Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Crowd at Trinity College debate (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Two Democrats, an independent, and a Libertarian candidate for governor had the Trinity College stage all to themselves Monday to talk about sea level rise, electric vehicles, energy efficiency, and how all of those issues impact the economy.

The five Republican candidates were unable to attend the event when it was rescheduled due to a longstanding commitment to attend a forum hosted by the Southington Republican Town Committee.

But Mark Silk, a Trinity College Professor of Religion in Public Life, made it seem like they were skipping the debate because they didn’t believe the issue merited their attention.

“The partisan divide is growing with 69 percent of Republicans now saying they think the threat of climate change is exaggerated, as opposed to just four percent of Democrats,” Silk said in opening the forum. “Which may help explain why none of this year’s GOP gubernatorial candidates accepted our invitation to participate.”

Spokespeople for all give Republican candidates said they were unable to attend because of the forum in Southington, not because they don’t believe in climate change.

Lori Brown, executive director of the CT League of Conservation Voters, said environmental issues were extremely important in recently swaying voters in New Jersey and they could be the issue that puts one of the candidates who was on stage at Trinity on Monday into the governor’s office.

That’s because there’s an understanding that “energy and the environment are economic issues,” Brown said.

Hosted by John Dankosky of WNPR, the candidates were asked to make it more conversational. Instead of strictly limiting the time for each question Dankosky tried to engage in conversation with the four candidates: Democrats Ned Lamont and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim; Oz Griebel, an independent petitioning candidate, and; Rod Hanscomb, the Libertarian candidate.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Oz Griebel reviews his notes (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

While each candidate differed slightly on certain issues or in the case of sea level rise didn’t seem to have enough information, they universally wanted to protect the Energy Efficiency Fund and the Green Bank from further revenue raids to balance the budget.

In October 2017 when the General Assembly adopted and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the bipartisan state budget, they agreed to take $155 million from the energy funds to fill the budget gap. About $10 million was restored to a conservation fund, lowering the total amount of the sweep to about $145 million. The bulk of the funding was raised from a small charge on electricity bills, paid by ratepayers to their utility in return for specific services to be provided.

Despite a $2 billion windfall in revenues, the General Assembly failed to restore the funding this past May.

Lamont said he would honor the commitment to the Energy Efficiency Fund and the Green Bank and wouldn’t sweep those funds to balance the budget.

He said he can make an argument that the greenest form of energy is the energy that isn’t used.

He said the fund also represents thousands of good paying jobs for contractors to go into these residential homes and weatherize them. He said it’s also important to health because it will reduce asthma by cutting down on carbon emissions.

Lamont said he met with representatives of the Green Bank the other day and said they had told him they lost a zero-interest Bank of America loan because the General Assembly gave them the money and then took it away.

“We have to have a little consistency there,” Lamont said.

Ganim said the money should be returned to the fund.

Ganim used the question as an opening to talk about a trip to Denmark to see their “thermal loop.”

He asked if anyone in the crowd knew what a thermal loop was, and a handful of people raised their hands.

Bridgeport’s thermal loop — which is coming soon — will use a network of underground pipes to supply thermal energy produced by a fuel cell or a combined heat and power facility for the supply of space heating and domestic hot water to Bridgeport’s downtown buildings. The project was approved as part of the budget implementation language in October 2017 after standalone legislation was vetoed by Malloy in July 2017.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Rod Hanscomb and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

Hanscomb, the Libertarian, made some in the audience bristle at his notion that natural gas was “clean burning.”

He said natural gas burns 20 times cleaner than diesel fuel. He said about 45 percent of the state is still burning diesel fuel or home heating oil. He said Connecticut’s topography won’t lend itself to converting every home to natural gas, and the state needs to investigate other options like variable speed heat pumps.

“But you can’t go from step A to step B overnight,” Hanscomb said. The interim step is possibly a greater reliance on natural gas.

In what ended up being a quicker round of questioning, Hanscomb said he wouldn’t ban fracking waste statewide and would leave it up to municipalities.

Griebel, Lamont, and Ganim all said they would ban fracking waste on a statewide basis.

As far as allowing Tesla to start selling their electric vehicles in Connecticut without a dealer franchise agreement, Griebel and Ganim weren’t sure that’s a good idea.

“I’d have to look really hard at the impact it would have on our current auto dealers,” Griebel said. “I would listen to both sides before I would come to a specific decision.”

Ganim said they have six electric buses in their transit district at the moment and he would be supportive of a movement toward more electric transportation. Pressed on the specific issue of Tesla, Ganim said, “I’m not a big Tesla fan, but I am for electric cars and electric buses.”

He said he likes the idea of electric vehicles, but he struggles with Tesla, which specifically sells luxury electric vehicles. It recently came out with a new $35,000 model, but that would still be more than most of his constituents can afford.

Lamont said he would support the direct sale of Tesla.

“I would say welcome to the 21st century,” Lamont said.

The auto dealers don’t believe Tesla should be able to directly sell their cars to Connecticut residents, if they’re not able to operate in the same way. They say it would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Tesla argues that their share of the market is minuscule compared to that of the legacy auto makers.

Hanscomb said he’s not going to interfere with a company that wants to drive down costs by selling directly to the end user.