Why is the General Assembly seemingly so intent on destroying a program that works so well at reducing energy costs and greenhouse gasses?
The Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday that will limit the amount the state can spend on energy efficiency programs. The bill has now moved over to Senate Commerce for hearing and/or consideration this afternoon at 5:30pm in room 212. Rhode Island leads the nation in energy efficiency, in part due to the 2006 Comprehensive Energy Conservation, Efficiency and Reliability Act. Under this act, electric utilities must invest in all energy efficiency methods that cost less than additional electric supply. What this has meant for consumers is well over a billion dollars in energy savings.
According to People’s Power and Light, energy efficiency programs in Rhode Island have:
- Invested $569 million in efficiency, generating $2.3 billion in gross state product (GSP) for a 4x return on investment
- created over 23,000 job-years of employment economy-wide
- avoided over 7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions
The energy efficiency programs are funded by a surcharge on your utility bill. This is the same pool of money recently raided to help balance the budget, allowing Speaker Nicholas Mattiello to fund the beginnings of his car tax elimination. The bill passed out of the House and onto the Senate yesterday, H5640, can be seen as the second in a one-two punch attack on a very successful program.
By placing an arbitrary cap on the program, lawmakers are opening the door to higher energy costs for all Rhode Islanders. The only people who will benefit from this are fossil fuel energy companies who stand to sell more energy and make greater profits and large energy consumers. The bill is bad for people and the environment.
When the bill was heard in the House Committee on Corporations back in March, only Douglas Gablinske, representing TEC-RI, a fossil fuel company lobbying organization, spoke in favor. National Grid’s vice president Michael Ryan spoke against the bill, as did Kat Burnham from People’s Power & Light and Carol Grant, who heads up Rhode Island’s Office of Energy Resources (OER). Abigail Anthony from the Acadia Center also spoke against the bill.
House Corporation meetings are almost never televised, so here’s the audio from the testimony on the bill:
I caught House Corporations Chair Robert Jacquard (Democrat, District 17, Cranston) in the hallway of the State House shortly after the committee vote to send this bill to the floor. At first he said he didn’t remember the bill, then said, “The Corvese bill?”
“Yes,” I answered. “Why did you vote for it when National Grid, two environmental groups and OER testified against it? Only Doug Gablinske, from TEC-RI testified in favor.”
“You obviously know more about this bill than I do,” said Jacquard. “I don’t know all the details.”
“It’s going to raise rates for energy on Rhode Islanders and it’s a giveaway to fossil fuel companies,” I said. “You don’t know what the bill does but you voted for it?”
“I thought Gablinske made some compelling arguments,” said Jacquard, “That’s what I put in my notes.”
Here’s Jacquard explaining the bill on the House floor. He calls it a good bill and urges passage, even though he struggles to explain it.
Back in March Gablinske focused his testimony on the costs to businesses that are large energy consumers. He said that such businesses already engage in energy efficiency and pay between $200,000 and $500,000 a year into the fund.
Gablinske didn’t mention any of the savings energy efficiency programs bring to consumers. Instead, he focused on the part of the bill that conspiratorially challenges the neutrality of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in verifying the benefits of energy efficiency programs.
As Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) explained it to me, “The idea of independent verification is a good one– and it has been in effect in Rhode Island for decades… This bill is merely an effort to undermine energy efficiency.”
The bill mandates a redundant opinion on the effectiveness of energy efficiency programs, on top of the oversight provided by the PUC. This new commission would be paid for out of the Energy Efficiency fund, further weakening its ability to properly function.