BY PAUL SINGLEY, REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
NAUGATUCK — State Rep. Kevin DelGobbo was not exactly thrilled when he was appointed to the legislature's Energy and Technology Commission 10 years ago.
It wasn't one of the coveted positions in state government. In fact, it was a relatively thankless post that included many hours of reading complex documents about topics such as the difference between telecommunications industries in Connecticut and Massachusetts, or the ever-changing state of wholesale and retail energy markets.
While those topics would bore most people, they enticed DelGobbo, who developed a passion for technology. Today, he talks with enthusiasm about the impact technological evolution has on society.
"The world has changed enormously in the past 25 years in all technological areas, from phones to television companies and computers," he said in a conversation via his BlackBerry telephone/wireless device. "It's been an amazing evolution in a small amount of time."
His passion led him to seek more information about the state's utilities, which ultimately made DelGobbo an expert on energy. That reputation got the attention of Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who nominated DelGobbo to be a commissioner of the Department of Public Utility Control last week.
The department regulates the rates and services of the state's investor-owned electric, natural gas, water and telecommunications companies, and is the franchising authority for Connecticut's cable TV companies. There are five commissioners on the DPUC panel.
"The governor made it very clear in our discussions that she wants to balance the needs of the energy companies with the needs of consumers, who have been hit hard," said DelGobbo, who is 44. "I see it as my job to do everything I can to make sure that concern is reflected in the decisions of the department."
Part of his role as a commissioner will be to listen to arguments from utility companies whenever they propose a rate increase and balance those with arguments from state officials, consumer advocates and the public.
Being from the Naugatuck Valley, DelGobbo said he has a keen understanding of blue-collar folks who work hard and struggle to pay bills. He said Valley residents are not so rich as to be immune to the impacts of the struggling economy, but are also not poor enough to get much state assistance.
"In many ways, they are struggling to keep their head above water, as are many people in our state," he said. "That is something I am always cognizant of and will continue to keep in mind with every decision I make."
At DPUC, he will join another former Valley politician. Commissioner John W. "Jack" Betkoski III is from Beacon Falls.
Betkoski, the vice chairman of the commission, followed a similar route to the agency. Betkoski was a state legislator for 10 years before moving into the commissioner's post in 1997. He said serving in the legislature is entirely different from the commission: Representatives make laws, whereas commissioners are charged with implementing them.
"We're run more like a court system, so you have to really look at all sides of a case before you decide what's in the best interest of the ratepayer," Betkoski said.
He believes DelGobbo's work on the legislature's Energy and Technology Committee, as well as on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, will help him make a smooth transition into his new role.
"He has a firm handle on the finances of the state and realizes we really have to do everything possible to mitigate energy costs of the state during these trying economic times," Betkoski said.
DelGobbo seems to be respected by the utility companies. His efforts to increase competition in Connecticut's communications and television markets show he has the ability to tackle complex issues in a way that will bring maximum benefit to the consumer, said Dave Mancuso, a spokesman for AT&T.
"He combines a strong knowledge of the communications and energy industries and will make an immediate contribution to the DPUC," Mancuso said.
Mitch Gross, spokesman for the Connecticut Light & Power Co., said he has been impressed with DelGobbo's work ethic in the legislature.
"We've worked with him on a number of energy issues, and he always asks very probing questions," Gross said. "He listens to all sides. You can see that he really weighs the issues carefully before moving in one direction or another. He's very impressive."
Even consumer advocacy groups seem excited about DelGobbo's appointment.
"He is extremely knowledgeable about the state's energy issues," said Jessie Stratton, deputy director of Environment Northeast, a nonprofit organization that researches and advocates policies that promote sustainable economies. The group backs state and regional efforts to combat global warming.
Stratton served with DelGobbo in the legislature and in her lobbying capacity for Environment Northeast. She said she has always found him to be approachable and eager to know all sides of an issue.
"He's very smart, and I think he's very fair," Stratton said. "We don't always agree, but I think he certainly knows the issues well and is willing to research issues.
"As a commissioner, I think you have to review all sorts of assessments to see what the impacts are going to be, and I think he will do that."
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