Big Energy Bill Is Back, But This Year Things Are Different
Last year it was partially the process and partially the contents of the omnibus energy bill which led to long debates in the waning hours of the legislative session and ultimately former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s veto. This year proponents have tried to chart a different course, which includes amongst other things collaboration and a transparent process.
Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, who has spent most of the past few weeks drafting the bill, said no one should be intimidated by its size. At 190 pages the bill is slightly longer than last year’s but Fonfara said much of the language involves the reorganization and consolidation of the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Public Utility Control.
“Conforming to the changes are half the bill,” Fonfara said Thursday evening in a phone interview.
Lobbyists and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy were unable to comment on the bill Thursday because frankly no one has had time to read it with the exception of Fonfara and Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, who drafted it, and Sen. President Donald Williams.
Aside from reorganizing the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Public Utility Control, the bill creates a one-stop shopping platform for consumers looking for an independent electrical rate supplier, creates a Renewable Energy Investments Board to offer financial incentives to those seeking to purchase or lease photovoltaic systems, it also requires electric distribution companies to propose a five-year solar solicitation plan for acquiring long-term solar renewable energy credits, and calls for a study of Connecticut’s relationship with ISO New England.
Democratic leadership in the state Senate gave the legislation top billing when they decided to make it S.B. 1 and they worked diligently to collaborate with Malloy’s administration to give it a fighting chance this year. Last year’s bill didn’t receive any public hearing and was put together behind closed-doors during the last few weeks of the legislative session.
Williams said neither side has officially signed off on the bill yet, because it still has to go through the legislative process, but “for the first time we have a governor who is very interested in doing everything he can to lower the cost of electricity.”
Fonfara said the solar energy credits, a point of contention last year, were cut from 10 years to five years and Daniel Esty, the new DEP commissioner, added language which creates a renewable energy loan fund that pulls funding from private, federal, and bonded capital.
The governor has been careful not to name any winners or losers in the bill when it comes to renewables, but Fonfara opined that solar energy is the only renewable form of energy that comes close to being feasible in the state. He said Connecticut isn’t suited for wind energy or even biomass, however, he sees a future for solar. He said the governor wants to let the clean energy market develop and certainly that’s going to happen under this bill. He said the solar provisions, although reduced, allow the solar industry to grow in the state.
What a difference a year makes.
The difference between this years drafting of the bill and last years “is like night and day,” Fonfara said. “There’s a huge interest on the part of the governor to get this right.”
He said Malloy is also a governor who is interested in improving the state’s energy conservation policy at the same time as he’s interested in lowering electrical rates. He said the two ideas are not mutually exclusive.
While the reorganization of the DEP and DPUC is different than what was proposed in last year’s bill, Fonfara and Williams said it’s similar to last year’s proposal.
Fonfara said Esty, whose nomination Thursday was approved by a legislative committee, has been a pleasure to work with. He said Esty is brilliant but not rigid.
“This may sound silly, but I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven because I’m able to write legislation I know will make a real difference,” Fonfara said.