August 27, 2012

Deciding CT’s energy future

Photo / Pablo Robles
Photo / Pablo Robles
As manager for renewable energy contracts at Hartford-based Northeast Utilities, Christie Bradway will dole out $816 million in renewable energy credits to Connecticut installations over the next 21 years.
Photo / Pablo Robles
In addition to doling out CL&Pís portion of the ZREC/LREC program, Bradway works to set up renewable power installations throughout NUís territory, including in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Christie Bradway sits atop a $1 billion pile of cash, preparing to forge how Connecticut generates electricity.

Bradway is the manager of renewable power contracts for Northeast Utilities. More than anyone, Bradway picks the winners and losers in Connecticut's renewable energy credit program.

“I call her queen of the ZRECs,” said David Goldberg, spokesman for the state Clean Energy Finance & Investment Authority.

The competitive program is divided into two categories: zero emissions renewable energy credits, or ZRECs, and low emissions renewable energy credits, or LRECs. Through the program, Connecticut's two major electric utilities — NU subsidiary Connecticut Light & Power of Berlin and United Illuminating of New Haven — enter into 15-year contracts to buy certificates from renewable energy installations, providing the energy producers with a steady source of income.

With that income, renewable energy installations are more affordable, and financing is easier to obtain. Not only will the contracts benefit the individual businesses receiving the awards, but the selected renewable technologies — solar, wind, fuel cells, hydro — benefit from increased installation and production, helping to decrease costs and increase research and development.

“There will be more renewable generation in the state as the result of this program,” Bradway said.

The ZREC portion of the program doles out $720 million over 21 years. CL&P and UI will enter into $8 million worth of annual 15-year contracts every year for six years.

The LRECs are worth $300 million over 20 years as CL&P and UI enter into $4 million worth of annual 15-year contracts every year for five years.

The $1.02 billion in ZRECs and LRECs is split 80/20 between CL&P and UI, leaving Bradway in charge of $816 million worth of credits.

“I am the face and the voice of the program,” Bradway said. “But I don't do this alone at all. We've got a wonderful team working on it.”

The ZREC/LREC program was created by the Connecticut General Assembly in 2011 as part of an energy policy reform bill that also created the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection.

Bradway first heard about ZRECs and LRECs at a Hartford business breakfast in 2011 where incoming DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty spoke about the new changes in state policy. She drove back to her office in Berlin and asked her boss who would be in charge of administering the new program.

“My boss told me to keep track of it,” Bradway said. “It was my first awareness of how much interest in the public there is for this program.”

ZRECs and LRECs have attracted renewable energy companies from around the globe, hoping to land one of the contracts. Renewable Resources Energy Solutions of Scotland choose to locate its North American headquarters in Stamford because of the ZREC program.

“You've got some extremely aggressive rebates that will get the economy moving and get everybody thinking about solar,” said Thomas Loredo, U.S. operational manager for Renewable Resources. “The future is here as far as renewable energy.”

The competitive program is designed so Bradway and other decision makers at CL&P and UI can't pick winners and losers based on their personal preferences.

For the medium and large ZREC installations and all the LREC installations, the applicants are selected based on their lowest proposed price for their renewable energy credits. The statute was written this way to guarantee the most projects would be accepted for the money allocated each year.

For the small ZREC installations, the size of the credits is based on the average amount of the medium ZREC award, and the small ZRECs will be rolled out a on a first-come, first-served basis.

Bradway and the CL&P team held the first solicitation for the LRECs and large and medium ZRECs in May. They received 296 applications for the ZRECs and tentatively picked 84 winners representing 28 megawatts of renewable generation.

Bradway can't disclose the winners or the type of renewable picked until the contracts are signed and filed with state regulators.

Administering the program involves much more than picking winners and losers among the applicants. Bradway and the folks at CL&P and UI took the statute and wrote a program that was user-friendly and implementable for the utilities' customers, since the $1.02 billion will be recovered on ratepayers' bills.

“The statute often speaks at a much higher level than the program in practice,” Goldberg said. “Christie and her team really did a great job in creating the program.”

The ZREC popularity in Connecticut has made Bradway a hot commodity in other states that see a model to increase renewable generation. She has been getting calls to speak at events in and out of New England. Unlike other REC models, Connecticut's calls for applicants to be competitive in their pricing; awards a consistent level of financing for 15 years; and doesn't rely on one source of power, such as solar.

“People want to see if this results in more renewable generation coming online in Connecticut,” Bradway said.

In addition to her work on the ZREC program, Bradway is a CL&P town liaison with Willington. In the case of a weather or power outage emergency, Bradway goes to Willington and acts as a conduit for communication between utility and government officials.

Bradway and her husband of 13 years, Brian Bradway, have a 9-year-old son, Andrew. “He keeps me really busy. He plays basketball, football and baseball,” Christie Bradway said.

Bradway got her start at NU in 2000, one year after she and Brian married. For nine years, she worked in the environmental management group, eventually becoming manager of environmental strategy, developing NU's position on climate change and renewable power.

In 2009, she took over the company's metering operations, but in February 2010 she took over covering NU's responsibilities toward the renewable portfolio standards in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, buying and selling renewable energy credits.

“There is a lot of growth going on in the renewable area,” Bradway said. “The industry has developed and matured.”

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