospital admissions for cardiovascular, respiratory and cerebrovascular events and death.  Between 1999-2009, 7,800 deaths were caused by extreme heat.  These are just a few of the serious health impacts of a changing climate and children, the elderly and other vulnerable populations are at the highest risk” stated Anne Hulick, RN, MS, JD, CT Clean Water Action and Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments.

Other projects covered in the report include SolarCity’s “GigaFactory” in Buffalo, New York, which will become the largest solar panel factory in the Western Hemisphere when it comes online in 2017. The company expects to create 3,000 jobs in Buffalo over the next decade. In addition, Hunt Country Vineyards in New York installed 300 solar panels on its wineries, meeting 70 percent of its electricity needs and cutting pollution by as much as 3,000 cars emit annually.

The towns of Swampscott and Wenham in Massachusetts installed energy-efficient street lighting, saving the towns more than $100,000 per year, and preventing as much carbon pollution as contained in 28,000 gallons of gasoline.

Smuttynose Brewery in New Hampshire installed new, energy-efficient brewing equipment, saving more than $1 million in energy costs annually and preventing carbon pollution equivalent to that would be produced by driving a car for almost 13 million miles.

Oxford Networks in Lewiston, Maine, used funding generated by revenue from dirty power plants to upgrade its cooling systems – saving as much as $5,000 per year. This project was facilitated by Efficiency Maine, which in 2015 helped the state reduce its energy use by the equivalent of 26 million gallons of oil.

“In every facet of our economy, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is working,” said Melanie Perl. “Whether you are a child suffering from asthma or a business that manufactures clean, energy-efficient electrical systems, this program is helping everyone in significant ways while protecting our climate for generations to come.

The projects highlighted in the report are just the beginning when it comes to potential to use energy more efficiently, and to generate more of our energy from pollution-free resources. Offshore wind energy alone could meet the electricity needs of the East Coast five times over, with zero pollution.

“We could power our whole economy with 100 percent renewable energy,” said Melanie Perl. “Governor Malloy should double the strength of RGGI to limit carbon pollution and accelerate clean energy deployment so that we can see more of these success stories.”

Officials from Connecticut and other Northeastern states are currently undertaking a review of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and are expected to propose changes to the program by the end of 2016. Advocates are calling for the states to double the benefits of the program by doubling the pollution reduction goals through 2030. That would result in an annual 5 percent cut in allowed carbon emissions from power plants in the region.

“The clean energy revolution is happening faster than anyone could have imagined even 10 years ago” said Melanie Perl. “We’re proving every day that clean energy works. Now it’s time for Governor Malloy to show that he is serious about meeting Connecticut’s goal for cutting pollution and to double down on our progress.”