HARTFORD, CT — Legislative leaders regret sweeping $175 million from various energy funds, but when pressed they admitted that restoring those funds will be a difficult task given all the other budgetary demands.
At a press conference organized by energy efficiency contractors, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said he did something last year he wasn’t proud of.
“I felt it was important to vote for the consensus budget that ended up bringing a lot of good things to a conclusion in the session that would not end, but the one thing I felt worst about were the aspects that led to the sweeps of the energy funds,” Steinberg said.
The budget signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Oct. 31 swept $28 million from the Green Bank, $127 million from the Energy Efficiency Fund, and $20 million from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
“It is my firm belief that these sweeps will increase Connecticut residents’ and businesses’ energy costs,” Malloy wrote in a message to lawmakers.
Rep. Lonnie Reed, who co-chairs the Energy and Technology Committee, said they need to stop sweeping essential resources that are paid for by utility ratepayers to balance the budget.
“We need to tell a better story about what these energy efficiency funds are doing,” Reed said.
She said in order to restore some of the funds they’re going to have to make spending cuts and come up with a game plan for the “legacy debt.”
It’s not going to be easy and a lot of what will happen will depend on what revenues look like after April 15.
“This is torture,” Reed said.
She said she can’t name the programs she would like to see eliminated from the budget off the top of her head, but “the deeper we’re diving the more we see programs that need to be sunsetted.”
Steinberg said he wasn’t going to negotiate how much money they might be able to realistically restore to the funds with the news media at a press conference, but that he would try his hardest to get most, if not all of the $175 million restored.
“If we could get some of these funds back that would be a win as well,” Steinberg said.
The Energy Efficiency Fund sweep is starting to have an impact on the contractors who provide home energy audits.
Mike Murray of New England Smart Energy Group in Fairfield said each home energy audit includes more than $1,000 in improvements that help residents save money on their home heating and electricity bills.
The programs paid for by the funds represent 34,000 jobs in the state and layoffs have already begun as a result of last year’s sweeps.
“We are only seeing the beginning of the impact of these cuts,” Murray said.
He said on Jan. 1, based on the budget cuts, 70 percent of his company’s business vanished “because we could only serve a fraction of our propane and oil customers.”
He said these residents are still paying into the fund through their utility bills, but are simply not receiving the services.
“We have been knocked back years due to the irresponsible funding raid,” Murray said.
Energy efficiency contractors who belong to an advocacy group called Efficiency for All estimated the sweeps could cost as many as 6,800 jobs.