The granting of nearly $11 million in utility customers' money to a group of Fairfield County towns and groups to help them build their own power generators has come under fire as spending on the rich that won't help the state as a whole.
The program — established to reduce energy costs and increase the security of the region's power grid — was approved for $10.8 million in funding by state regulators last month. It would reduce costs only for customers in southwestern Connecticut, not the general ratepayers of Connecticut, according to the state consumer counsel's office.
The 30 groups set to split the money are looking to leverage it to get more federal and state funding to install renewable energy generators on their sites, such as solar panels and fuel cells. They were identified by the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc. as "mission-critical facilities" that need back-up power sources during outages.
Their generators would run during peak power demand — such as on summer days when air conditioning units are blasting, and when wholesale electricity prices are at their highest. The $10.8 million, collected from a surcharge on utility customers' bills, is expected to pay up to half of the projects' costs.
"I see it as an investment that will ultimately reduce everybody's rates," said Joel M. Rinebold, energy programs director for the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology. "We will provide financial analyses for each of the projects to ensure that any project will benefit the rate base in general, not just a specific group of users in southwestern Connecticut."
Rosenthal said he remains skeptical.
The state has already agreed to subsidize the construction of several "peaking" power plants in Connecticut that would be turned on during times of high electricity demand. And a previous state program that subsidized the construction of power generators at the sites of several municipalities, businesses and organizations across the state failed to produce the electricity cost savings that state officials had hoped for.
That program was suspended by state regulators last year.
"They just can't pretend it's going to benefit the general class of ratepayers," Rosenthal said.
Rinebold said the projects come down to more than just savings. They will increase the reliability and security of the state's power supply, he said. Altogether, the power generators will produce 24 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 20,000 homes.
The center is hoping to eventually broaden the program, Rinebold said, to include other areas of the state with high concentrations of power consumption.
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