Proponents of an energy bill that caused quite a stir at the end of the legislative session gathered Wednesday to urge Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell to sign the bill and make it part of her legacy. But based on the frigid response from her spokesman, it looks like proponents may face an uphill battle.
“The Governor, the vast majority of legislators and the public were excluded from the closed-door discussions and meetings on this bill. The appropriate time to engage people has come and gone,” Rell spokesman Adam Liegeot said in an email.
Rell has expressed concerns about the bill, but hasn’t said whether she will veto it.
The often feuding co-chairs of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee were able to come to an agreement this year on several pieces of legislation that were combined into one bill during the last full week of the legislative session. The decision to combine all the energy legislation into one bill received criticism from special interest groups and Republican lawmakers who were told they could only make “technical” changes to the draft legislation during the days leading up to the debate.
The 126-page legislation package 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.
Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, defended the process Wednesday. She said everything included in the bill had been vetted at public hearings earlier in the year, adding that the bill “carefully selects the best ideas from both sides of the aisle and multiple pieces of earlier legislation.”
Rep. Sean Williams, the ranking Republican member of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee, said in a phone interview that he is encouraging Rell not to sign the bill. He called the process by which it was approved “deplorable” and said there’s no guarantee electricity rates will decrease.
“It’s a pipe dream,” Williams said. “All the legislature had to do was nothing and rates were going to go down.”
However, at least one of the state’s utility companies already had applied to the Department of Public Utility Control within the last several months for a rate increase.
Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, said for the first time since deregulation this bill directs state electric agencies contract for lower rates and sets a target of 15 percent reduction by mid-2012.
“We’ve always focused on capacity,” Fonfara said. “Never before have we required as a matter of policy in this state that we take steps to reduce rates.”
Nardello said the bill will help find out why Connecticut’s rates are among the highest in the country. Some lawmakers believe the state’s high rates are the result of high environmental standards which dictate that the state must buy from electricity generators who use cleaner fuels.
Even if the state doesn’t hit the 15 percent rate reduction target outlined in the bill, a 5 percent reduction represents a $6 decrease on people’s electric bills, Nardello said.
Aside from rates, both Nardello and Fonfara say the bill is “pro-jobs.”
Nardello said the bill could be a missed opportunity if Rell doesn’t sign it, because the state’s solar power industry will move to surrounding states like Massachusetts and New Jersey, which are focusing on that industry.
“If we don’t take the steps here in Connecticut, then what’s going to happen? Those industries will probably move to those areas and it will be years before we can get that back again,” Nardello said.
Simply put, “if you have a vested interest in keeping things the way that they are you’re going to be lobbying against this bill. If you’re making money on a flawed system you’re going to lobby against this bill. If you’re not in support of renewables you’re going to lobby against this bill,” said Nardello, who was surrounded by environmentalists, consumer advocates, and AARP members.
“This bill as much as anything is a pro-jobs bill, a pro-growth bill,” Fonfara said. “But you wouldn’t know it from listening to some of our friends who would have you believe otherwise.”
Part of the problem lies in the intricacies of the industry, which not only is quickly changing with the growth of renewable energy sources, but also is traded on the financial markets around the world.
“Energy as you all know is a complex subject. Solutions are equally complex and unfortunately don’t lend themselves to sound-byte answers or quick and easy outcomes. They’re difficult to explain and if done right can take years to see results,” Fonfara said.
By investing in clean energy such as solar, wind, hydro, and fuel cells, the bill will help sustain and grow a Connecticut-based renewable energy industry, Fonfara said.
“We need energy reform now and I urge the governor to sign this bill to accomplish that,” Fonfara said.