With Connecticut’s race for governor in a dead heat and energy prices expected to spike again this winter, why aren’t the candidates more vocal about their energy strategies?

That was one of the many questions Connecticut Radio Network News Director Steve Kotchko put to a panel of reporters at the 21st Century Energy: What’s the Deal business conference, where DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee emphasized his agency’s focus on cheaper, cleaner, more reliable energy.

‘Not an easy issue to tackle’

“Cheaper has left town,” said Mark Pazniokas, the Connecticut Mirror's Capitol bureau chief, calling energy a “dangerous and difficult issue,” one that requires nuance and complexity—which, he noted, don’t work well in political campaigns.

“This is not an easy issue to tackle, with so many moving pieces,” he said, referring to changing markets, technology, environmental impacts, regulatory policy, and something that Kevin Hennessy, New England director of federal, state and local affairs for Dominion Resources had earleir called a “mismatch in the gas and electricity markets."

The natural gas industry is based on long-term contractual agreements (commonly 15-20 years), while New England’s electricity industry operates on short-term market price signals—up to seven years for new resources and year-to-year for existing ones.

Any meaningful change in transmission capacity in New England is a regional problem, Pazniokas said, which complicates the issue of having a single gubernatorial hopeful make energy a key part of his or her platform.

Luther Turmelle, north bureau chief for the New Haven Register, agreed.

“A lot of what determines the price of energy does not happen at the state level, so it’s kind of disingenuous for anyone to claim victory for lower prices.

But, that said,” he added, “[Governor] Malloy made some smart policy decisions, including merging the energy and environmental agencies.”

True believers?

When asked whether the Malloy administration and Foley campaign are “true believers” in alternative energy, Turmelle, Pazniokas, and The Hartford Courant’s Brian Dowling affirmed that both sides are sincere—even passionate—about solving Connecticut’s energy problems for residential and business consumers alike.

But when environmentalism bumps into the cost of living, Pazniokas pointed out, it gets tricky.

“I think it’s the job of legislators and policymakers to explain how they’re going to thread that needle,” said Dowling.

High costs a deal breaker?

Are Connecticut’s high energy prices a deal breaker when it comes to attracting new business to the state?

Hard to say, according to the panel of reporters.

“Right now,” Turmelle explained, “the way the pipelines are situated for natural gas, we’re at the tail end of where it’s coming from, and one of the big appeals about the Marcellus Shale is that we’re that much closer to it. So we’re not the last in line to get to draw natural gas off a pipeline. But, depending on who you talk to, who knows long the Marcellus Shale deposit lasts?

“We’re a state that has cold winters. We’re never going to be able to compete with some of the Sunbelt states. But people have to recognize that Connecticut is never going to be a Florida, an Alabama, a Louisiana, or Texas.”

“I’m not sure we want to be,” Kotchko quipped.

“The question is…you’re never going to perfectly level the field,” said Pazniokas, “but can you stop it from being quite so steep?”