Senate passes controversial energy bill

A renewable energy bill that has set much of the environmental community against the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislative Democrats was passed Wednesday by the state Senate.

If politics makes for strange bedfellows, doubly so for this bill: Owners of energy plants sided with environmentalists, who failed to win over any of their usual allies among the Democratic majority.

The final vote was 26 to 6, with four Republicans joining all 22 Democrats to approve and send the bill to the House of Representatives.

The legislation redefines the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires electric companies to rely on renewable sources for an increasing percentage of their power, reaching a maximum of 20 percent in 2020.

The administration says the bill creates competitive pressure on wind, solar and other renewable energy producers by giving the state greater flexibility to meet those goals by adding large-scale hydro-electric power to the mix.

Environmentalists say the effect will be a rollback of long-established goals to rely more heavily on cleaner, renewable sources of energy, which are graded as Class I, Class II and Class III. No other state has approved such a rollback.

Malloy, his commissioner of energy and environmental protection, Daniel C. Esty, and the bill's legislative sponsors say price must be a more important consideration in obtaining power.

"As a state, we value Class I clean and green energy," said Sen. Robert Duff, D-Norwalk, the co-chairman of the Energy and Technology Committee. "But we have to make sure we are being sensitive to ratepayers at the same time."

Connecticut typically has the most expensive electricity in the lower 48 states.

A source of conflict is the status the bill gives to large-scale hydro-electric power. It would be considered a Class IA energy source, available to meet renewable standards if there was "a verified shortage" of Class I sources such as wind or solar.

The administration calls it "an insurance policy."

Environmentalists call it a retreat from renewable energy and a boost to Northeast Utilities, which is trying to build a new transmission line supplying power from Hydro-Quebec to New England.

Energy producers say the bill gives Esty too much discretion in making long-term commitments for renewable energy.

They and others also have questioned why the bill was written before the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection finished a study of the Renewable Portfolio Standard on which legislation was to be based.

Sandi M. Hennequin, the vice president of the New England Power Generators Association, said the department was flooded with comments about changes to the Renewable Portfolio Standard, but it rushed to produce a final report in time for passage of the bill.

"We're saying, 'Hit the pause button,' " Hennequin said.

"Generally with how this whole process has worked, I gotta be honest, I'm extraordinarily frustrated with how this whole thing was put together," said Dan Dolan, the association's president. He called it, "Ready, fire, aim."

The so-called triggers that would allow the purchase of hydro-electric power as a new Class IA renewable are ill-defined, Hennequin said.

"There is no guarantee of a competitive process," she said.

Last week, the Senate postponed a vote on the bill after environmentalists raised questions about the propriety of Esty's discussing the measure in a wide-ranging conference call with stock analysts and investors.

Esty, who talked about energy issues on a call arranged by UBS Securities, hastened to apologize to legislators for what he called a matter of clumsy timing.

"I should have been more attentive to the fact that legislation was pending," said Esty, who could be seen making the rounds of leadership offices at midday. "In retrospect, that was a miss. I should have been more careful."

Republican State Chairman Jerry Labriola has requested investigations from the attorney general and chief state's attorney.

Common Cause and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group are among the entities to file a massive freedom-of-information request, demanding all of Esty's correspondence and documents pertaining to the development of the departments report on renewables and the bill passed Wednesday.

But Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, whose campaign manager was the CCAG's executive director, Tom Swan, was among those who stood Wednesday to defend the bill.

Three Republicans recused themselves: John Kissel of Enfield and Kevin Witkos of Canton, who are employed by Northeast Utilities, and Art Linares Jr. of Westbrook, a partner in Greenskies Renewable Energy.

Jan Ellen Spiegel contributed to this report.

Related: The roll call