It would be a colossal mistake for Connecticut to permanently back away from its commitment to expand energy infrastructure, which would provide increased statewide access to clean, affordable natural gas and support thousands of good-paying jobs.
Connecticut has suffered too long from the highest electricity costs in the nation. High energy costs not only hurt household budgets, but also hold back businesses and undermine job creation. Why would a business—especially an energy-intensive company—relocate or expand in Connecticut if the cost of energy isn’t competitive?
In February 2013, Gov. Dannel Malloy set Connecticut on a course to address our energy, economic and environmental challenges by releasing the state’s first-ever Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES). This plan, supported by the state legislature and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), projected converting 280,000 state energy customers to natural gas over a decade. This conversion would have been made possible through a critically needed expansion of Connecticut’s energy infrastructure, primarily pipelines.
Investing in our energy infrastructure—as envisioned by the CES—was an important step in providing a wide range of environmental and economic benefits, with job creation right at the top. DEEP estimated that construction of new pipelines alone would support 3,000 to 4,000 jobs over a decade. Connecticut construction had suffered severely during the recession, and this marked an opportunity for us to finally create new jobs on a large scale.
As part of the early implementation of the CES, my organization, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 478, sprang into action to meet expected demand for construction of 900 miles on new natural gas pipelines and other infrastructure. Pipelines are designed and built to operate safely for decades, and construction requires skilled, well-trained workers. Our Local launched a training program, immediately opening the door for unemployed and underemployed Connecticut construction workers. We even received $4 million worth of equipment and support from our International.
Governor Malloy visited our training center, where he underscored the broader economic promise of building out our energy infrastructure. “We will have a substantial positive impact on the environment while we lower costs… [and] make Connecticut competitive for jobs,” said the Governor. Building pipelines, in other words, will provide the foundation for long-term economic growth and job creation across the economy.
In 2014, CES infrastructure projects began to put Connecticut men and women to work. For example, well-paid, union employees helped build Yankee Gas’ Wilton Expansion Project. In addition to building the pipeline, workers were needed to hook up businesses, schools and municipal buildings, as well as install new boilers. Wilton estimated that it would save $450,000 to $500,000 annually on future energy costs.
Under Governor Malloy’s CES, this type of scenario should be repeated across the state for years to come. Infrastructure construction will create jobs, lower energy costs and help Connecticut attract jobs and businesses. We’ll also have cleaner air as households replace fuel oil with natural gas for heating.
But now the progress of the CES has hit a wall. Last October, for political not practical reasons, Connecticut regulators pulled the plug on new infrastructure projects. Partnerships among New England states collapsed, and there is arguably blame to be shared across the region.
But finger-pointing makes no sense. We must not give up and allow red tape to indefinitely hold back Connecticut’s continued recovery. The CES was already fulfilling its promise to help Connecticut families by creating union jobs and lowering energy costs. Local and state lawmakers need to work together to put the CES back on track.
Nate Brown is the Government and Community Relations Director for the Operating Engineers Local 478.