Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Rep. Lonnie Reed and Operation Fuel Acting Director Brenda Watson (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Energy prices have crept back up over the past year and widened the energy affordability gap in Connecticut.

The 2017 Home Energy Affordability report prepared by Roger Colton for Operation Fuel found home energy costs burden more than 320,000 low and moderate-income households. The gap, which is the unaffordable portion of the bill, amounts to $450 million this year. That’s 3 percent higher than it was in 2016.

It means the average household at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level owes about $1,404 more than they can afford to pay annually. The report defines “unaffordable” as a household paying more than six percent of their income on energy costs.

The current energy affordability gap is up $51 million from 2016.

“Natural gas prices have increase in Connecticut in the past year and number two fuel oil prices have increased in the past year,” Colton said. “At the same time, incomes have remained constant.”

Colton said Connecticut is behind other states when it comes to improving energy efficiency. He said it’s a “losing proposition for Operation Fuel,” if they have to continue to react to the crisis without addressing the underlying problem.

Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, said it’s clear that “we as a region have to get together and get a handle on rising energy costs.”

The recent bipartisan budget reduced funding for energy efficiency programs and only about 3 percent of Connecticut residents donate to Operation Fuel by donating an additional $1 everytime they pay their electric or natural gas bill.

Brenda Watson, acting director of Operation Fuel, said they received about $600,000 for the program through the check-off box.

The budget signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Oct. 31 sweeps $63.5 million a year from the Energy Efficiency Fund.

According to Consumer Counsel Elin Katz the reduction in the Energy Efficiency Fund alone means 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 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.

Reed said they will concentrate during the next session on coming up with a comprehensive plan that helps everyone and strengthens the economy.