BY JOSEPH MCGEE
For Fairfield County, energy is a competitiveness issue: When a company is deciding where to locate or whether to expand, energy costs and reliability factor into their decision.
The fact that Connecticut has high electric rates — and spends more per capita to power buildings than any other state in the country — is not a factor in our favor. To counter high power rates, companies want buildings that function efficiently. If energy is going to be expensive, they want to use less of it.
The Comprehensive Energy Strategy that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is proposing makes sense. It includes financing options, innovations and incentives that will encourage widespread energy efficiency. These proposals that the governor is advancing are especially important for us here in the Stamford area, since we represent the second-largest New England energy market after Boston, and our power needs are growing faster than any other market in the region.
One of the innovations that we believe holds great promise is the Connecticut Property Assessed Clean Energy (CPACE) program. Under CPACE, commercial building owners who want to make major energy upgrades and save on power bills — by installing efficient boilers or lighting and control systems, for example — wouldn’t have to pay for the project up front.
Instead, through CPACE’s lower-cost financing mechanism, they could pay for the upgrades over 20 years, adding that amount to their property tax bill. Some of the money the building saves over the years from lower energy costs could go toward gradually paying for the energy upgrade. And no taxpayer money is involved. We believe creative energy approaches like CPACE are key to Connecticut’s economic growth.
In addition, the last three storms to hit the region have taught us one important lesson: Energy reliability is critical for business and residents. The governor’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy calls for microgrids that would support emergency management centers, hospitals, police and fire departments in the event of a power outage like the ones we’ve endured.
Microgrids would allow essential services to continue and rescue and recovery efforts to press forward. Microgrids powered by advanced renewable technologies also increase security. The microgrid plan is a great first step toward ensuring grid resilience for all of Connecticut. We would strongly urge Fairfield County communities take the lead implementing municipal microgrids.
This year, in the annual rankings from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Connecticut ranked as the state doing the sixth-best job to encourage energy efficiency. That’s not bad. But we are losing ground to other states — we were ranked third in 2009 — and given the business world’s growing appetite for energy efficiency and sustainability, that’s a threat to our competitiveness.
The governor’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy will help us climb back up the rankings and emerge as a national leader on energy efficiency and innovation. That’s something the business community believes will be very good for our state’s economy and for all the people of Connecticut. We applaud Gov. Malloy’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy as an innovative and bold measure to insure Connecticut’s economic competitiveness.
Joseph McGee is vice president for public policy and programs of the Business Council of Fairfield County.