Environmental activists and fuel marketers might seem unlikely collaborators, but a common interest brought together the Acadia Center, Sierra Club and the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association to lobby state legislators in Hartford, says Chris Herb, president of CEMA.
“There’s been quite an arm-wrestle the last several years between our members and the state regarding conservation funding,” Herb says. “Connecticut last year slashed the budget for programs that incentivize heating systems.” In April, that money ran out— for oil and propane heating systems only, Herb says. “So, if you heat with [natural] gas or electricity there is still funding available for equipment upgrades, low-interest loans.”
Access to funding “shouldn’t stop for one fuel” user and continue for users of other fuels, Herb says. That was CEMA’s position, and during the group’s “March on Hartford” on March 27, members prepared to raise the subject with legislators. “We thought this would be a long shot, but right before our March on Hartford, environmental organizations reached out to us,” Herb says.
The environmentalists and the energy marketers agreed that they both wanted conservation programs in Connecticut to be “fuel-blind,” Herb says. “We brought that to legislators,” he says, and, “less than a week later the [House] Energy Committee adopted that amendment [to the program] and passed it out of committee. That’s a huge victory for us.”
It’s a big win, Herb says, because “about seventy percent of all of the dollars allocated to conservation programs go to oil-heated homes.” Such programs are very popular among oil heat customers, Herb says.
Acadia Center is a non-profit organization that researches, develops, and advocates for policies that tackle environmental challenges while promoting sustainable economies, according to its website. Acadia Center maintains offices in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Canada. Its work is supported by foundations and individual donors. Acadia Center was previously known as Environment Northeast and ENE. The Sierra Club is an environmental organization that helped pass the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act. “More recently, we’ve made history by leading the charge to move away from the dirty fossil fuels that cause climate disruption and toward a clean energy economy,” the Club states on its website.
“More times than not we have a hard time finding issues that we can work on together,” Herb acknowledged. Nevertheless, he says, “We communicate regularly. This time we were able to find a mutual proposal that would serve [all] of us. They want to see more conservation. They know that oil heat customers are the most aggressive when it comes to accessing these programs.”
If oil and propane users were to be cut off, “these programs would have less participation,” Herb observes. “So, they saw an opportunity to work with us. And because we’ve kept that line of communication open, it just all came together that day.”
Additional issues that the CEMA members brought up with legislators were a proposed carbon tax bill; proposed legislation to require natural gas companies to fix pipeline leaks; and legislation that would provide guarantee of payment to fuel dealers participating in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
“Our New Haven members were owed about $200,000 from the previous heating season,” Herb says. “Ultimately, we got them paid.” The proposed legislation to provide a guarantee of payment is designed to keep such payment delays from being repeated, Herb says. That proposed measure also passed out of committee, Herb reports.
The proposed carbon tax bill did not make it out of committee, Herb says. “So that was a very positive outcome.” CEMA member Sam Gault of Gault Energy, Westport, Conn., and a number of Gault Energy employees participated in the day in Hartford and opposed the proposed carbon tax. However, the proposal is likely to be made again next year, Herb says.
Legislation to require natural gas companies to repair leaking pipelines passed out of committee since the group’s March on Hartford, Herb adds. “Now that the bill is out of committee we’re trying to get it raised for a vote in the House of Representatives,” Herb says.
Some 70 CEMA members participated in the March on Hartford, Herb says, adding, “There’s nothing like a business owner looking” a legislator in the eye and saying their piece.
Meanwhile, Connecticut’s latest proposed energy plan remains a concern, though there was no specific legislation pending at the time of the march. The marketers’ group had expected to see legislation that would incentivize electric heat pumps “because that’s what the plan is recommending,” Herb says. “But that has not materialized.”
The association members still took the opportunity to educate legislators on how heat pumps “are not a solution,” Herb says. “If they’re looking to lower emissions [electric heat pumps] are not a solution because our electric grid is filled with natural gas-produced electricity” and natural gas “leaks” and “is not clean,” Herb says.
“We reiterated the good news about our fuel,” he adds. “We’re moving to ultra-low sulfur heating oil on July 1, like most of the region. We drew a contrast between the state energy plan that continues to ignore biodiesel blending and continues to talk about electric heat technologies that are not clean and definitely not cleaner than bioheat. The plan is wrong, the plan is flawed, and we want [legislators and regulators] to know it.”—Stephen Bennett