Republican Gov. M. Rell vetoed an energy reform bill Tuesday that caused a significant amount of controversy as it weaved its way through the process in the waning days of the legislative session.
The bill reorganized the Department of Public Utility Control, sought a 15 percent drop in electricity rates, set goals for expanding solar power, created a low-income electricity rate, and imposed new regulations on retailers.
In her veto message Rell objected first to the content of the bill and second to the process.
“The legislation, as well-intentioned as it is, would likely result in higher utility bills for consumers and, at time when taxpayers simply cannot afford bigger government, creates another state bureaucracy,” Rell said in a press release.
Proponents of the bill claimed it would reduce energy costs and spark the creation of a renewable energy industry in the state, but Rell felt these claims were “eerily reminiscent of the claims made about the electric industry deregulation bill, which was presented some years ago as a panacea for Connecticut’s energy problem.”
The goal of reducing electricity rates by 15 percent is an “unproven” claim, Rell said. “The bill does not specify how the reduction is to be achieved or which component of the rates will be reduced,” Rell wrote in her veto message.
Sen. John Fonfara, co-chairman of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee, said this is the first time the state has asked the DPUC to look at finding ways to lower rates, instead of just considering how to keep the lights on.
“As startling as that may sound,” Rell’s conclusion is simply “misleading and inaccurate,” Fonfara said in a phone interview Tuesday evening.
As far as the process is concerned, Rell criticized the drafting of the legislation and the hour that it was passed. Republican lawmakers complained they were left out of the process, while Fonfara and his co-chairwoman argue otherwise.
“For the governor to imply the process was not transparent is not accurate,” Fonfara said.
Rell said legislators were denied the opportunity for meaningful input into the bill that was pulled together at the last minute.
Aside from the content and the process, Rell said she liked some of the items in the bill, including the increased investment in the solar industry.
“I applaud, for example, the provisions that enhance current incentive programs for growth of renewable energy investments and industry in Connecticut, primarily in solar photovoltaic technology, by subsidizing rates for solar-produced electricity,” Rell said in her veto message. “Proponents expect these provisions to create 1,000 jobs in the next decade. The estimated cost to ratepayers over the life of the new solar programs, however, is nearly $1.4 billion. So while this is a laudable goal, it is simply not the right time to make an investment of this magnitude.”
Fonfara said if Rell or her administration believes that then they didn’t read the bill.
He said the solar portion of the bill was capped. “If she’s representing that that’s her reason for vetoing it then it’s just inaccurate.” He said Rell was just parroting the accusations of the opposition.
Fonfara said he has been encouraged by the support for this bill since its passage and he will encourage supporters to focus their efforts on lawmakers that voted against the bill. He said the fight is not over and he is hoping for a veto override within the coming weeks.
The two Democratic candidates for governor, Dannel Malloy and Ned Lamont, have also embraced the legislation and called Rell’s “shortsighted” and a “mistake.”