Rell vetoes energy bill

By Brad Kane, Hartford Business Journal Online

Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced her veto the proposed Energy Bill on Tuesday, citing concerns the legislation was all promise and no follow-though over reducing Connecticut electricity rates.

The bill, passed without public hearing in the last hours of the Connecticut General Assembly session, was intended to drive down electricity rates by 15 percent by 2012 and provide incentives for the renewable energy industry, particularly solar power, to grow in the state.

"These claims are eerily reminiscent of the claims made by the electric industry deregulation bill which was presented some years ago as a panacea for Connecticut's energy problems," Rell wrote in her veto letter to the secretary of state. "After a decade of exorbitant prices, however, that bill has yet to deliver on its promises."

Proponents of the bill - led by State Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, and State Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect - hailed the legislation as the most sweeping energy reform since deregulation in 1998, helping to reverse Connecticut's notorious standing as having the highest electric rates in the continental U.S.

The legislation would have created a new state department called the Connecticut Energy and Technology Authority to regulate the utility companies; provided consistent incentives to the solar industry to undertake large commercial projects; and given low-income residents a lower tax rate.

In vetoing the bill, Rell objected to the way it was passed - at 6:01 a.m. after an all-night legislative session. Legislators would not allowed to comment on the bill, except to make corrective remarks to the legislation's language.

"As disjointed as the legislative process can sometimes appear, public comment and open analysis and debate are critical to producing well-crafted, workable laws," Rell wrote. "The proponents of this bill would have been well served by following that process."

Rell praised the authors of the bill for including provisions to boost the solar industry in Connecticut, perhaps creating a 1,000 jobs in the process. The lifetime cost of the undertaking would amount to $1.4 billion - a cost falling directly on ratepayers - and this is not the right time to make such a large investment, Rell wrote.

For legislation that sought to reduce electric costs by 15 percent, Rell wrote there were a lot of provisions that added to ratepayers' bills, such as the creation of a new state agency at a time when Connecticut wants to cut expenses and streamline government.

"In fact, there is no guarantee that rates will actually be reduced," Rell wrote. "Rather, the bill lays out policies that in all likelihood will increase costs for consumers."