In an effort to enlighten local decision-makers about the state's policies and programs relating to clean energy, the Connecticut chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council hosted an informational symposium Thursday, Feb. 28, titled "Breakthroughs in Energy Legislation."
Four officials from the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection and the Clean Energy Finance & Investment Authority shared recent accomplishments and offered a look into Connecticut's energy future.
At the Lapham Community Center, the audience of about 100 included local and state legislators and a variety of professionals involved with environmental and energy-related endeavors.
"We hope that this will kind of synthesize ... what's happening at a state level to promote clean energy," said Mark Robbins, chairman of the CTGBC Green Homes Committee, who moderated the event.
"The state has not really had a department of energy for a generation," said Jessie Stratton, policy director for the DEEP. "When you think about how critical energy is to all of us ... it's pretty amazing that this was in a void, and as a result, policy was just made in a vacuum."
She spoke about the importance of generating interest and income from the private sector in order to fund programs.
"As you all know, we have some budget problems," she said, addressing "the idea of moving from subsidy to leveraging private capital."
Stratton spoke a great deal about energy efficiency, as well as the DEEP's focus on energy use in buildings.
"Our buildings consume about 40 percent of the energy in the state," she said.
Stratton, however, had to field two critical comments of the state's move to advance natural gas as a means toward energy reduction.
"I'm mystified to hear of natural gas as clean energy," said Miki Porta. "I don't think of it as clean energy at all. I think of it as oil under a different name ... To me natural gas is just not a solution."
But Stratton described it as "a bridge fuel to bring savings to our economy."
"Natural gas will not be the fuel of choice, I do not anticipate, in 2050, or going forward," she said, but its use can offer a chance for many people to save money.
"It's not an easy answer," said Alex Kragie, deputy chief of staff for the DEEP, "but we need to have an answer, and we need to do something different than we're doing right now ... We need to have a path to get to 100 percent renewable ... Right now the situation is untenable. We are taking the best course of action available to us.
"We're all about driving down costs," Kragie continued. "People are never going to do anything that hurts them. That's just the way people are ... They're not willing to pay more for clean energy. That's just the way it is. We're not going to change that."
But, he said, "We can work to create programs that are driving down the cost of clean energy," and "break what I like to call the carbon barrier. Connecticut needs to be the Chuck Yeager that breaks through the price-barrier of clean energy ... to where the price of conventionally generated energy is ... and then below that, so we don't have to talk about subsidy programs."
He said neither New Canaan nor Darien are part of the Clean Energy Communities program, and encouraged local legislators to get involved.
"It's a very important program," he said. I" would encourage everybody who's not in it to ... participate."
Bryan Garcia, president and CEO of the Clean Energy Finance & Investment Authority, identified his group as "Connecticut's green bank," charged with a mission of making clean energy economically viable.
"It's very intense," he said. "The expectations are very, very high."
Several new programs are beginning in April, including solar loans and leases, and a smart-E loan aimed at encouraging energy-efficient improvements on buildings.
Jessica Bailey, a Darien resident, is director of C-PACE, which stands for Commercial & Industrial Property Assessed Clean Energy, a branch of CEFIA. This program allows for permanent energy-efficiency improvements to become part of a commercial building's value assessment, and the loaned capital for repairs to be paid back through their property tax bill.
"Anything that cuts the energy consumption of a building is eligible," she said, provided it can't be taken out when ownership of a property is transferred.
All four panelists agreed on the need to continue to get the word out about the benefits of clean energy.
"We don't need to talk about specific things," Kragie said. "We just need to tell people they're going to save money.
"This is about cutting costs," he said, "and when you tell folks you're going to cut costs, they're going to listen."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was scheduled to speak as well, but had to cancel at the last minute. He is expected on Thursday, March 21, at the next of several upcoming forums planned by the CTGBC.
Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.