Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty didn’t get everything they wanted, but they claimed victory Tuesday over some major energy policies approved by the legislature this year.
From changing the state’s mix of renewable energy sources to expanding natural gas lines, both Malloy and Esty touted their ability to move energy issues forward.
In the process, they engaged in some heated debates with environmentalists and other New England governors who largely opposed how they changed the state’s renewable portfolio standard.
The bill changing the renewable standards passed the House 112-33 and the Senate 26-6. Debate on the bill in the House was delayed after Esty’s conference call with UBS investors, which included a dialogue about the bill.
Concerned that Esty gave away information lawmakers didn’t even have at that point, the House delayed debate and environmentalists attempted to change the bill to exclude large-scale Canadian hydropower. Those attempts failed.
The heating oil dealers were a little more successful when it came to modifying a bill implementing Malloy’s “Comprehensive Energy Strategy.” The bill makes it easier for natural gas companies to convert about 300,000 customers to natural gas, which at the moment is cheaper than home heating oil mostly because of domestic production.
The heating oil dealers were able to eliminate Malloy’s proposal to provide a $500 tax credit for residents who bought a new furnace to convert their homes from oil to natural gas-powered heat.
“The truth is we did not get everything we asked for,” Esty said. “It was an enormously ambitious set of requests we put before the legislature, but the truth is the natural gas expansion plan goes forward virtually as proposed in the governor’s energy strategy.”
The three natural gas companies in the state submitted their expansion plans Monday to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. Connecticut Natural Gas, Southern Connecticut Gas, and Yankee Gas want to connect 280,000 customers to natural gas over the next 10 years and they need the state to approve a new rate plan to finance the project.
“We think it does almost all of what the governor asked for in terms of expanding choice,” Esty said of the legislation.
Malloy admitted there were opponents to natural gas expansion “even though it’s cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable.”
“They did what they could to water down the bill,” Malloy said of the opposition. “I think you’d be hard pressed to say this is a watered down, substantially watered down, bill.”
He said there’s no requirement to convert to natural gas.
“Very little state money is being spent on this effort,” Malloy said. “Really, nothing.”
Heating oil dealers were concerned the state would be subsidizing the expansion of the natural gas lines and placing the burden of paying for it on the backs of all the state’s taxpayers. The industry also worried it would lose its place in a market that it currently dominates. Under the bill passed by the General Assembly, the cost of the expansion will largely be borne by the consumers who wish to convert to natural gas.
Even though Malloy would have liked to incentivize consumers with a credit on their income taxes, that portion of the bill was eliminated before it passed the General Assembly.
“Here in Connecticut where we have some of the highest energy costs in the United States that has clearly hampered our economy, what am I supposed to do?” Malloy said. “Just leave the people of Connecticut to only pay higher and higher and higher prices?” He said the natural gas expansion begins to address the issue in a comprehensive manner.
Did Malloy’s administration upset a few stakeholders like the environmental community with some of his proposals?
“Everybody tells me they want change. They just don’t want the thing they like to be changed,” Malloy said.
When pressed on his relationship with the environmental community, Malloy blamed the misunderstandings on the news media’s coverage of the debate on the renewable bill.
“Listen, we’re only as good as the coverage we get,” Malloy said.
The group of DEEP employees in the room laughed at the comment as they listened to the conference call held in Esty’s office.
“If you report on the people who have economic driven concerns, or if you report on the concerns of people who have not taken the time to understand what you’re trying to do — with the same regularity you report everything else — then sure there are always environments in which misunderstandings can be had,” Malloy said.
He said the audience he was trying to reach was the legislature. He wasn’t trying to please the environmentalists or other New England governors who worry about the impact the bill will have on Connecticut’s purchase of out-of-state biomass as a renewable energy source. Esty added that both the natural gas expansion and renewable bills passed with wide bipartisan majorities with 4-to-1 ratios.
“Despite some ups and down and heated debates along the way,” Malloy said. “The bottom line is this: we secured passage of several bills that advance both our environmental and energy agendas.”
Environmentalists were quick to issue statements critical of the Malloy administration’s energy policy.
“It is difficult to see Connecticut be a leader in so many environmental issues that protect our public health, safety and economy, and then fall flat on something as critical as energy,” Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, said. “As we have said from the beginning of the session, environmental protections are the bedrock of our health, safety and economy.”
The group was disappointed in the large-scale hydropower and the last-minute raid of the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority. The $5 million raid on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative was restored in the final hours of debate.
“Although this measure was abandoned due to overwhelming public outcry, it’s indicative that the state has a short-sighted view when it comes to energy policy,” Louis Burch, program coordinator for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said. “These programs were established to help save ratepayers money, create jobs, fight climate change, and expand renewable energy development. Policy makers must realize that these programs are crucial for the long term health of Connecticut’s economy and environment, and should not be treated like a public slush fund.”