Clean Energy Fund gets a new leader, and perhaps a new mission

It will be something of a homecoming on Tuesday at the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund when Bryan Garcia becomes its new president. But it’s looking more and more like the fund he worked at in several capacities from 2000 to 2006 is about to undergo a substantial transformation.

The Fund was founded in 2000 to administer state incentive programs for clean energy and operates under the umbrella of the quasi-public, electric ratepayer-financed Connecticut Innovations. Provisions in the still-to-be-finalized omnibus energy bill would broaden the Fund’s mission by replacing it with a clean energy investment and finance authority. That would allow the new entity to use its ratepayer funds – about $27 million a year – to leverage private investment, something the existing agency can’t do.

“There’s a general recognition that what we need to do is scale up our effort and we can start to do that by looking at financing and how the fund can use ratepayer resources to leverage private investor capital,” Garcia said, explaining the first of what he sees as his two principal missions. The second, he said, “innovation and job creation.”

Garcia and others also said adjustments to the fund’s mission and board structure that could expand the types of technologies eligible for its funds.

One supporter of the Clean Energy Fund, Roger Smith of Clean Water Action is concerned that such major changes to the fund be done carefully so as not to expand it beyond its funding ability.

“We worry that it could be diluted to point that it won’t have the capital to do anything meaningful,” he said. “I think all these things can be solved, but I would really urge the legislature to take the time to do it right.”

The chair of the Clean Energy Fund’s board of directors, Norma Glover, said Garcia was chosen for his intellect, sense of humor, passion and energy. “He understands the history and I think has a sense of where the state would like to see the fund go in the future,” she said. “I’m hoping that we can do more partnerships with private investors and parlay off of private money more. I think that’s where all renewables should be heading.”

Aside from a broader scope and restructured financing, Garcia also faces a realignment of the fund’s signature solar incentive programs. Language in the energy bill would remove commercial solar incentives from the fund and structure them along with other commercial alternative energy sources as a renewable energy credit system – which is more self-sustaining than the rebate program that has existed. Residential programs would stay where they are.

Garcia may also face a do-or-die deadline for another touted program – Project 150. Created in 2003, its goal is to produce 150 megawatts of renewable power generation to help the state meet a goal of getting 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020. But all 13 generation facilities approved for Project 150 have stalled and the legislature is considering whether to put a deadline on them after which the roughly $10 million earmarked for them will be revoked. An additional $650,000 has already been distributed.

Even with such potential crises and structural changes, Garcia has said, “it would be an honor to come back.”

During his time at the fund, Garcia rose to director of energy market initiatives, where he created, among other things, two landmark programs: the Connecticut Clean Energy Communities Program, an integrated system to help communities acquire free solar panels and other clean energy systems, and he oversaw the creation of a climate change action plan that became a national model.

He left to become program director of the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, serving under center co-director Dan Esty. Esty now is the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, who will take over the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, known colloquially as DEEP, when it officially comes into existence. Initial organizational plans for DEEP had included moving the Clean Energy Fund into it, but those who felt it should remain independent seemed to have prevailed, and the fund, while clearly about to undergo a transformation, is staying where it is.

The fund’s finance board chose Garcia, a California native with degrees from the University of California-Berkeley, New York University and Yale, from more than five dozen applicants. Since October, when the fund’s then-president Lise Dondy retired, it has been run by interim president Dale Hedman, the fund’s director of project development, who returns to that position.

Garcia’s position carries a $150,000 salary.