Connecticut is in a position to make its mark as a national leader on energy policy and reclaim the No. 1 spot as the most energy efficient state in the country.
While energy policy is stalled or moving backward in other states and at the federal level, Connecticut policymakers, organizations, and institutions are working to create innovative models for the future of energy, the economy, and the environment.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection recently released the Draft Comprehensive Energy Strategy, a plan that maps an exciting way forward on energy efficiency and other important energy issues. Converting the energy efficiency components of this plan into concrete gains for the economy and the environment will require a sustained commitment from the governor, the legislature, DEEP, and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. This opportunity for implementing new innovations should be seized to tailor our energy efficiency programs to each sector of the economy and to create partnerships that will ensure broader and deeper energy savings.
Increased energy efficiency investment is a no-brainer for our economy and environment. Our state is full of old buildings that use far more energy than modern technology requires. Investing in new insulation and updated equipment will provide savings on energy bills and a variety of environmental benefits, including cleaner air for our children and fewer greenhouse gases heating our planet. This immediately creates jobs and puts more money in the pockets of Connecticut consumers to spend here at home. With increased investment, we can go broader, reaching sectors of the economy that are currently under served, and deeper, with projects that consistently go beyond the simplest measures like weather stripping and energy-efficient light bulbs. The current energy efficiency programs have had considerable success taking advantage of these opportunities but further investment and innovation is still warranted and will make our state even more attractive to residents and businesses.
Malloy’s 14 years as mayor of Stamford have given him a firsthand understanding of these energy efficiency opportunities. During his tenure, the city instituted new energy conservation measures and saved more than $1.1 million in energy costs in publicly-operated facilities. This experience with energy efficiency is reflected in the policies contained in the draft strategy. The governor has stated that his goal is to return Connecticut to the top of the annual energy efficiency rankings by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. As a part of this effort, the draft strategy supports an expansion of Connecticut utilities’ energy efficiency budgets to implement all energy efficiency measures cheaper than purchasing new energy. This approach will lead to lower costs and lower pollution and is in fact mandated by current law. We hope that the new leadership at PURA will fully fund these energy efficiency programs.
While increased energy efficiency funds are necessary to take full advantage of the economic and environmental benefits of energy efficiency, they are not sufficient. To carry out the vision of the Governor’s strategy, it is extremely important to address the perspectives of building owners and the factors that influence their decision-making. Energy efficiency programs must be specifically tailored to the distinct challenges and culture of each sector of the economy. For example, messengers must be used who are deeply knowledgeable and who will be trusted by the building owners in that sector. Multi-family subsidized housing and small- and mid-sized businesses are prime examples of sectors that will need a targeted approach if we are to overcome traditional barriers and achieve broader and deeper energy savings.
The draft strategy also includes exciting opportunities for financing private energy efficiency investment. The new Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy program, known as C-PACE, allows building owners to pay for clean energy investment over a long period of time as an additional charge on their property taxes. Programs like C-PACE will allow the government to be an energetic partner in private energy efficiency investment with new mechanisms for building owners to take advantage of existing opportunities.
The draft strategy is a significant step towards a major statewide push for broader and deeper energy savings. In order to reach the draft strategy’s energy efficiency goals, we must innovate and expand upon the successes of Connecticut’s existing programs. We look forward to rolling up our collective sleeves and working with the Governor, the legislature, and state agencies to refine and implement it in the coming months.
Donald Strait is executive director of Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Joseph McGee is vice president of public policy and programs for the Business Council of Fairfield County.