Despite the latest figures showing Connecticut has the second-highest residential energy costs in the U.S. (behind Hawaii) and third-highest business energy costs (behind Hawaii and Alaska), there’s hope that this competitive disadvantage will soon be gone.
The legislature’s Energy & Technology Committee has held several educational forums this year on how the state’s electric system works and how it may change in the future.
This week, the latest forum focused on creating a marketplace that promotes conservation, efficiency, local small-scale renewable generation, and microgrids. It also looked at increasing consumer control of interactions with the energy grid through such technologies as smart meters and smart appliances.
Transitions like those will take time and require careful deliberation among many experts and stakeholders, but it looks like the committee wants to get started.
In the meantime, there’s progress in addressing major energy cost-drivers in Connecticut.
Chief among these is the inability of gas power generators in Connecticut (and all New England) to access affordable and plentiful supplies of natural gas being produced just to our west. The good news is that several projects are underway in Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut to help solve this critical challenge.
Also important is for our region’s energy supplies to come from a diverse portfolio of fuel sources to avoid becoming overly reliant on natural gas.
Vast supplies of zero-emission hydropower are available just to our north in eastern Canada. Hydropower has the potential not only to diversify our energy portfolio and reduce overall energy costs, but also play a major role in meeting Connecticut’s very aggressive environmental goals.
Here’s the key: Connecticut needs to open-up its definition of “Class 1” renewable sources to include zero-emission large-scale hydropower and zero-emission nuclear power--which we have ample supplies of in Connecticut. Then our state could go from the least competitive state for energy, to among the cleanest most affordable energy states in the U.S.–imagine that for a moment!
Connecticut also continues to cultivate other clean, renewable energy sources.
Residential solar power is seeing exponential growth in our state and increasing numbers of commercial solar units are being developed and coming online.
We have one of the largest fuel-cell-powered generation units in the world in Bridgeport and new projects involving solar, wind and biofuels are in the works. And when demand requires an “all hands on deck” approach to energy generation, we still have one of the cleanest burning coal plants in the world to fall back on.
Even in these coldest of months, those who depend on oil to heat their homes are benefiting from increased domestic production that has helped reduced the cost of this fuel source. Oil will remain a vital option for those who prefer the personal and close-to-home service of their neighborhood oil dealer.
So there are many reasons to be optimistic about our energy future if policymakers think holistically and take prudent measures that facilitate the region’s potential for a leader in affordable clean energy.
It’s also still possible for the state to take energy missteps.
For example, in an effort to respond quickly to consumer complaints about rising energy costs, the Energy & Technology Committee agreed to consider several bills (including SB 570, SB 574, SB 625, HB 5281, HB 5402, HB 6014 and HB 6029) that would cap the fixed portion of customers' bills that everyone pays for maintaining poles and other energy infrastructure, including storm maintenance, tree-trimming, and associated labor costs.
These proposals would reduce that portion of the energy bill and shift it to the roughly 88% of the bill that is tied to usage--causing at least two harmful effects (while not lowering overall energy costs).
First, businesses in Connecticut, especially manufacturers, use more electricity than most other customers. Therefore, energy costs to business would increase, making a bad competitive situation even worse.
Second, at the other end of the spectrum, those who have done all they can to reduce their electric use through efficiency and conservation–including low-income residents who use the absolute minimal amount of energy they can, will pay higher charges for the energy they use.
Capping the fixed portion of electric bills is a well-intentioned but highly ill-advised idea that may sound good at a press conference but won’t reduce energy costs in Connecticut and will hurt our businesses, economy, and those who can least afford to pay more for the electricity they use.
 Governor Malloy released a draft RFP on Feb. 26 for additional hydropower and other renewable power. Comments are due March 26, 2015.