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CT Legislature Approves Energy Bills that Include Heating Oil Low-Sulfur and Biodiesel Mandates, Incentives for Efficient Equipment

May 10, 2010

In late March, covered a debate over the pros and cons of Connecticut State Senate bill SB 382, which calls for less sulfur and more biodiesel in the state’s heating oil. On Wednesday night, proponents of the bill scored a major victory when the Connecticut State House passed the bill by a vote of 146-1 following its unanimous passage by the Senate on Monday. The bill is now awaiting the approval of Governor Jodi Rell.

A second and more controversial bill, SB 463 was also passed by the Connecticut Senate on Tuesday night and given final approval by the House after an all-night debate at 6:01 am Wednesday morning, the Connecticut Mirror reported. SB 463’s main goal is to bring down’s Connecticut’s electricity prices, which are the second highest in the nation, requiring state utilities to lower rates by 15 percent by July of 2012. The bill also provides a major incentive for Connecticut residents to upgrade their heating systems and make them more energy efficient. Under the proposed law, Connecticut electric companies would be required to create a loan program to fund consumer improvements to their homes that would save energy. The program would offer low-interest loans to homeowners for improvements like installing better windows, adding insulation, and purchasing a more efficient furnace or boiler. According to a summary of the bill posted to the assembly’s website on April 7, “The energy efficiency measures can be designed to save electricity, natural gas, or heating oil.”

Although they were largely overshadowed in news coverage by the electricity price-reduction measure, the biodiesel and low-sulfur mandates and energy-efficiency loan program are big news for heating oil users and other citizens of Connecticut.

Requiring lower sulfur content and higher blends of biodiesel (beginning with 2 percent in 2011 and building to 20 percent by 2020) in the state’s heating oil means heating oil consumers could be enjoying the benefits of those provisions—cleaner-burning and more efficient heating systems—as soon as next year. However, political considerations required proponents of the bill to engage in some last minute horse-trading that tacked on an unusual proviso. According to an email sent by Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association president Gene Guilford, proponents had to strip a “fiscal note” from the bill that threatened its passage and did so by

amending the mandate language to require that these changes do not take effect until MASS, NY and RI pass similar laws. So CT will move, when we have nice partners and neighbors who do the same.

Assuming Governor Rell signs the bill into law, it will only take effect when the three neighboring states listed above all enact the same requirements. When Rhode Island and New York will both implement low-sulfur and biodiesel mandates is anything but clear, but Massachusetts mandates are on the books and will go into effect in July. The New York legislature is currently considering a bill containing low-sulfur and biodiesel requirements for heating oil. The heating oil requirements in SB 382 are a bold step toward greener and more efficient heating in Connecticut, but the “neighbors” provision will indefinitely delay practical implementation of that move.

Although the energy efficiency loan program in SB 463 provides a strong incentive for residents to make their homes more energy efficient (on top of existing federal tax breaks), the bill’s controversial nature makes it less likely to pass than SB 382. While citizens’ groups like the AARP and environmental groups like the Connecticut Fund for the Environment have strongly supported the bill in its entirety, they have faced stiff opposition in the form of lobbying efforts by Connecticut utilities. In addition, some legislators and citizens are skeptical of the means outlined by the bill that will supposedly lead to lower electricity prices, and others say it was passed too quickly to have been well thought out.

Governor Rell will no doubt have these criticisms in mind as she considers whether to sign or veto the measure.

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National Oilheat Research Alliance ECC is funded in part through the National Oilheat Research Alliance.