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State Senator

John Fonfara

Deputy Majority Leader

Representing Hartford & Wethersfield

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Contact: Dave Steuber
860-240-8616

February 15, 2012

Senate Democrats Announce Plan to Invest in Critical Infrastructure and Hold Utility Companies Accountable

Energy agenda includes incentives for homeowners and commercial businesses to invest in renewable energy

Senate Democratic leaders today announced their plans as part of their 2012 energy agenda to invest in critical infrastructure and hold utility companies accountable for their performance during emergencies, storms and natural disasters.

The Democrats’ agenda includes:

  • Performance Standards and Penalties for Utilities
  • Mutual Aid Compacts
  • Enhanced Tree Maintenance
  • Road Clearing
  • Microgrids
  • Infrastructure Upgrades and Notifications
  • Expansion of the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program
  • Energy Smart Homes Notification

Last year’s extreme weather and resulting power outages demonstrated an urgent need for Connecticut to develop a clear set of criteria to hold electricity providers accountable for restoring power to customers in a timely manner.

“It is imperative that Connecticut’s utility companies be prepared for the next storm so that our residents’ health and safety are not needlessly put at risk, and are held accountable for their performance,” said Senate President Donald E. Williams, Jr. (D-Brooklyn). “Connecticut residents shouldn’t be left in the dark—and if utility companies can’t restore power in a timely manner, we’ll hold them financially accountable for their failures.”

Performance Standards and Penalties for Utilities: Require that the Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) develop utility performance standards during emergencies, storms and natural disasters. These standards should address planning, hazard mitigation, staffing and equipment, including wrapped power lines, response times and recovery efforts in response to emergencies. In addition, penalties must also be established for failure to meet such standards.

Mutual Aid Compacts: Require Connecticut utilities to review and revise mutual aid compacts and major contractor contracts. Utilities should demonstrate to PURA managerial capacity to increase their field workforce by at least 500 percent in time of emergency as well as increasing corresponding customer service functions proportionally.

Enhanced Tree Trimming:

  1. Conduct a statewide tree risk assessment and prioritization schedule particularly targeting hazardous trees.
  2. Establish a statewide Hazardous Tree Removal Fund that will provide matching grants to homeowners for the removal of trees on private property that endanger utility wires.
  3. Require DEEP to convene state agencies, municipalities and utilities for the purpose of creating a 5-year collaborative effort for an enhanced tree maintenance program.

Road Clearing: Require utilities and municipalities to work together to expend appropriate resources to ensure that sufficient technicians and resources are available to each municipality to ensure proper and prompt roadway clearance.

In order for Connecticut to be prepared for future severe weather, Democratic senators are also proposing a series of upgrades to the state’s energy-related infrastructure.

“By making smart investments in critical infrastructure now, we can build a foundation for dealing with major storms so that the massive and prolonged power outages that crippled the state last year never happen again,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney (D—New Haven). “Our focus should be on high-priority sites around hospitals, police and fire stations, grocery stores, gas stations and nursing homes.”

Microgrids: Build on the governor’s $5 million pilot and mandate the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to prepare a study of a 10-year plan outlining a program to create microgrids in a variety of areas throughout the state. Microgrids would allow “mission critical” sites, such as hospitals, police stations, grocery stores, gas stations and nursing homes, to remain operational during power outages and would help citizens to have a sense of security and comfort particularly during an emergency situation.

The plan would identify areas of the state, both urban and rural, where microgrid investment would be most effective and include a pilot program. The plan should assume funding alternatives, with $300 million available over 10 years, yielding approximately 150 sites. DEEP would also be charged with determining the fee areas dependent on microgrids would continue to pay to their electric company since they would still be connected to the electric grid.

Infrastructure Upgrades and Notification: In order to compete in a global 21st century economy, Connecticut must invest in its utility and technological infrastructure on a continual basis. These investments include water and sewer line replacement, the installment of fiberoptic cables, installing natural gas pipelines where available and burying power lines where feasible.

Senate leaders are proposing legislation to require that whenever state or local roads are being torn up for road reconstruction, sewer line replacement, etc. PURA must be notified of such work at least 90 days prior to commencement. PURA would be required to work with the Department of Transportation, the Office of Policy and Management, and the municipality to consider the cost and feasibility of investments such as water and sewer line replacement, the installment of fiberoptic cables, installing natural gas pipelines where available, burying power lines where feasible and increasing the number of covered power lines. Officials would be tasked with developing a list of priority project areas that shall include but not be limited to hospitals, first responder facilities, institutions for the elderly, public buildings, shopping areas and gas stations, schools and densely populated neighborhoods.

“Our daily lives are intimately bound up with the availability of energy, as we saw when the power went out during last year’s storms. This year we will work to improve the reliability of our energy infrastructure with enhanced tree trimming, by replacing bare electric wire with covered wire, and by aiming to bury power lines where practicable. We will also work to reduce dependence on the existing electric grid by helping municipalities to establish microgrids, and by promoting distributed electric generation through programs like PACE,” said Senator Fonfara (D—Hartford), Co-Chairman of the Energy Technology Committee.

Expansion of PACE: Require DEEP, in consultation with the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA), to create a statewide Commercial PACE program. PA 11-80, AAC the Establishment of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Planning for Connecticut’s Energy Future, includes enabling language to allow for towns to adopt a residential Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program. Similar legislation has been adopted in almost 30 other states. PACE is a loan program that allows homeowners to make renewable energy infrastructure upgrades and the loan is backed up by assessments on the property. The program can be funded through municipal bonds and the municipality establishes the payback period length (depending on the specific improvement) and a fixed interest rate. There has been an interest to also establish a similar program for commercial buildings. According to a recent report from Pike Research, by 2015 PACE financing for commercial buildings will total $2.5 billion annually.

Energy Smart Homes: The state and federal governments offer a wide variety of incentives and programs to encourage homeowners to install renewable energy, such as solar, in their homes. Many people are simply unaware of the benefits of installing renewable energy and the availability of programs that make installation more affordable. The Democrat’s proposed legislation would require home builders and architects to make buyers aware of all renewable energy incentives and programs at both the state and federal level while still in the development stage.

 

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Dave Steuber
860-240-8616

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