The 190 page energy bill, which proponents say will lower electricity costs while increasing investments in renewables, passed the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee Tuesday by a vote of 14 to 4.
The bill is similar to legislation which passed the General Assembly last year, but was vetoed by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell. This year proponents of the bill believe it has a better chance of becoming law with Gov. Dannel Malloy at the helm this year, but opposition is expected to be fierce.
Opponents say lowering electricity and investing in renewable energy is almost an oxymoron because the cost of those renewables is so much higher than traditional forms of energy.
The renewable which receives the most support in the legislation is solar.
Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, said the only difference this year is how the credits to the solar industry are treated. She said they depreciate in value over five years, instead of 10 years making them less generous.
But opponents of the bill say the solar credits are still too generous and come at the expense of other renewables, including ones that can be purchased outside of the state at a lower cost.
Rep. Len Greene, R-Seymour, said he’s concerned about the legislature trying to pick a winner.
“I was concerned about the fact that the legislature is trying to dictate what would be the best solution down the road,” Greene said.
The concern was shared by Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, who used to be ranking Republican member of the committee. He said Daniel Esty, the newly appointed Environmental Protection Commission, often says he thinks the market should decide which renewables succeed in the marketplace and which fail. Williams said he agrees with Esty on that issue. He said he doesn’t think the legislature should be picking solar as the renewable energy winner.
Rep. Dan Carter, R-Bethel, said he’s also concerned that solar will cost too much and will not, as the legislation says, help reduce the costs of electricity. Connecticut pays the highest electrical rates in the continental United States.
But Nardello assured Carter that they looked at the costs of everything in the bill and they know what the cost will be to the ratepayer. She said they do believe in the end the ratepayer will end up being ahead of the game.
“I wouldn’t bring a bill to you that I did not have a total belief in that,” Nardello said. “Hopefully as we move on you will understand that better and maybe you’ll be able to support it on the floor.”
Williams said he has reservations that the legislation, which is really still a work in progress. He said he worries it won’t do what it promises to do: lower electricity rates.
“I think I can take the liberty and speak for the administration here,” Nardello said. “The fact that this is in the beginning of that bill shows you they’re commitment to this policy.“ She said Malloy’s administration is committed to lowering the cost of electricity in the state.
Williams didn’t disagree, however, using the past as his guide he pointed out that everything the legislature has done over the past several years seems to increase rates.
Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, said he understands the administration doesn’t want to pick winners and losers when it comes to renewable energy, which is more expensive than dirty energy such as coal and oil.
But, “another view of this is that solar is the one technology that has widespread application in Connecticut,” Fonfara said. “Solar is a peaking resource unlike wind, which is better at night.”
He said challenge will be looking at this different than they have been, including what it proposed in the eleventh hour of the legislative session last year.
He said the state has to consider economic development in the state and not just what the price of a particular renewable many be.
“What technology is more likely to create jobs in Connecticut, as opposed to sending dollars solely to upper New England, Canada, or New York,” Fonfara said.
Connecticut has the ability to create and support a solar industry, a statement Fonfara doesn‘t believe holds true for wind, biomass, and hydropower.
“You don’t hear people with NIMBY issues on solar,” he said. “You don’t really hear the controversy like we’re hearing this year with wind.”
He said nobody thought wind was a controversial issue either until two wind farms were proposed in Colebrook and Prospect.
“Up until now we’ve had a laissez faire approach to electric generation. It’s all been about reliability, it’s not been about price,” Fonfara said. “This bill takes a major step in saying no longer are we going to simply let our the forces of where energy facilities are built, and where the market will take us will determine our fate as it relates to energy costs.“
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s reorganization of the Environmental Protection Department and Department of Public Utility Control is also included in the legislation and accounts for at least half of its girth. There is another bill which includes language for the reorganization should
According to proponents the bill also does the following:
—Create a Procurement Manager at the Department of Energy and Environment Protection to buy power more flexibly for standard offer service utility customers, resulting in lower electric rates
—Establish a fund outside of ratepayer dollars for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects
—Spur growth in CT based solar generation, with a legally capped impact on ratepayers
—Provide low cost financing for energy efficiency improvements like new boilers and furnaces
—Create innovation hubs for energy research and technology development at Connecticut universities
—Implement protections for consumers in the electric supplier market
—Set up a one-stop shop for businesses at DEEP for all energy programs and incentives
—Reach out proactively to Connecticut’s highest energy using businesses to help increase efficiency and lower their energy costs
In addition to SB 1 the committee also passed by a vote of 12 to 9 a bill that would impose a tax on oil, coal, and nuclear power generators. The tax is expected to raise $340 million in revenue, with $332 million coming from Connecticut’s Millstone nuclear plants.
Rep. Betsy Ritter, who represents the district which houses the Waterford nuclear power plant, said the state should not be punishing a clean form of energy, which emits fewer greenhouse gases than coal or oil burning plants.
She said if the legislation is approve the tax will be passed along to ratepayers, or it will decrease the value of the plant and the property taxes it pays to the local community.
But the state is also sorely in need of revenue, which may make the this type of legislation more palpable to some lawmakers.