Major energy legislation is a last minute casualty

A huge energy bill with a number of critical components for running key state programs is another major casualty in this session, despite non-stop efforts over the last several days in particular to craft language acceptable to those who could assure its passage.

Up until a few hours before the session ended, negotiations and rewrites were under way
until it became clear that the 100-plus page measure would not come to the floor of the Senate because it was  all but certain that the House would be prevented from taking it up. With a logjam of measures lined up in advance of the midnight deadline, the decision was made to not waste the Senate’s time.

“It looks dead to me,” said Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, a member of the Energy and Technology Committee, which proposed the bill. Lesser was among only a few people willing to speak on the record about the situation. “A lot of us are disappointed we can’t get this.”

The legislation would have addressed the stated top concern of environmental groups coming into the session — finding a way to make sure oil heat customers continue to have access to low-cost home energy audits under the Home Energy Solutions program run through Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating.

Gas and electric heat customers get the low rate because they pay fees through their utility bills that go into a fund for it. But oil heat customers don’t. In the last few years, federal and other sources of funding were cobbled together to keep oil heat customers — about half the state — in the program, but that money is about to run out.

Without that money, companies that do the audits have said they will have to lay off about half their workers — which could mean hundreds of lost jobs statewide. This is in addition to the lost savings to homeowners because of missed opportunities for energy efficiency.

The bill also would have given bonding authority and clarity to the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (as well as change its name to the Clean Energy Authority) that would have solidified its ability to leverage funds to attract private investment.

“This could hamper our ability to attract private capital sources,” said CEFIA spokesman David Goldberg. “We still have some tools in our toolbox, including our ability to use our revenue stream. Some of it could be used to leverage private capital, and it would have given us bonding clarity, and certainly going after this year’s session would have allowed us to scale up a lot quicker than we currently have the ability to do.”

Other components would have ramped up a commercial property-assessed clean energy program, known as PACE. This would have allowed certain commercial properties to borrow funds for energy efficiency measures or clean energy projects that would be paid back on their property tax bills.

And the bill clarified many function distinctions between the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and its parent agency, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. It was some of those functions that many indicated had been the sticking point.

While no one was willing to say it publicly, there is widespread sentiment that the process for bringing energy legislation forward has become so seriously flawed that, as this year showed, it has hit a dysfunctional level.

In a fashion that has become common in recent years, energy legislation has been proposed in large omnibus bills that often are tweaked and rewritten until the very end of the session, with little time for anything more than a take-it-or-leave-it approach when it comes time for a vote.

Last year, the legislation creating DEEP and dozens of programs ran nearly 300 pages and was finally debated in the last few days of the session. This year, though the bill was shorter, disagreements ran deep and time ran out.

While there is talk of trying to get some of the components — particularly the money for the Home Energy Solutions audits — added to the implementer measures that will be dealt with after the session, it’s unclear what else can be done short of a special session.

And frustration is wide, deep and bipartisan.

“If anything I would want to make sure the HES language ends up someplace,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, also a member of the Energy Committee. “Otherwise we would be putting people out of jobs and it also would be contrary to everything we’ve done in recent years around saving energy.

“I’m clearly disappointed. We didn’t work so hard to get to this point to have legislation die on the vine.”

 

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