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Following energy issues in the state of Connecticut and beyond.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Energy Legislation Faces Debate, Vote Today

If there's not a whiff of deja vu floating through Connecticut's legislative chambers in Hartford this morning, there ought to be.

Lawmakers are scheduled to debate and take a vote on an omnibus energy bill, Senate Bill 1, that would make sweeping changes to the way the state deals with energy issues. Trouble is, it was a year ago at about this time that lawmakers were taking up a similar bill with the same goals.

Last year's bill passed, but was vetoed by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Supporters of that legislation weren't able to cobble together enough votes to override the veto.

This year's omnibus energy bill includes the following key elements:

- Forming a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection by merging the departments of Environmental Protection and Public Utility Control.

- Creating a procurement manager’s position to buy power more flexibly for customers who still purchase their electricity through The United Illuminating Co. and Connecticut Light & Power.

- Studying the impact that the regional electric grid operator, ISO-New England, has had on the state’s electric rates.

- Establishing a fund outside of ratepayer dollars for renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects.

- Promoting growth in solar generation statewide, while legally capping the financial impact on consumers.

- Providing low-cost financing for energy-efficiency improvements such as new boilers and furnaces.

- Instituting energy research and technology development centers at Connecticut universities.

There were three major criticisms of last year's attempts at passing a broad energy bill.

One was that it covered too many issues at once, which made it difficult to fully understand and focus on all the details. Another was that Republican lawmakers claimed that much of its development was done private without trying to build a consensus among lawmakers in both parties.

Finally, full fledged efforts to get it passed were made at the 11th hour of the legislative session, even as lawmakers were dealing with other major issues.

And while some of the criticisms mentioned above could be applied to any piece of legislation in any year's legislative session, it has become apparent that lawmakers haven't learned their lesson from last year.

Instead of trying to lump all of the goals of S.B. 1 into a single piece of legislation, break them up into separate bills. It would be better to have some of what is proposed in S.B. 1 become law than none of it at all.

And don't wait until the last minute. A fair number of other important bills have already passed; why does energy legislation always have to wait until the last minute?

Let me put it another way: If lawmakers have already managed to pass budget legislation - as contentious an issue as there is out there right now - how come they can't manage action on energy issues?

Sources at the Capitol told me late Friday that this vote was to have been taken over the weekend. I'll leave it to people with sharper political minds than mind to address why that didn't happen.

But what I do know is that lawmakers need make this a priority now.


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