Taking the Heat: State’s Energy Upgrades Working

Issues & Policies

A long, hot summer was a cool, calm one on the energy front in Connecticut because the state had enough resources to take the heat and keep people comfortable and businesses working.

While record-high temperatures pushed demand for electricity in New England to peak levels twice in the past six months, officials in Connecticut and the rest of New England did not have to ask residential or business consumers to turn down their power use.

That’s because Connecticut has made major strides in the last decade to improve its energy systems and infrastructure, said Ann George, vice president for external affairs and corporate communications, ISO New England, at the recent “What’s the Deal” business energy conference.

“There’s a lot to be proud of,” she said. “There are transmission projects completed or underway in all six New England States, and we’re seeing very little congestion.”

That’s a huge change from where the state and region were a decade ago when “we had Katrina-like energy policy conditions,” said Kevin DelGobbo, Chairman of the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control.

Connecticut has come a long way from the days of brownouts and protracted battles on the siting of new transmission lines. Severe transmission blockages—especially in Fairfield County—and peak power demand often led to calls for the public to cut back on its energy use.

Despite the growing need for energy, state policymakers were reluctant to approve much-needed transmission upgrade projects, which delayed improvements. Also a decade ago, consumers had no competitive marketplace in which to shop for lower energy prices.

Now they do, says DelGobbo, and the marketplace is working. He said energy consumers in the state have saved about $200 million this year from choosing alternate providers. Many have also taken advantage of state-offered energy efficiency programs to cut their power use.

Yet despite concerns over Connecticut’s high energy costs—and with many candidates this fall saying that reducing those costs are a priority—the legislature in 2010 voted to keep costs high and take away money from the Energy Efficiency Fund (EEF) to help plug the state budget deficit.

Michael Cassella, chairman of the Connecticut Energy Advisory Board, explained that a competitive transmission assessment that energy consumers had been paying to help retire the old, inefficient power plants was to expire this year for CL&P customers. “But the politicians took it to balance the budget,” he said.

“We talk a great game,” said State Rep. Sean Williams, (R-Watertown), ranking member of the legislature’s Energy & Technology Committee, “but we ended up raiding one of our great success stories.”

Investments from the EEF provide a 4-to-1 payback for energy consumers in the state, says Williams. He encouraged consumers to get involved and “hold us accountable” at the Capitol for making better decisions on energy policy and dollars.

Still, Connecticut has come a long way from the days of brownouts and protracted battles on the siting of new transmission lines.

“Are we in a position to change the high energy cost paradigm in Connecticut?” asked Delgobbo. With the state’s commitment to upgrading transmission, improving efficiency and offering consumers the power to choose lower costs, the answer is, “Yes, we are,” he said. — Kevin Hennessy

Kevin Hennessy is a CBIA assistant counsel. He may be reached at 860.244.1979 or kevin.hennessy@cbia.com.


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