HARTFORD, CT — The two-year, $41.34 billion state budget that sweeps millions of dollars from the Energy Efficiency Fund wasn’t even passed before businesses working in the industry threatened a lawsuit.
Home Performance Alliance of Connecticut and SolarConnecticut said that the ratepayers who pay into the fund never anticipated the money would be used to balance the state budget.
“Consumers were promised that the surcharge fee they pay would be returned in the form of lower-cost services to reduce energy bills and this budget breaks that promise,” Michael Trahan of SolarConnecticut, said. “This surcharge account belongs to people that pay utility bills. It has nothing to do with financing state government operations.”
The Energy Efficiency Fund is funded by a surcharge on electricity and natural gas bills. The funds are collected and leveraged before being returned to consumers in the form of lower energy costs and greater efficiency.
HPACT Chairman Tim Fabuien said short-term budget gimmicks like this sweep never solve the problem.
“Raiding utility customers’ energy accounts — whether it’s $100 million, $20 million, or $2 million — will mean hundreds or even thousands of job losses and higher energy costs for families and businesses,” Faubien said.
The two groups said they plan to pursue legal action against the state for using the funds to balance the budget.
Consumer Counsel Elin Katz said she realizes these are difficult times, but she’s alarmed at the amount of money lawmakers have taken from these funds to balance the budget. She equated it to “a tax increase to residents’ and businesses’ electric and gas bills.”
According to revenue estimates adopted earlier in the day by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, the bill will take $127 million from the Energy Efficiency Fund, $20 million from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and $28 million from the Green Bank over the next two years.
Katz said if only the Energy Efficiency Fund were raided it would cost the state. She said 14,000 low income households would not be served; 16,000 customers would not receive Home Energy Solutions (HES) assessments and services; 14,000 customers would not receive rebates for efficient air conditioners, heating equipment, and water heaters; over 2,520 new building projects would not be energy efficient; and 6,885 people will lose their jobs over the next two years.
The Senate is expected to debate the budget, which includes the sweeps, Wednesday evening. The House is expected to take it up Thursday afternoon.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who only received budget documents late Wednesday afternoon, has said he would hope lawmakers would reconsider the deep cuts to the programs.
“We strongly hope that much of the damage these cuts would have caused will be avoided,” Malloy said Tuesday.