It’s 273 pages and it’s the General Assembly’s top priority of the legislative session. Unlike last year, the omnibus energy bill, which proponents say will lower electricity rates, has few if any opponents this year.
Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, the ranking Republican on the Environment Committee, said it reduces electricity rates and will help create jobs by inspiring competition for renewable energy credits.
He said while most of the bill is dedicated to restructuring and combining the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Public Utility Control, it also positions a procurement officer within the newly created agency to purchase long term electricity contracts.
Witkos said the bills estimates buying electricity over a period of 15 years will conservatively save Connecticut—which has the highest electricity rates in the continental United States—up to 5 percent a year. That’s a savings of $55 million a year in savings that will be reinvested in clean energy production, he added.
As of Sunday evening a fiscal note for the bill was unavailable.
But unlike last year’s bill, which gave generous credits to solar production, this year’s bill doesn’t pick winners and losers in the renewable energy market.
“We don’t want to hand pick which technology is the best,” Witkos said. “There’s about 140 parts to this bill, but I’m excited I think it’s going to be good for Connecticut.”
Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, co-chairman of the Energy and Technology Committee said, the bill moves Connecticut to a cleaner energy mix and spurs economic development and efficiency.
Fonfara, who has been in closed doors meetings over the bill for the last few weeks, said the biggest accomplishment of the bill is its creation of an energy department. He said this is the first time Connecticut will be devoting its resources on an energy department which will move the state forward.
Chris Phelps, executive director of Environment Connecticut, said he’s optimistic about the framework he’s seen and the vision it sets out for increasing energy efficiency and affordability. Ultimately the drafts of the bill he’s seen helps move the state toward energy efficiency through a number of measures including a greater emphasis on renewables.
But not everyone of the state’s energy interests is content with some of the language in the legislation.
Jay Kooper, past president of the Retail Energy Supply Association, said his group has proposed amendments to the section enabling the new department to procure energy. At the moment Connecticut’s utilities procure electricity and by changing it ratepayers will be required to assume the costs and risks of new electric generation development and supply purchase.
“We believe such a result is both unfair and costly to Connecticut consumers,” Kooper wrote in an editorial for CTNewsjunkie last week.
He also urged the legislature to maintain the bill’s current consumer protections for residential and small business customers who buy their power from competitive suppliers.
But not all competitive suppliers hold the same opinion of the legislation as Kooper.
Chris Kallaher, director of government and regulatory affairs for Direct Energy , said based on the latest draft he’s seen, a lot of opinions are being formed around actual implementation of the bill. He said it’s difficult to tell right now how the bill will turnout.
“It’s difficult to tell how a pastry will taste when you’re looking at it through a bakery window,” Kallaher said in a phone interview Sunday. He said the good thing about the legislation is it seeks to reduce consumption of electricity and invests those savings in new technologies.
He said his company will be remain involved in writing the regulations which will accompany the legislation. He said the outcomes assumed by the legislation will rely largely on how Commissioner Daniel C. Esty implements them.
He said a lot of the results the bill seeks won’t be realized immediately and will rely on some of the longer term challenges the country faces regarding climate change.
“In many instances it’s too soon to tell,” Kallaher said. “But the state would be hard pressed to find someone as competent as Esty to implement them.”
The Senate is expected to take up the legislation as early as today. The bill no longer Senate bill one, it’s Senate bill 1243.