Raiding clean energy programs will cost, not save, Connecticut money

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Budget crises require tough, but necessary choices.  They do not require self-inflicted wounds.

Raiding $22 million from clean energy and efficiency programs funded by proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, as the proposed budget from the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee does, is a self-inflicted wound. Slashing these funds would undermine our economic competiveness and cost far more than it saves. In addition, the proposed raid disregards over a decade of bipartisan support for clean and affordable energy in Connecticut.

Over ten years ago, Republicans and Democrats in the legislature agreed on a vital strategy—the best way to lower energy costs is to use less energy. Every $1 of investment in the state’s efficiency programs, for example, offsets $2.80 of new generation and transmission projects that ratepayers would otherwise have to pay for. Energy efficiency programs help reduce energy costs for families, businesses, municipalities, hospitals, schools, and places of worship. In 2015, these programs benefited more than 6,000 businesses and 980,000 households, with an additional 39,000 homes receiving weatherization assistance.

In a near-unanimous vote, the legislature passed an energy bill in 2010 that not only expanded clean energy programs in the state, but also provided enhanced financing through creation of the Connecticut Green Bank, the first such institution in the U.S.

The Green Bank leverages public and private financing for clean energy projects. With every dollar of public money the Green Bank invests, an average of over ten dollars of co-investment has been placed by private banks and investors. This ten-fold leverage is one of the reasons why California, New York, and other states and even other countries are seeking to replicate the Connecticut model. If the proposed clean energy raid is not stopped, Green Bank funding would be hacked far beyond the already significant 5.75% across-the-board reductions for state agencies.

If these clean energy and efficiency program funds are cut, electricity costs will increase. Beyond the direct costs to ratepayers, the proposed cuts would create regulatory uncertainty and threaten to unravel financing already in place to lower energy costs.

Connecticut has been proud to be a leader in bipartisan commitment to lowering energy costs by investing in clean energy and efficiency, and our creation of a financial mechanism for doing so that leverages ten times more in private capital and is the envy of states across the country. Let’s keep it that way.

We hope the administration continues to show leadership to maintaining this commitment to the value these funds provide to our clean energy future.

Leah Schmalz is Program Director for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. Peter Rothstein is President of the Northeast Clean Energy Council.

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