Group seeks to stop state’s sweep of energy efficiency fees
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A coalition of environmental groups and others asked a federal judge Tuesday to stop Connecticut officials from redirecting $145 million in energy efficiency fees on electric bills to help balance the state budget.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the group is seeking to block the transfer next month and restore money already removed from the account, which aims to help low- and moderate-income families save money on energy bills through energy audits and energy efficiency improvements. The group claims the money has been unlawfully seized by the state.
Roger Reynolds, chief legal director for Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said the transfer initiated by the General Assembly violates the U.S. Constitution because the state essentially is violating a contract between two utilities — Eversource and United Illuminating — and their customers. The suit also seeks to stop the diversion of money from the Connecticut Green Bank, a program that finances clean energy projects.
“There’s no doubt the government has the broad ability to tax and then to use those tax revenues in the way they want,” Reynolds said. But he argues how “these ratepayers were never taxed. They paid a fee for a service. They have not gotten the service.”
Attorney General George Jepsen’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit, other than to say it “will review the complaint and respond appropriately in court.”
But Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made it clear he has opposed transferring the funds from the beginning. The concept was included in the two-year bipartisan budget approved last year. Lawmakers recently revised the second year of the budget but returned only about $10 million of the $155 million diverted from the energy efficiency fund, which was projected to have $240 million in it over two years.
“This should come as a surprise to no one,” Malloy said, referring to the lawsuit. “I have long maintained that these shortsighted sweeps would increase energy costs for consumers and businesses and cause untold harm to our green energy economy.”
Malloy contends the energy sweeps were “pushed by legislative Republicans” in the bipartisan budget talks.
The concept of taking money from the funds has been brought up in recent years to help the state cover budget deficits. Reynolds said the coalition waited to take legal action until now because it had hoped state lawmakers would restore all or at least a substantial amount of the transfer. He predicted that if state officials aren’t stopped by the courts now, “there’s going to be an irresistible temptation” to take the money again.
Besides the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, the coalition includes several energy-efficiency and clean-energy businesses, ratepayers and ratepayer organizations.