Energy reform bill passes Senate could help some residents of Heritage Village [Waterbury Republican-American]

June 8, 2011

Article as it appeared in the Waterbury Republican-American on June 8, 2011

SOUTHBURY — An energy reform bill that could help some residents of Heritage Village convert their condominiums from electric heat to gas or oil has passed the Senate.

The legislation authorizes creating a program that would allow natural gas and home heating oil companies to offer financing to homeowners with electricity who want to convert to a different fuel.

The Senate unanimously approved the bill Monday. It was being debated Tuesday night by the House.

Sen. Robert J. Kane, R-Watertown, whose 10-town district includes Southbury, said the bill would be of particular help to the approximately 4,200 residents of Heritage Village, the state’s largest age-restricted community.

Back when the community was built in the late-1960s and early-1970s, the government encouraged builders through financial incentives to build with electric heat, Kane said.

The country was in the midst of an oil crisis, and electricity was deemed the fuel of choice for the future.

Fast forward to 2011, and Connecticut has the second-highest electric rates in the country. Some village homeowners pay over $700 a month in the winter just to keep their condominiums warm.

“Typically they’re elderly and on fixed incomes, and they need this break,” Kane said. “This will allow them as a group … to convert to gas or some other type of heat and get away from the electric heat.”

Rep. Arthur J. O’Neill, R-Southbury, said the gas and oil companies could offer financing for furnaces, ductwork and tanks. It would be up to the companies to decide how much money to lend to the homeowner, who wouldn’t have to obtain conventional financing if they wanted to convert.

O’Neill said homeowners would have to be reasonably assured the savings from the conversion would pay for the investment in equipment.

“One big point of resistance (to converting) is the initial cost,” he said. “You have to have a reasonable suspicion that you will get your money back.”

O’Neill said another provision in the bill would make some money available from the Clean Energy Fund to help cover the cost of converting to renewable energy sources, such as solar or geo-thermal.

Kevin Hellriegel, manager of Heritage Village, said residents complain about the price of electricity all the time.

“It’s so expensive,” he said. “We’re always looking for alternatives, so this is may be a good opportunity.”

The village could also convert common and other public areas in addition to its 2,580 condominiums.