Don’t put the state’s energy future at risk

Kermit the Frog was right all these years. Despite what Gov. M. Jodi Rell declared in her State of the State address in February, it’s not easy being green, at least not in Connecticut.

Last week, Gov. Rell proposed hijacking $54.5 million of energy efficiency and renewable energy funds annually to help plug the deficit. This proposal, which takes 50% of these funds for seven years, came in light of legislators blocking SB 484 in March, an earlier proposal that would have taken 37% of the funds. The proposal is baffling at best and represents a repeat of the raid that the Rowland Administration engaged in several years ago. Gov. Rell said she would not repeat that mistake, yet, this singularly successful aspect of Connecticut’s energy future is put at risk once again.

Our legislators have already firmly spoken out once this session, and several times last year, on the importance of protecting our state’s energy efficiency funds, recognizing the economic and environmental benefits the efficiency and conservation programs provide for our state. For example, energy efficiency funding invested in homes and businesses throughout the state provides approximately $4 in benefits and $5.6 in gross state product for every $1 invested, meaning the governor’s proposal would potentially cost Connecticut’s consumers and economy hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Further, for every job that provides efficiency services, five to six jobs elsewhere in the state’s economy are supported because the money consumers save on energy is spent on other in-state goods and services instead of imported fossil fuels. These funds create much-needed jobs in tough economic times, keep jobs from leaving the state, lower costs for businesses and residents, benefit low-income customers, and provide large environmental benefits in the form of cleaner air and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

So where do these energy efficiency and conservation funds come from? They are collected by a fraction of a cent charge on nearly every electric bill in the state. These funds then go to help support the installation of renewable energy sources like solar panels and to fund Home Energy Solutions and small business energy assessments, low-income weatherization programs, rebates for CFLs and other energy efficient products, educational programs, and other programs accessible to all residents and businesses in this state. The funds help to reduce energy use and, in turn, help lower everyone’s electric bills.

Gov. Rell’s plan would reach into everyone’s pocket and take a percentage for the deficit. Essentially customers are taking a double hit, because they are also losing 50% of the savings generated by these programs that help our residents and businesses.

This comes at a time when our neighbors like Massachusetts recently approved a plan to triple energy efficiency investments over three years. It’s not a surprise, then, when we spoke to a weatherization technician at the Earth Day event at the Capitol two weeks ago that he had considered moving to Massachusetts because the opportunities there were greater. He certainly won’t be the last to go if Gov. Rell gets her way.

It is way past time for the governor to, once and for all, abandon efforts to rob ratepayers’ wallets and to join with both Democratic and Republican legislators who are working to make Connecticut one of the most energy efficient states in the nation by expanding, rather than reducing, the nationally lauded programs that have already created thousands of jobs and saved consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. Our future, our economy, and our environment are worth proving Kermit wrong.

Jessie Stratton is Director of Government Relations for Environment Northeast. She lives in Hartford.

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