Geothermal Networks (S.252) - Jan 17, 2024

The Senate Natural Resources Committee reviewed S.252 on Wednesday, which was sponsored by four of the five Senators on the Committee. The bill would give the Public Utility Commission (PUC) authority to oversee the permitting, construction, and operation of “thermal energy” networks.

Senator Bray mentioned that this bill was presented to him by a constituent, which contributes to the general confusion around much of the language in this initial draft. As such, he says it’s up to the committee to “Make this our bill, our language” going forward. Additionally, Bray said at the end that he needed to speak with legislative council “offline” to discuss several changes that have been recommended but not reflected in what was discussed at this meeting, so right now the details surrounding this bill are quite vague.

Key points of interest/concern:

  • The bill would expand the right of eminent domain to municipalities in regard to the construction of geothermal energy.
  • Any right previously obtained usage rights by eminent domain, or by deed, to lay, construct, operate, or maintain buried lines or pipes for transmission of electricity or natural gas may also be used for transmission of thermal energy fluids and may be used without additional approval, amended deed, or additional compensation if the change does not significantly increase the burden or significantly alter the environmental impact of the use.
  • A municipality shall have the authority to construct, operate, set rates for, finance, and use eminent domain for a thermal energy network utility without a certificate of public good or approval by the PUC, in the same manner and to the same extent as its charter or the supply water or sewer service laws authorize the municipality to construct, operate, set rates for, finance, and use eminent domain.

Senator White said that in Hartford they are looking at a plan to use the wastewater treatment plant to be combined with a thermal network to provide a non-combustible heating source. She wondered if this bill allowed for that, or if it was limited to geo-thermal? Legislative Counsel did not think that it did, but suggested the Committee might look into including Hartford-like projects in the bill. White said she needed to learn more about how the Harford project would work if implemented.

The bill would require the PUC to (immediately?) issue interim rules, which may include authorizing pilot projects, and then to adopt final rules not later than July 1, 2025.

Legislative Counsel suggested that the implementation date may be aggressive; Bray agreed. 

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