Legislative Solutions Under Consideration in 2017
ELECTRIC RATES: In 2017, CCAG's focus is on opposing proposed funding of a natural gas pipeline in the form of a pipeline tax. Cost projections by Eversource, one of the primary pipeline sponsors, ignores significant costs of the pipeline, including operations, maintenance, depreciation, and return on equity, making the true cost more than double the company’s claim $6.6 versus $3.2 billion.
Contrary to the utilities’ claim that the pipeline would lower consumer electric rates, New England ratepayers could have to pay an additional $277 million over the lifetime of the pipeline.
The pipeline sponsors had initially proposed that the pipeline construction be paid through a pipeline tax added to monthly electric bills. The pipeline tax was overruled by the Massachusetts Supreme Court and rejected by the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission. That tax, however, remains in place in Connecticut, meaning ratepayers would be forced to pay for construction and any cost overruns of the pipelines as well as maintenance and operations. A bill has been submitted by Rep. Rosario of Bridgeport to ban the pipeline tax, HB 6546 and would prohibit utility customers from being forced to subsidize the cost of interstate natural gas pipeline construction. Thank you to www.consumersforsensibleenergy.org for these details.
WATER RESOURCES AND CLIMATE CHANGE: Bottlers are looking to buy Connecticut water, essentially privatizing our most important public resource. SB753 is a sham bill that purports to “study” possible problems. (See “shared solar,” similar delay tactics.) Instead, CCAG supports enacting the obvious protections such as: no water removal during droughts, bottlers pay a fair share of infrastructure costs, any sales must come after public discussion and analysis to insure adequacy of supply, and water usage fee structures must not discount large-scale siphoning of public supplies.
TOXICS: With the Federal EPA hobbled by a hostile Cabinet Secretary, action at the state level must increase. CCAG will work to remove useless flame retardants from furniture and children’s products, to require non-toxic state procurement rules, and to require proof of safety before deployment of chemicals.
LOWERING PRESCRIPTION DRUG PRICES: In the chaos of current Washington, there is little to like and much to fear. But babies and bathwater being different, CCAG notes that the President said he wants to reign in drug prices. This could be a year of opportunity. In 2017, CCAG’s focus will be on market transparency and price limitations for expensive drugs. The transparency approach emphasizes putting hard-to-find price information into the hands of regulators, the public, or both. (Easy price comparison is the engine of market competition, and it is in short supply thanks to the Big Pharma lobby.) On the other hand, price controls can include outright setting of upper limits, or merely the triggering of cost transparency in the face of a rising prices. Roughly 40 states are working on bills in these areas. CCAG will be making this push as the best path forward in CT.
HOSPITAL MERGERS: These mergers threaten competition on a more local level. CCAG continues information/organizing meetings with local constituents, particularly in Eastern Connecticut and greater Waterbury. We carry voices for patient and worker protections into the complex negotiations of for-profit mega-chains eating up local (often non-profit) hospitals. Specifics include CCAG support for HB6035 and SB248 (e.g., service providers would need to show need when reducing services in a given community). We oppose HB5168 (removes consumer protections/service guarantees). We support SB451 and HB6051, protecting patients from unreasonable and surprise billing.
Legislative solutions considered in 2016:
RB 5591, AN ACT CONCERNING THE CONNECTICUT RETIREMENT SECURITY PROGRAM: This bill passed! We all pay when our loved ones, friends, and neighbors aren't prepared for retirement. So does the collective Connecticut economy. Nearly 600,000 private-sector workers in Connecticut have no access to workplace-based retirement saving! Thus CCAG strongly supports this bill, based on the work of the Connecticut Retirement Security Board (CRSB). Passage creates a private-sector retirement savings program for all small business employees. The fund is independent of employer and government. Participation is completely voluntary, and retirement savings stay with the saving employee through any job changes (portability).
SB 391, AN ACT CONCERNING THE RECOUPMENT OF STATE COSTS ATTRIBUTABLE TO LOW WAGE EMPLOYERS: (More work to do next year. The bill did not pass even though it would have helped bridge a large, difficult budget gap, which is a sad tribute to the power of money in political campaigns.) Many large, profitable corporations choose to pay their workers poverty wages with no benefits. Taxpayers are forced to subsidize company profits when underpaid employees claim the child care subsidies, food stamps and Medicaid meant for those who cannot work. This bill is a step toward presenting such companies with a choice: pay non-poverty wages with benefits, or repay state taxpayers through a fee.
HB 5427, AN ACT CONCERNING THE SHARED CLEAN ENERGY FACILITY PILOT PROGRAM: Shared solar is not yet in working order after the 2016 legislative session. Changes needed to be made to 5427 to require utility companies to buy generated power for the "life of the facility," as recommended by the CT Academy of Science and Engineering. Passage of the changes would also have removed the limit of 6 megawatts (too small). More importantly, there was and is no need for a pilot project at all! Shared solar is working in a dozen states already. Anything but full roll-out is mere delay by reluctant utilities. CCAG opposed this bill without proposed changes.
SB 334, AN ACT CONCERNING MINOR REVISIONS TO THE ENERGY AND TECHNOLOGY RELATED STATUTES:
The bill did not pass. Passage would have implemented technical fixes to existing statutes governing shared solar development. This bill should have been passed instead of H.B. 5427 (above), a deeply flawed bill that includes financing requirements designed to make projects uneconomic and insure failure. CCAG also continues to fight for a full roll out of shared solar, not pilot programs.
HB 5299, AN ACT CONCERNING TOXIC FLAME RETARDANT CHEMICALS IN CHILDREN’S PRODUCTS AND UPHOLSTERED RESIDENTIAL FURNITURE: This bill was submarined by 1 Senator, when it was on the verge of passage. Again, we see the extreme power of money in politics using obscure levers to block the common good. The bill would have banned any product containing the flame retardant chemicals TDCPP, TDCP or TCPP that was marketed for the use of children three years of age or younger. Momentum for passage was large, and it had overwhelmingly passed the House before that single Senator killed it by threatening to run out the clock with a flood of amendments.
From the 2015 legislative session:
SB 573 AAC Variable Electric Rates: When PURA held hearings last year, the number one consumer complaint was the variable rate. Over and over people testified that their rates were doubled and tripled, and asked that the variable rate be eliminated. The passage of this bill means that Connecticut residents will be the first in the nation to be protected from deceptive, variable electric rates. The new legislation will not affect existing contracts, but will prohibit new ones going forward and takes effect on Oct. 1st, 2015.
Thank you to AARP for taking the lead on this and to all of the CCAG allies and members who showed up at the hearings, wrote the letters, made the calls to legislators, and to all of the legislators who championed this bill!
News Channel 8 Coverage
570 AAC Electric Savings and Fixed Bill Fee: This bill initially capped at $10 the fixed charge all electric customers pay regardless of how much power they use. That charge has skyrocketed to $19.25 for Eversource and $17.25 for United Illuminating, though each company requested much more. By lowering and capping fixed charges, all consumers, including the most vulnerable, would have had a real chance to benefit economically from the rapid advances in technology that are already modernizing the power grid.
The bill — which passed the Senate but never made it to the House floor — eliminated a specific cap and replaced it with a new delineation of what could be calculated as part of the fixed charge, a prospect that had us worried as it could not be determined how this would play out. Some calculations actually projected that the fixed rate would go up!
There is some possibility that elements of SB570 may get folded into the "budget implementer" bills during special session.