Gov. Dannel P. Malloy presided over a bipartisan bill-signing ceremony Monday to mark the latest in what his administration says are underappreciated steps to reform how energy is procured, priced and delivered in Connecticut.
The ceremony reflects Malloy’s emphasis of energy policy since taking office in January 2011 – and his administration’s belief in the political value of lower energy costs as he prepares for a reelection run in 2014.
Short-term, Malloy is trying to clarify a muddled narrative around two energy bills passed in 2013 at his request: one redefining how the state will purchase renewable energy, the other codifying into law the administration's comprehensive energy strategy.
They were controversial and complex – though both ultimately passed by wide margins in the General Assembly.
Some environmentalists cast the new Renewable Portfolio Standard as a retreat from finding alternatives to fossil fuels, while others suggested the new comprehensive strategy overly relies on expanding access to natural gas by residential and commercial customers.
“Energy is always a big and tricky and complicated topic,” said Daniel C. Esty, the state’s first commissioner of energy and environmental protection, a post created by Malloy in his first year.
The administration has tried to synthesize the two bills and other energy changes made administratively and through legislation into a bumper-sticker promise of electricity that is “cheaper, cleaner and more reliable.”
“We are delivering on that,” Malloy said during the ceremony in the Old Judiciary Room of the State Capitol.
Malloy said Connecticut’s electric costs, typically among the highest in the continental U.S., are stifling the state’s economy. Malloy backs Esty’s approach to renewable energy – requiring it to survive on competition, not subsidies.
Alluding to Cape Wind, an offshore wind-power project in Massachusetts, Malloy said the Bay State just committed to buying renewable energy at a prohibitive 36 cents per kilowatt hour. He said Connecticut will not buy alternative energy at those prices.
“You end up losing jobs,” Malloy said. “What we’re trying to do in all of this is find the right balance, and we believe we have.”
The new Renewable Energy Standard allows the state to use hydro-electric power generated by existing projects in Canada to meet its goals if new alternative-energy projects are not competitive on price.
Under the bill, the state Monday issued a request for proposals for long-term energy contracts from solar, wind and other renewable energy projects. It will take two months to receive and evaluate the bids, with successful projects requiring at least another three years for construction, Esty said.
The average cost of the state’s electricity has dropped by 12 percent since Malloy took office, partly due to the new era of cheap natural gas used to generate electricity. An element of the energy-strategy bill calls for an expansion of access.
On Monday, he was flanked by Democratic and Republican members of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee, including the new Democratic co-chairs, Sen. Bob Duff of Norwalk and Rep. Lonnie Reed of Branford, and the GOP’s ranking members, Sen. Clark Chapin of New Milford and Rep. Laura Hoydick of Stratford.
Malloy’s commissioner of economic development, Catherine Smith, sat in the front row, a reminder that the administration sees energy policy as intertwined with economic policy.
“For far too long, Connecticut has approached its energy, environmental and economic challenges separately,” Malloy said last month after the comprehensive energy bill was passed. “As a result, residents and businesses are paying some of the highest energy costs in the country.”
(This story originally appeared at CTMirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror, an independent, non-profit news organization covering government, politics, and public policy in the state.)