HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy handed Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim his last veto of the 2017 legislative session when he declined to sign legislation for a thermal heating and fuel cell project.
The project would have created a thermal heating loop in the downtown district with flexible pipe buried in shallow trenches through the downtown and South End of Bridgeport to provide heat to homes and businesses in the area.
In his veto message Malloy said the project, started by Ganim’s predecessor Bill Finch, would be “fully subsidized by all ratepayers of the local utility without proper consumer protections or appropriate regulatory oversight.”
He said the project, which was opposed by the utilities, was “commendable,” but didn’t have the proper safeguards in place to move forward.
Av Harris, Bridgeport’s legislative liaison, said they are very disappointed in the veto.
“The proposal has broad, bipartisan support and passed the General Assembly by wide margins,” Harris said Wednesday. It passed the Senate unanimously and the House 100 to 51.
Malloy said the project gives one developer, NuPower LLC, access to ratepayer funds to create the thermal system without a competitive bidding process. He said there’s also no authority for the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to ensure a competitive process is followed. Further, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in 2016 refused to approve the same project, according to Malloy, because it would have cost ratepayers $8.6 million more each year and $173 million more over the 20-year contract term.
He said the project puts all the risk on ratepayers and none on the private developer.
Harris said Bridgeport strongly disagrees with the assessment of the thermal loop and the criticism by DEEP and PURA.
“It is sad that in the end the Governor chose to listen to their flawed reasoning,” Harris said. “The district heating loop has both proper oversight and protections for Connecticut ratepayers. This was meant to be a pilot project that if successful in Bridgeport could be repeated in all Connecticut cities to the great benefit of all ratepayers.”
But Malloy said it didn’t include enough oversight.
It deprived regulators of “any ability to refine the technical or the financial details of the system proposed under this bill,” Malloy wrote in his veto message. “The bill cedes all of the decisions to the utility, removing PURA from its proper role in evaluating and refining the proposal to require consumer protections or features that enhance the overall energy grid.”
But Bridgeport, which has been working on this project since at least 2013, sees it differently.
“For decades, the city of Bridgeport and its residents have paid the price — through higher rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases — for housing major fossil fuel burning electric generation facilities so that the rest of the state could have more affordable electric power,” Harris said. “This project is a chance to provide much cleaner and cheaper heat and power for a downtown district in Bridgeport in a way that has become common practice in Europe but has never before been tried in the United States.”
At the end of May, Ganim traveled to Denmark to tout the project.
The veto is the fourth of the 2017 legislative session. As of Wednesday, the governor had acted on all the bills that were transmitted to him. He ended up signing 262 bills into law.