It wasn’t a silent spring on the energy front; the General Assembly passed the first comprehensive energy bill in 30 years.
“These are things we know we should have been doing,” said state Sen. Gayle Slossberg, a Democrat representing Orange, Milford, and West Haven in the 14th Senate District.
The massive bill, SB 1, aims to jolt Connecticut’s energy policy, lower electricity costs, and push the state to lead in clean technology. It creates a new Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, DEEP. And unlike the 2010 energy bill Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed, this bill will get Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature.
“This legislation has multiple benefits for policy makers and for ratepayers – positioning us to bring down the high cost of energy, as well as bolstering job growth and innovation in our renewable energy sector,” said Malloy in a written statement.
However, many of the measures that directly affect consumers won’t go into effect until October.
“We’ve been very invested in energy issues and for a little state not to have had any comprehensive plan made no sense. It was as if we had been broken up into 159 little fiefdoms,” Lori Brown, executive director for Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, said. “Considering all the intricacies of the bill I can say overall we are tentatively happy with it. It’s many steps in the right direction.”
However, it’s not likely the bill would have passed had it not been for the work of state Rep. Vickie Nardello, a Democrat representing Cheshire, Bethany, and Prospect in the 89th House District and state Sen. John Fonfara, a Democrat representing Hartford and Wethersfield in the 1st Senate District. The lawmakers chair their respective energy committees.
“We are clearly moving to cleaner energy, energy efficiency and renewable energy, and have successfully balanced our energy needs in a way that recognizes the impact on rate payers,” said Nardello in a written statement. “We have included goals for lowering rates in all aspects of our planning process.”
Many also credit state Sen. Kevin Witkos, a Republican representing Avon and Canton in the 8th Senate District with helping shepherd the bill through.
“It was a bi-partisan effort all the way. If a steamroller is coming down the street you can either jump on or jump in front. Most people decided to jump on,” said Mike Trahan, executive director of Solar Connecticut, Inc., an association of 50 solar businesses.
As such, the bill pleases Trahan.
“Its biggest strength is in its long term commitment to energy policy, something the state has not had for a long time, at least not in my recent memory,” Trahan said. “Most importantly we feel we have an ally in the governor’s office.”
Effective Oct. 1, consumers wanting to replace old furnaces and burners will be able to do so with a new program. A home energy audit is required for eligibility. Condominium associations will also be eligible for energy efficiency programs come Oct. 1.
It will also try to get new renewable energy projects and try and give consumers more protection should they choose to switch to competitive electricity suppliers.
And aside from introducing a Code of Conduct for suppliers, the state will have more flexibility in how it purchases power, said state Rep. T.R. Rowe, a Republican representing Trumbull in the 123rd House District.
The bill also makes a Clean Energy Finance & Investment Authority. This will be charged with leveraging private capital for clean energy projects.
Whether the state will attract private capital is another matter, particularly since many lawmakers called the governor’s budget anti-business.
But Chris Phelps, program director for Environment Connecticut, said the state hasn’t much choice. One, it has the highest electric costs in the nation after Hawaii. Two, the state can’t risk falling behind the green industry.
“In reality clean energy technology is a growth area. This is where our economy is going, this is what will create jobs,” Phelps said. “We’ve got to catch that wave.”
Cutting costs depends both on reducing consumption through efficiency, as well as mitigating volatility of rates. It also depends on how Connecticut will deal with buying power and reusable energy.
One lawmaker who voted for the bill said consumer’s costs wouldn’t decline soon.
“Last year’s bill was an abomination,” said state Rep. Larry Miller, a Republican representing Shelton and Stratford in the 122nd House District. “This bill is a very complicated bill but I voted for it because we need to do something. I’m not sure we’ll see a quick reduction in the bill because we subsidize so much through the electric bill.”
Miller said he knows the new DEEP aims to save money, streamline the permitting process, and unify the energy policy. But he worries it will mirror the DEP, an agency he deems ineffective.
“DEP is not my favorite,” Miller said. “They’re a bunch of liberal tree huggers in that department. They’re asleep up there. They’re over doing it going after petty stuff. They’re worried about sinkers that break off in the sound.”
Miller also wants Connecticut to stop subsidizing the solar industry.
He won’t find any quarrel there.
“It’s helpful to kick start an industry but we want to get off incentives as quickly as possible,” Trahan said. “First it’s rate payers money, and second, it’s difficult to run a business when the government has such a big role in it.”
According to environmental and energy groups, solar energy is getting competitive. Indeed, General Electric predicts it will compete with fossil fuels within five years.
Right now, a total system would cost homeowners between $8,000 and $12,000. State subsidies push the price down to between $4,000 and $6,000. And the system generally pays for itself in about six years, Trahan said.
“It’s got positive goals, it will switch us over to more reusables,” said state Rep. Paul Davis, a Democrat representing Milford, Orange, and West Haven in the 117th House District.