To protect ecosystem, improve balance on critical regulatory panel –

Connecticut law requires the state toreduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percentfrom 2001 levels by the year 2050 and to do itwithout discouraging industry or weakening the state's economy. Intermediate goals, including a 45 percent reduction in the next 10 years, are just as ambitious.

The state's Comprehensive Energy Strategy wisely recognizes, however,that in an ecosystem nothing stands alone.Carrying outthe mandaterequires a string of different public and private tactics that willuse energy more efficiently; generate it with fewergreenhouse gas emissions;andfoster elements that balance outemissions.

Energy and the environment are naturallycompeting interests, butone environmental solution can also be the bane ofanother. It is perilously easy to undercut the balance while attempting to make progress in cutting emissions.

To provide expertise on what could happen to an ecosystem is whythe Connecticut Siting Council is statutorily required to have two qualified ecologists on the board. The council's approval is needed for locating "siting" electric generating, transmissionand storage facilities.

Right now the board has two vacancies and one qualified ecologist. By law, the governor appoints five "public members" to the board, among them the two ecologists. Gov. Ned Lamont has yet to appoint at least one more. Energy production proposals are coming in thick and fast, however, and some may cause harm out of proportion to their benefits. The council needs all the expertise it can muster.

Solar panel field siting proposals, in particular,have become a significant subject for the council's agenda. The council has just received a request to reopen a proposal from Greenskies for solar paneling on Oil Mill Road in Waterford,which it denied in 2018.The citizen environmentalist group Save the River-Save the Hills, has fought the proposal, which would clear 75 acres of woodland for 45,976 panels under the latest version.

An East Lyme property ownersued a Greenskies subsidiary over "virtual clearcutting" and siltation of his property and local streams. A member of the Niantic River Watershed Committeetold TheDay last fall that expertise was lacking in the review. Two more eastern Connecticut proposals are coming up. Quinebaug Solar LLC has asked to reopen its application to build a massive 50-megawatt solar voltaic field on 561 acresof 29 privately owned properties in Canterbury and Brooklyn. A much smaller, 1.95-megawatt proposal for 13 acres offShort Hills Road in Old Lyme has caught the attention of environmentalists, who want the siting council and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to hear their viewpoints.

Michael W. Klemens, a seven-year former member of the siting council board, has been sounding alarms about the environmental impact of solar fields when there is clear-cutting as in East Lyme and potentially in Old Lyme and Waterford but even when the site is largely open fields. He asks why the state does not seek to to put such developments along highways, for instance, or in other developed areas where the drainage and habitats are already artificial. It's a good question, and one that the siting council should be considering when asked for approvals.

When the council denied Greenskies'Waterford petition in 2018, it gave three reasons: impact on water quality, storm drainage and wildlife, including birds. What the council will decide about the Oil Mill Road site should dependnot only onwhat it can allow but also on what it should allow, in the big picture.And in a development as huge as the Quinebaug proposal, the effects would inevitably alter the ecology of a pristine part of Connecticut, a tiny state that can't afford to be giving pristineaway.

Above all, don't make things worse.Governor Lamont, appoint one if not two more ecologists to the siting council, and hear their expertise along with that of the engineers and developers.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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To protect ecosystem, improve balance on critical regulatory panel -

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