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Mix of progress and lags in CT environmental goals, report shows

Solar panels are pictured on Wednesday, April 5, 2023, at the Keene wastewater treatment facility in Swanzey, N.H.
Raquel C. Zaldívar
New England News Collaborative
Solar panels are pictured on Wednesday, April 5, 2023, at the Keene wastewater treatment facility in Swanzey, N.H.

A new report assessing the state of Connecticut’s environment says solar installations rose in 2022, which is helping to lower carbon emissions. But the report found those same solar installations are also complicating some efforts to conserve agricultural land.

In 2022, just over 650 acres of state agricultural land were preserved, according to the new report from the state Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). That’s less than the year before and what the state set aside 10 years ago in 2012.

Part of the slowdown is attributable to the conflict between preserving open spaces and developing zero-carbon solar energy projects, said Keith Ainsworth, CEQ’s acting council chair.

“That's a double edged sword,” Ainsworth said. “We're putting in a lot of solar generating facilities. But they are largely being placed on the easy places to put them, which is farm fields, and in core forest.”

That can remove climate mitigation opportunities to store carbon in soil or to collect rain after heavy storms.

The report explores both progress and lags in various climate and conservation goals. Parts of Connecticut's environment – such as air quality and water quality – are doing better overall than a decade ago. But the council said in its report that climate change could undo years of progress in any area.

As part of their recommendations, the CEQ is advising state lawmakers to expand existing forest and farmland protections.

“We're trying to protect those legacy farms that are now marginally used [and] underutilized, but have potential for the future, which we'd like to preserve,” Ainsworth said.

According to the report, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture is not on track to meet its long-term goal of preserving 130,000 acres of agricultural land.

The group also recommended that more local action is needed to limit greenhouse gas emissions in both energy and transportation.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla Savitt focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. Michayla has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that she was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.

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