Testimony on DEEP 2012 Draft Comprehensive Energy Strategy for Connecticut by Frank Panzarella of Fight the Hike

Nov 19th, 2012 | By | Category: Energy

By Fight the Hike member Frank Panzarella

Testimony on DEEP 2012 Draft Comprehensive Energy Strategy for Connecticut

Dear Friends,

The 2012 Comprehensive Energy Plan for Connecticut created by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is an important first step to recognize the critical aspects of our environment that effect both our physical and economic survival as a viable community.

While it goes well beyond previous IRPs by recognizing that energy reliability is more than just calculating availability and costs of resources, it can and should go much further to calculate future needs and requirements based on creating a healthy and sustainable future that is also affordable and practicable.

Our starting point must be the world we live in today.  Global warming and dwindling fossil fuels have slammed into our faces in the wake of Sandy .  I am grateful this report recognizes that humanity must move away from CO2  and other pollutant-producing technologies such as coal and oil.  Fukushima has underscored the disastrous nature of nuclear power, along with high costs of uranium production and thousands of years worth of storage costs.

It is clear we are in a time of energy transition and that no matter how we cut it, energy diversity will be necessary to provide for growing energy demands despite efforts to improve efficiency.  Based on some of your own conclusions, I would like to suggest a few major changes to your current plan.

In the Executive Summary the plan asserts that it does not want to pick winners and losers, yet the reality is that major current technologies must be gradually replaced because of dwindling and unreliable supplies, costs and environmental impact.  In addition the structure and explanations of this report make it clear that natural gas is being chosen as a primary transitional technology to stabilize energy demand.  This is apparent in that natural gas is given a separate strategy section of this report whereas other critical technologies such as renewables are not treated with the same scale of importance.

It is true that natural gas is significantly cleaner than oil and coal as a transitional technology in terms of CO2 production.  However the report only pays lip-service to the critical environmental issues of this new energy boom, namely the dangers of fracking for fresh water supplies, aquifers and seismic events which are only barely understood today.  The report seems to imply that because these issues are “out of state” they are less significant.  This is a terrible mistake.   To be fair the report does indicate that “significant additional measures and breakthrough technologies will be required to achieve the goal of an 80% emissions reduction by 2050 as spelled out in the State’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008.”

I applaud that statement and suggest that steps in the report can be taken to enhance movement in that direction much more quickly and still practically by taking seriously your own conclusions in this report.

Besides the CO2 production and the dangers of fracking, natural gas expansion means significant state and consumer investment in new mains and other production and distribution costs. The report states it is willing to spend close to $2 billion or more to underwrite this expansion.   While current prices are low, the report acknowledges that natural gas prices will also rise because external demand will vie for these same resources that we have no control over.

Now let us compare.  By comparison, the report makes no similar commitment to the expansion of solar power or other renewables despite the fact that it acknowledges these technologies are crucial and produce far less CO2 than gas.  A plan similar to that described in the report for natural gas could just as easily be applied to solar with other important advantages. 

  1. Solar power would be locally produced and could be mandated for local consumption, enhancing reliability; \
  2. Solar power and other renewables can be flexibly structured for more local power production, in conjunction with micro-grids and other ways to avoid large more easily damaged large scale transmission. With back-up battery technology such systems can even become more self-sufficient;
  3. A jump-started solar industry would create thousands of new production and installation jobs as well as training and job shop related industries;
  4. Solar power on public housing units could significantly reduce the skyrocketing cost of state subsidies for low-income heating and electricity;
  5. Solar power electric energy stations could further reduce the cost of providing power to the new generation of  electric vehicles;
  6. Solar power can take advantage of already existing transmission infrastructure and not require the huge cost of new mains as with gas;
  7. The cost-effective efficiency measures suggested in the report propose to reduce costs for consumers to use hard-earned dollars to switch to gas technology using the cost of oil as a comparative, while acknowledging that these costs could invariably rise due to the unpredictability of the gas market.  At a time when consumers are already under high economic pressures it seems unrealistic to expect them to subsidize, new gas mains, new transmission, new furnaces and the increasing costs of natural gas.  If gas follows the trend of other non-renewables, it would be more difficult for consumers to make such large scale changes twice in one lifetime.  Naturally these choices depend a lot on the particular current mix of energy supplies that individual consumers are faced with;
  8. A balanced approach that splits limited state subsidies would reduce the dangers of putting all the eggs in one more unpredictable natural gas basket;
  9. Large-scale gas mains and infrastructure are more vulnerable to seismic events and other natural disasters with broader impacts;
  10. Solar energy has the highest value for reducing peak demand energy costs and yet this value is not acknowledged in this report with comparative state investment but relegated to vague calls for private capital etc.  On Page 27 the report states, “As a result {of peak demand} Connecticut must find ways to expand its peak demand reduction efforts. In addition to maintaining support for existing demand response programs, the state needs to expand the installation of renewable energy (especially solar).”  The report fails to incentivize solar investment recognizing this unique value.  Solar investment should be enhanced with true net-metering that pays producers at least some part of this significant value produced in peak time instead of giving distribution companies the unfair benefit of all reduction in peak cost by being able to market this peak energy while only crediting solar producers at extremely underpriced wholesale energy value.  This places a significant unfair trade obstacle to solar energy production inhibiting a market that your own report acknowledges as crucial to reducing peak demand cost.

The energy efficiency assessment of the current plan has made many advances from previous reports recognizing the complex needs, particularly in low-income communities, urban older housing stock and acknowledging the failures of the HES programs to really significantly impact efficiency measures.  It fails to mention, however that the administration of these programs has been conducted by the very energy distribution companies who have little interest in reducing consumption and who hire sub-contractors looking to maximize their customer share with little interest in the quality of their participation given the lack of stringent benchmarks for improvement.  By way of example, UI actually requested a rate increase not long ago stating their consumers were conserving too much!  Such a program would be better administered by a Board that would include DEEP, an industry representative involved in efficiency work, a non-profit consumer advocate, and a power company representative who would then recommend an independent Director and staff to facilitate and evaluate the program.

Many low-income renters must receive government supported heating and electricity to survive and therefore are not always aware of energy use and are not incentivized to conserve.  Likewise their landlords are less likely to spend their limited property profits to ensure energy efficiency.  Programs must be developed that account for these complexities to create incentives for reducing energy waste and for upgrading older housing stock without damaging landlords or the survival of their tenants. 

In public housing, government has much greater opportunities to improve efficiency by moving to newer building standards and switching to renewable energy solar projects wherever possible.  Improving net-metering laws would also enhance this if solar producers of energy were given even a few cents above wholesale value for energy produced rather than simple credits which do not truly represent the value of solar produced energy.  For state-funded buildings this could become a significant cost-cutting factor given the reports acknowledgement that “securing capital” is one of the primary barriers to improving efficiency in public housing.  These measures would hardly damage energy distributors’ profitability. 

While the CEFIA green bank concept is a wonderful idea if used in conjunction with subsidies to create confidence in low-income communities, by itself such banking measures are virtually unknown in low-income communities.  Programs must be created that pilot large-scale investment in these communities and that recognize the particular difficulties inherent.  For instance, to date, the introduction of renewable technology in these communities is virtually zero.  In fact low-income communities (homeowners and some renters) have been subsidizing corporations and wealthy suburbanites through clean energy funding extracted from energy bills, with little or no opportunity to benefit from such technology and while often paying the highest prices for energy due to the older housing stock and other urban deficiencies. 

One way to help low-income communities would be to create urban improvement projects to green our city homes, to train and pay our vast under-employed populations to provide neighborhood-by-neighborhood “deeper” efficiency measures, to reduce pollution and upgrade our cities to 21st century standards and to create new local businesses. These programs would facilitate this process and bring back practical work to our ailing cities. Such programs are more realistic and would help to fund themselves by increasing the local tax base in urban communities.  For example UI has admitted in public hearings that as many as 40 percent of their customers were unable to afford their electricity bills in recent years, a clear signal that urban poverty is a major drag on energy reform, economic stability and housing quality.  Ignoring the poor only exacerbates our economic and environmental crises.  

In addition, solar thermal water heating as a relatively low-cost option for houses that have electric water heating systems is nowhere to be found in this report as a strategy for reducing urban energy costs. This is even though it is one measure where consumers would more likely be able to contribute some portion of the cost, particularly if the state incentivized it, with grants, loans and large scale projects that would use volume to reduce costs.  In my urban poor neighborhood 15 -20 people are already pledged to make this transition if the state would support such a program.  I plan to present this idea to the state when I have reached my personal goal of 50 families.

Lastly, while I appreciate the opportunity to address such issues in public hearings it is very difficult to address such profound issues encompassing 184 pages in such a minimal process.  DEEP would do greater justice by meeting with neighborhoods over an extended period to deepen the understanding while hearing the practical concerns of communities in a brain-storming environment that might encourage new and  subtler strategies that involve more diverse constituencies.  While I greatly appreciate the work that has already been done by the DEEP in this report, I hope they will give serious consideration to these suggestions and to others brought in by public comment.

Thank you,

Frank Panzarella
On behalf of Fight the Hike

frankpanzarella@hotmail.com

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