(Updated) Environmentalists and small businesses are hopeful that since the state doesn’t have to borrow as much money as it initially expected when it passed the budget last year that it will restore some of the $28.5 million it planned on taking annually from the Energy Conservation and Load Management Fund.
So far the state doesn’t have plans to restore any portion of the competitive transmission assessment, which shows up as an additional charge on everyone’s electricity bills. The CTA or stranded cost fee was supposed to sunset this January until lawmakers and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell agreed to continue a portion of the fee to pay back the bulk of the more than $650 million borrowing the state plans on doing.
But Sen. Eileen Daily, co-chairwoman of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, confirmed Monday that the committee plans on raising a bill which restores a portion of the Energy Conservation and Load Management Fund. She said the state hasn’t actually gone out to the market yet to sell the Economic Recovery Revenue Bonds so there’s still time to change how the bonds will be paid back over the next eight years, including reducing the amount of money it takes from the fund.
The fund helps pay contractors to visit homes and businesses to conduct energy audits then figure out how to make the structures more energy efficient. It also helps residents receive rebates for purchases of energy efficient appliances.
“We are heartened by the attention that is being paid to restoring the energy efficiency funds,” said Charles Rothenberger, staff attorney for Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “In a survey we conducted last year, 95 percent of efficiency and clean energy business owners said they participate energy fund programs. Nearly half of those surveyed said the energy efficiency and clean energy funds were ‘critical’ to their success, and over half were concerned that cuts would force them to shutter the business, move out of state, or lay off workers.”
Jesse Stratton of Environment Northeast estimates that taking a portion of the Energy Conservation and Load Management Fund to pay off the debt will cost the state 1,120 jobs a year. She said restoring the money for the fund will help maintain jobs in the state.
Daily said she recently had an energy audit of her home done and the man who came to do it had recently been laid off because of the decision to take 35 percent of the fund. Fortunately he was hired back, and hopefully the state can reverse the employment trend for these contractors and restore a portion of the fund, she said.
Restoring at least a portion of this fund “will send a strong signal to the market,” that the state plans on continuing its commitment to this fund, Daily said.
But environmentalists will be arguing for the full amount of funding to be restored.
“The energy efficiency fund must be made whole before the diversions approved last year wreak havoc on the state’s efficiency programs,” Rothenberger said.
But it wasn’t the first time the state raided the fund and some contractors suspect it won’t be the last.
Chris Halpin, president of Celtic Energy, said that last year was the third time the state raided the fund creating volatility and uncertainty in his industry.
The fund is used to pay for up to 40 percent of certain energy efficient projects and helps fund energy audits of homes and businesses, which in turn are able to lower their energy costs. The recent threat of raiding the fund caused several contractors to lay off electricians, Halpin said.
“People are scared the money is taken and they will look to it again to fill a $3 billion plus budget deficit,” Halpin said Monday. “It just doesn’t have the emotional draw as other things in the budget, but it’s the best economic development tool the state has to help businesses reduce costs and make a profit.”
Halpin, whose company does very little work in Connecticut these days, said restoring money to this fund could help unemployed electricians, plumbers, and contractors get back to work.
“I’m bringing in money from other states because I can’t count on our legislators to keep their word,” Halpin said. “It‘s unfortunate they think it‘s a Rainy Day fund.”
But Gov. Dannel Malloy said he gets the anxiety Halpin and other contractors feel.
“I was critical of the idea of borrowing the monies in that fashion and therefore potentially crippling our ability to make appropriate and timely investments in load reduction by conservation,“ Malloy said Monday.
However, he was careful not to commit completely to the restoration of the funds.
“Having said that everything’s on the table, nothing’s off the table yet. We’ll have to do another level of analysis,” Malloy said. “I have to admit to you I’m not crazy of the proposal that came out of the governor’s recommendations last year…so we’ll take that into consideration.”