Blogs > Power to the People

Following energy issues in the state of Connecticut and beyond.

Monday, June 29, 2009

An unlikely hot-button issue

Has the American electorate gotten noticeably smarter? You'd think so with the way that the discussion of "cap-and-trade programs" is becoming an almost daily occurance at both the state and national levels.

Justin Bernier, the Plainville Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy for his Fifth District congressional seat, is just the latest politician to use cap-and-trade as a campaign tool. Benier criticized Murphy, who is from Cheshire, for supporting the creation of such a program at the federal level.

"Cap and Trade’ raises the cost of energy and all products made with energy," Bernier said in a release put out late Friday. "It will hurt our economy without helping the environment. Because only America is covered by Cap and Trade, this new tax will give corporations another excuse to outsource millions of jobs to China, India, Mexico, and other polluter paradises."

But before rushing out to beat up Murphy for supporting a federal cap-and-trade program, Bernier probably should have checked to see what other politicians are on the same page with the Democratic congressman. If Bernier had, he would have found a prominent Republican in his home state - Gov. M. Jodi Rell - is an ardent cap-and-trade supporter.

Cap-and-trade-programs involve placing a limit on the amount of carbon dioxide that power plants can emit and then auctioning off “allowances” to cover the emissions that power generators and other companies produce that are above the limit.

Connecticut is one of 10 states in the Northeast that are part of a part of a cap-and-trade program. The participating states use the money generated by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) auctions to fund clean and renewable energy programs.

The RGGI auction, which was held earlier this month, produced $4.7 million for Connecticut ’s clean energy and efficiency programs. Connecticut has received about $18.7 million from the four RGGI auctions held since last fall.

In opposing a federal cap-and-trade programs, Bernier said, "“Cap-and-trade is another example of our representatives in Washington ignoring their constituents back home."

Unfortunately for Bernier, Rell isn't part of crowd in Washington and has said repeatedly that the federal government should have its own cap and trade program. So when he comes out and opposes cap and trade, it makes Bernier look like he hasn't done his homework or at very least, isn't on the same page with the state's best known Republican politician.

The other thing seems odd in Bernier's use of cap-and-trade as way to differentiate himself from Murphy is the complex nature of the subject. Simple is better when it comes campaign trail issues and there's very little about cap-and-trade programs that is simple.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Auctions Aid Clean Energy Programs


As acronyms go, the one used by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative - RGGI or "Reggie" as it's known in the energy community - tends to conjure up images in my mind of Reggie Jackson, the former New York Yankee slugger.

Jackson once said that he was "the straw that stirs the drink," the player that made things happen in the Yankee lineup. The same could be said for the quarterly RGGI auctions: They are the straw that stirs Connecticut's renewable energy "cocktail".

Connecticut is one of 10 states that participate in the RGGI, a mandatory, market-based effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced Monday that the latest RGGI auction, which was held last week, has produced $4.7 million for Connecticut ’s clean energy and efficiency programs.

A total of $104.2 million was raised in the latest auction that Connecticut and the nine other states participating in RGGI can use for their renewable energy programs, Rell said.

Connecticut has received about $18.7 million from the four RGGI auctions held since last fall, she said. That's out of a total of $366.5 million the RGGI auctions have raised for all of the states.

Among the programs that Connecticut has used the money for are:

  • Rebates for homeowners who install solar energy systems.
  • Fuel cell production.
  • Funding to help communities and business conserve energy and reduce their dependency on traditional fuels.

“In addition to generating revenues for us, the RGGI program is showing that a ‘cap-and-trade’ program is a successful approach to reducing greenhouse gases,” Rell said.

Some are skeptical of the auctions, saying cleaning up the environment shouldn't require a complex financial market.

But it's hard to argue with the level participation in the auction.

Potomac Economics, the RGGI independent market monitor, has reported that 54 separate entities bid for 2009 auction offerings.

Here's how the RGGI auctions operate: The states work together to cut air pollution, improve energy efficiency and develop clean energy. The agreement sets a cap on the amount of carbon dioxide power plants can emit and creates a “cap-and-trade” program to allow power- generating companies and others to buy “allowances” to cover the emissions, according to Connecticut officials.

All of the 30.8 million allowances for 2009 offered in Wednesday’s auction sold at $3.23 an allowance. The RGGI also auctioned allowances for a second three-year period beginning January 1, 2012 . All of the 2.2 million allowances for 2012 sold at $2.06 per allowance, with 13 entities submitting bids to purchase 1.5 times the available supply.

The complete Market Monitor Report for Auction 4 is available at: http://www.rggi.org/docs/Auction_4_News_Release_MM_Report.pdf

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Business Of Saving Energy


Saving energy isn't just good business for those companies that practice it. It's also big business for utilities whose programs help make it happen.

Connecticut Light & Power Co. is in line to receive $2.4 million in performance management fees from the state for its involvement in energy efficiency programs if it achieves certain thresholds during the calendar year, said Ronald Araujo, manager of conservation and load management for Northeast Utilities. Berlin, Conn.-based NU is CL&P's corporate parent.

But achieving those thresholds may prove to be a bit more difficult to do, in part because of uncertainty over state funding needed to promote energy efficiency programs that CL&P offers, Araujo said.

"We're not seeing the level of activity that we'd like to see up to this point," he said, following a forum CL&P held in Cromwell on Thursday on federal stimulus money that is available for energy efficiency projects in Connecticut communities. "We haven't been able to promote our programs as much as we'd like to at this point."

Araujo said CL&P's ability to promote its energy efficiency programs through the first six months of this year was hampered by concerns that some or all of the money used to pay for promotions would be diverted to Connecticut's General Fund as part of efforts to balance the state budget.

While the state budget is still unresolved, CL&P will use some of the $17 million it got recently from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to promote its energy efficiency programs.

Connecticut is one of 10 states that participate in the RGGI, a mandatory, market-based effort in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The participating states sell emission allowances through auctions and invest the money they get in return in energy efficiency programs.

Araujo said that the lack of promotion of CL&P's energy efficiency programs has had an impact on participation levels.

"The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund's programs are over subscribed; CL&P's are not," he said.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fight The Hike Fires Back At Fonfara

Some folks don't mind being the subject of a little name dropping. But Paula Panzarella, one of the founders of the group Fight The Hike, isn't one of them.

Panzarella contacted me Wednesday to express her disappointment in the General Assembly's failure to pass any legislation that would lower electric rates. Fight the Hike was founded in reaction to rate increases that the United Illuminating Co. sought and ultimately got approved several years ago.

"The people of Connecticut lost this opportunity to rein in electricity rates (the highest in the continental United States ) and to have greater access to clean, sustainable energy," Panzarella said of the legislature's failure to pass any substantive energy legislation.

Panzarella blamed the failure to get energy legislation passed on a lack of leadership in the state Senate and specifically on tactics used by State Senator John Fonfara, D-Hartford, who is co-chairman of the General Assembly's Energy and Technology Committee.

Fonfara dropped Fight The Hike's name last week in an interview with the New Haven Register. He was asked at the time to justify why he helped keep a bill that would have promoted increased activity in the state's solar energy industry from coming to a vote in the Senate before the end of this year's legislative session.

"There's an attitude among some people that no price is too high when it comes to supporting renewable energy and I'm here to tell you that there is no such thing as free lunch," Fonfara said. "I hear from senior citizens and groups like Fight The Hike in your area every day and they tell me that they're paying too much already."

Panazarella said voting in the Senate on the solar legislation and other energy related bills "was stonewalled, and we were horrified that our senators were never even given the opportunity to discuss and debate the merits of the energy legislation."

"Although all the bills were passed by the Energy and Technology Committee, the committee's co-chair, Sen. John Fonfara, refused to bring them onto the floor of the Senate," she said. "Not only did our senators deserve their chance to have input on proposed energy legislation, but the will of the members on the very committee that Sen. Fonfara represents should have been respected."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fonfara Catches Heat Over Failed Solar Legislation

State Senator John Fonfara, D-Hartford, is not the kind of guy to back down from a fight.

So when proponents of solar energy legislation, which died Wednesday with the close of the state's 2009 Legislative session, started blaming Fonfara (who is shown in the photo at right) for keeping House Bill 6635 from being voted upon, the veteran lawmaker fired back at his critics.

"It's 10 times more expensive than any other type of energy out there," Fonfara said Friday. "The state pays for renewable energy by charging everybody a little bit on their bills and what these guys wanted would have required us to buy a lot more solar energy than we've ever done before. It just wasn't a responsible thing to do; it would have broken the bank."

Christopher Phelps - who is program director for Environment Connecticut, a West Hartford environmental advocacy group - laid the blame for the failure of HB 6635 squarely upon Fonfara.

"He failed to bring this out (for a vote) and he said he was fully in support of this bill," Phelps said of Fonfara. "There has been a log jam on energy issues in the legislature for a long time. But at least this year, the House stepped up ...to create a consensus on this bill."

HB 6635 passed the House unanimously on Tuesday and renewable energy supporters like Phelps had hoped that the momentum created by that vote would help the legislation make its way through the Senate in the final day of the session.

But Fonfara had other plans.

"I believe in the environment, but there's an attitude among some people that no price is too high when it comes to supporting renewable energy and I'm here to tell you that there is no such thing as free lunch," Fonfara said. "I represent some of the poorest people in state in Hartford. Maybe those two guys (Phelps and fellow solar supporter Roger Smith, campaign director for Clean Water Action, a national environmental group with offices in Hartford) can afford to pay more money on their electric bills, but I hear from senior citizens and groups like Fight The Hike in your area every day and they tell me that they're paying too much already."

Renewable energy supporters say they will seek to reintroduce the legislation when the 2010 legislative session begins in February. But Fonfara said the state needs more comprehensive approach in addressing energy issues.

"We need an approach where ratepayers aren't bearing such a heavy burden," he said.

Monday, June 1, 2009

This just in.....

Last time we heard about former Virginia Senator George Allen, it was last summer and he was being mentioned as a possible running mate to Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain.

Allen returns to the spotlight on Tuesday for the creation of the American Energy Freedom Center, according to a press release I received Monday. The Republican politician will serve as a chairman for the Center, which is part of the Institute for Energy Research.

Never heard of the IER?

Neither had I. So I went to the organization's web site and found that IER "maintains that freely-functioning energy markets provide the most efficient and effective solutions to today’s global energy and environmental challenges and, as such, are critical to the well-being of individuals and society." That, combined with web links that include this dandy - "Obama Motors: The Cars You Don’t Want at a Price You Can’t Afford" - lead me to believe that IER and American Energy Freedom Center have more to do with politics than they do with real concern about a sensible national energy policy.

I'm not suggesting that people with conservative political view points can't have credible ideas about energy. But the creation of the American Energy Freedom Center suggests to me that Allen is looking for a vehicle to help raise his profile in the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

The best part of the press release announcing the creation of the the American Energy Freedom Center is that it borrows Obama's best know phrase (see the second sentence in the paragraph below):

"The AEFC will tell the story of America ’s energy resources in a way never told before, providing consumers with the resources they need to make informed decisions and have a greater understanding of the crucial role energy plays in our everyday life. The AEFC will embody the ‘yes we can’ attitude and serve as a platform where all Americans can tell their energy story and the impact high energy prices have on their way of life."

Talk about chutzpah!