State’s Clean Energy Funds Must Not be Tapped for Other Purposes

February 17, 2010

In 1998, the General Assembly established the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund (CCEF) and the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund (CEEF) to “promote, develop, and invest in clean energy sources for the benefit of Connecticut ratepayers.” Over the past decade, the CCEF and the CEEF have provided over $100 million in grants to residents and industries in our state that engage in conservation and the research and development of renewable energy technology.

As was the purpose then, the investments made today yield not only new efficient energy sources, but have also led to a number of good paying “green” jobs in Connecticut. The funds have also supported programs that provide financial incentives to help residents and businesses reduce the amount of energy they use, including rebate programs that help people interested in adding solar energy to their homes.

To pay for the two funds, the state requires that surcharges be placed on all electric bills and conservation fees on all gas bills. The revenue raised from the consumer surcharges go directly into the funds to promote these clean energy programs.

The good news is that both programs are very successful and have allowed for the investment in several technologies, including solar, wind, ocean thermal energy and fuel cell initiatives. They also help support residential initiatives to help low and moderate income families and the popular Home Energy Solutions (HES) program. Under HES, administered by Connecticut Light & Power Company (CL&P), the company will send a specialist to your home to perform an energy assessment to help you find ways to become more energy efficient.

The bad news is that these programs are very successful, so successful in fact that the state has diverted revenue that would have otherwise gone into these funds into the General Fund. The state has done that with other designated funds, including the state’s transportation fund to help balance the state budget.

I am disappointed that the state is considering tapping into the CCEF and the CEEF to help alleviate a portion of the state’s estimated $515 billion budget deficit for the current fiscal year. In my opinion, doing so is simply another band aid approach to solving the budget situation that will end up doing more damage to energy conservation and efficiency than it would helping the budget situation.

Taking money out of one fund to pay for General Fund programs is nothing more than a tax increase under a different name and should not be allowed under any circumstance. Both funds were set up for specific purposes, and those purposes were not to help bail out state finances when the going gets tough. While each of the funds were created before my time in the legislature, I’m willing to bet that very little was said about diverting money out of the funds to help balance the state’s budget. That’s because no one would have stood for it then and they shouldn’t stand for it now.
This is not the first time that tapping into these specific funds has been proposed. In fact, it came up last year and was thwarted after there was a large outcry by residents and businesses alike. The defeat of this proposal allowed the state to be eligible for nearly $40 million in federal stimulus money, that would otherwise have been lost had money been redirected into the General Fund.

As Ranking Senator on the legislature’s Energy and Technology, I am committed to making sure these funds remain in tact in order to promote the clean energy efficient programs they were designed to promote.