Regulators approved more than $1 billion in state-directed power contracts on Wednesday, but not without expressing their doubts about whether some benefits of the clean, cheap electricity would accrue to Connecticut.
The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, in approving plans for a 20-megawatt solar farm in Sprague and a 250-megawatt wind farm in northern Maine, said that the Maine power will be distributed locally, rather than delivered to southern New England.
And environmentally, the regulators said, the clean wind power will benefit the Atlantic Ocean and Maine more than Connecticut ratepayers, who are paying for the power.
"The environmental effects … will primarily accrue to the citizens of sparsely populated Aroostook County, certain parts of Canada's Maritime Provinces, and the Atlantic Ocean," regulators said in their decision to approve the contracts.
On the electricity from Maine, regulators said, "Because of transmission limitations, it appears that the electricity generated by this project will remain exclusively or largely in Maine and not be delivered to Connecticut or elsewhere outside of Maine."
The state's plan to buy clean power at cheaper rates is by far the most important development in the state's effort to meet its renewable energy goals, which call for 20 percent of the state's energy load to come from clean sources by 2020.
Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating negotiated agreements to buy power from the projects, which are being developed by Heliosage and EDP Renewables North America.
Though electrons from the project will likely not leave Maine, the projects still will help Connecticut, said William Dornbos, the Connecticut director of Environment Northeast, an advocacy group.
"It's always important to remember that we participate in a regional electric grid," he said. "More wind power helps lower electricity costs in our regional wholesale electricity market by pushing more expensive resources like oil-fired power plants, outside that market."
The statute enabling the energy procurement, passed this summer by the General Assembly, gave the energy commissioner the authority to determine whether the contracts were in the interest of ratepayers, a question traditionally in the purview of state utility regulators.
In their decision Wednesday, the three commissioners — Arthur H. House, John W. Betkoski III and Michael A. Caron — explained that they were not asked to determine whether the contracts were in the best interest of ratepayers.
"The Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and not the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, determines whether the expenditure of ratepayer money for these Class I renewable power purchase agreements provides a net benefit to ratepayers," they said in their decision.