Energy Business Leaders Warn Against Raids on Clean Energy Funds

Connecticut would lose 5,200 jobs and $16 million in tax revenues if lawmakers raid $77.5 million from ratepayer-funded clean energy programs to help solve a state deficit, activists and renewable energy business owners warned Monday.

“Companies like mine rely heavily on [state] funding for renewable energy,” said Chris Lenda, president and CEO of Branford-based Aegis Solar Energy. Loss of those funds would force small operations like his to “leave the state or not exist,” said Lenda, who employs 25 people.

Lenda said taking these funds to balance the state budget would be the equivalent of “chopping down apple trees and then wondering why there are no apples.”

The bipartisan budget plan now being put together allegedly “sweeps up” $27.5 million in funding for Connecticut’s Green Bank, which provides loans to leverage private investment in clean energy projects. The bank’s president, Bryan Garcia, said at Monday’s news conference that if that part of the budget proposal is adopted, “the Green Bank is effectively closed.”

Another $50 million a year would siphoned off from a state energy efficiency fund, under the new deficit reduction proposal. Those funds come from surcharges on electric ratepayer’s bills and go to helping residents and businesses reduce energy costs through improvements like added insulation, better windows and other energy-related projects.

The difficulties lawmakers are facing in attempting to solve this deficit were highlighted at Monday’s news conference at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford by the event’s host, Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown. Although he spoke against the proposed raids on the clean energy funds, Lesser declined to say if he would vote against any budget that included taking those funds.

“You’ve got to look at it in context,” Lesser said, saying he hasn’t yet seen the details of the budget plan now under negotiation.

Vivian Perez, one of the owners of HE-Energy Solutions in Stratford, said such projects help save residents money, make their homes safer and more energy efficient. “For every $1 spent, you save $3 in energy costs,” she said.

Jennifer Arasemowicz, representing Danbury-based Fuel Cell Energy, said Connecticut’s Green Bank program has made this state a national and global model for how to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

Taking money from the bank to solve a small portion of Connecticut’s two-year, $3.5 billion deficit problem would be “a huge step backwards,” Arasemowicz said.

Claire Coleman, an attorney with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, argued that depleting those clean energy programs of funding “is going to cause a lot of harm to Connecticut” from both an environmental and economic standpoint.

Coleman said that money not only helps improve energy efficiency but also reduces this state’s carbon emissions and could make it impossible for Connecticut to meet its mandated goals.

William Dornbos, a spokesman for the energy activist group Acadia Center, said his organization used data from the Green Bank and from the state in its analysis that concluded these fund raids would cost $16 million in state tax revenue and result in 5,200 lost jobs.

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