Gov. Dannel Malloy stood by 16 governors from blue and red states alike last week when he signed a bipartisan clean energy accord.
By signing the Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future on Feb. 16, these governors committed themselves to broad environmental goals such as diversifying energy generation, encouraging clean transportation and modernizing energy infrastructure. Malloy will meet with the other members of the coalition, a group comprised of 12 other Democrats and four Republicans, in the following weeks to establish concrete goals for each state, said Robert Cowin, director of government affairs at the nonprofit science advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists. Cowin added that the agreement is a breakthrough because the governors argue for clean energy using economic justifications rather than on the basis of climate change, which is politically contentious.
“It is refreshing to hear a message from these governors, many of which are Republican, that they see a way of getting down the path of clean energy, not traditional fossil fuel generation,” Cowin said.
Malloy’s announcement pointed to the economic potential of clean energy as well as the need to mitigate carbon emissions. On the West Coast, California Gov. Edmund Brown’s announcement focused almost exclusively on the need to mitigate climate change.
Meanwhile, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, did not mention climate change when he announced his membership in the coalition. He instead discussed Nevada’s energy-producing potential.
“I remain committed to pursue policies that will allow Nevada to continue to lead the nation in renewable energy production, energy conservation and the exportation of energy,” Sandoval said in a news release last week.
Brown said in his press conference in California last week that the accord did not mention climate change because the group of governors has not yet arrived at a consensus on the topic. He added that he hopes the governors will collaborate on a profitable project that mitigates climate change, such as creating a regional power grid for renewable energy.
In the past few years, several factors have combined to make clean energy more profitable for producers. The global market for clean energy should expand following the 2015 Paris Agreement, where countries committed to holding the average global temperature two degrees Celsius below preindustrial levels through independent initiatives, Cowin said. Governors in those 17 states will profit from that new demand by investing in the establishments needed to supply that energy, he added.
Trends in the development of clean energy also contribute to a strong economic justification for solar energy, UCS Senior Energy Analyst Jeremy Richardson said. The cost of producing solar energy has declined in the last few years to compete with the low cost of generating fossil fuels, Richardson said. He added that the federal government’s extension of tax credits for clean energy research contributed to this development.
The governors released the accord exactly one week after the Supreme Court ruled that President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan is unconstitutional. Though Brown said in a press conference that he signed the accord to show that states could encourage clean energy despite decisions at the federal level, it did not make reference to the president’s plan.
Though market forces encourage clean energy, Cowin said, political opposition to Obama’s act and the Court’s decision present formidable opposition to clean energy.
“Frankly, I think Congress and the states could do more,” Cowin said. “I would caution about being too excited. [The governors’ accord] is certainly a positive sign, but the devil is really in the action that should follow.”
As a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Connecticut has supported Obama’s recent clean energy act and has set more stringent goals than the ones in the president’s plan, Richardson said. Connecticut is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below the 2001 level of 46.25 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050, but Obama’s Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Cowin added that Connecticut is one of the few states now facing the damages of climate change. Bridgeport and several other less affluent towns on the Connecticut shore suffer from tidal flooding, sea level rise and storm surges, he said.
“All of these bring damages to commerce and property, real issues that are not in other states yet,” Cowin said. “That allows the leadership of Connecticut to really take a leadership role on climate, not just in clean energy but also in preparedness, adaptation and resilience.”
Malloy was sworn in as Connecticut governor in 2011.
Sara Tabin contributed reporting.