Connecticut lawmakers target successful energy efficiency program in effort to plug budget hole

Legislators want to plunder efficiency programs to close a budget gap.

By Marlene Cimons

Wesson Energy started life in the oil business 90 years ago. But a decade ago, the Waterbury, Connecticut company started selling products — like smart thermostats and wall insulation — that would cut demand for heating fuel.

“We recognized where the energy future lies, and we are moving with it,” said Jane Bourdeau, who manages the company’s energy efficiency program. “It’s at the expense of our core business, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Wesson’s tack has been good for business. The company has added 50 new jobs to its efficiency operation, in response to high demand from customers. “With every home we go into to do an audit. Our goal is to have our customers use less fuel,” Bourdeau said. “We install equipment that — at a minimum — improves energy efficiency by 86 percent.”

Wesson and similar businesses in Connecticut have delivered these services with support from the state’s energy efficiency programs. But these programs face a looming threat from the state government, which is looking to close a budget deficit by slashing funding for energy efficiency.

“If the money from these programs goes away, people are going to be hurt, especially the elderly and low-income, some of whom won’t have heat,” Bourdeau said. “Also, jobs will be lost. We will be laying people off. Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to come up with other income, so I don’t have to get rid of anybody.”

The problem is that Connecticut ratepayers are explicitly paying for these upgrades. Money for state energy efficiency programs comes from a surcharge on electric bills. “[Customers] pay about $11 to $15 a month, based on usage, but have the potential to save as much as $500 to thousands of dollars in their electric bills over the course of several years through the energy efficiency services,” Bourdeau said. “If that goes away, the…

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