After a week of intense lobbying from utility companies, retailers, and environmentalists, the Senate passed the most sweeping overhaul of Connecticut’s energy policy since 1998 by a vote of 20 to 14 Tuesday. The vote, which was mostly along party lines, fell four votes short of a veto-proof majority.
An advocate of the competitive market created by deregulation in 1998, Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, said this bill levels the playing field for those who have not taken advantage of the competitive marketplace.
“Before this there’s been no opportunities for those that decided not to leave the nest,“ Fonfara said, referring to consumers who haven’t left big utility companies for smaller electric retailers that procure electricity with fewer restrictions.
But the consumer friendly aspects of the bill – which require electric retailers to supply consumers with a written contract, wear photo IDs, and only go door-to-door between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. – weren’t the biggest hang-up for lawmakers who opposed the bill.
The bill reorganizes the Department of Public Utility Control, mandates a 15 percent drop in electricity rates, sets goals for expanding solar power, and imposes new regulations on retailers.
Many couldn’t get over the reorganization of the Department of Public Utility Control and how the procurement division of the newly created Connecticut Energy and Technology Authority would operate. Lawmakers also raised concerns about its impact on ratepayers.
Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said the procurement bureau created by the 1998 legislation hasn’t been successful in creating competition until the last couple years.
“People know they have choice just at the same time we are were using subtle ways of taking people’s choices away,” Duff said. “I believe that that ends up hurting consumer choice.”
Duff ultimately voted against the bill even though he liked certain aspects like the code of conduct for retailers, increased investment in renewables, and the boiler replacement program.
Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, said he also was conflicted about the bill because he liked the investment in solar energy, but took issue with the “desire to dictate the way power is produced.”
The bill requires the DPUC to facilitate the generation of 30 megawatts of residential solar energy by 2021 and requires power generators to provide 25 megawatts of capacity through wind, 15 megawatts through hydro-electric, and 5 to 10 megawatts from other renewables.
A Monday memo to lawmakers from Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration raised “grave concerns” with aspects of the bill for the second time in the past few days as the legislation was being drafted.
Budget Director Robert Genuario and DPUC Commissioner Kevin DelGobbo said they had concerns about the legislation and estimated it could cost Connecticut Light and Power and United Illuminating ratepayers an additional $72 million.
“Secondly, we have serious concerns over the risks to ratepayers which we believe would result from the proposed procurement strategy in the legislation,” Genuario and DelGobbo wrote in this letter. The letter says the administration can accept a number of the bill’s provisions as “well intended,” but that provisions in the legislation pass the tipping point of placing Connecticut rate payers at risk for increased costs.
Proponents of the bill, which represents the first time the co-chairs of the legislature’s Energy and Technology have been able to agree on an energy bill of this magnitude, said those numbers are exaggerated since the bill caps many of the alternative energy incentives.
“With this legislation, Connecticut will move closer to a clean energy future that breaks our dependence on oil and fossil fuels, brings energy costs under control, and cuts global warming pollution,” Chris Phelps, Environment Connecticut program director, said. “It will result in over 300 megawatts of new solar power built over the course of the next decade. That’s enough solar to provide electricity to 100,000 homes.”
The bill now goes to the House.