This event was sponsored by Efficiency for All, an outreach and advocacy group founded by a powerhouse Latina woman named Leticia Colon de Mejias. She also runs an energy conservation and insulation business and a youth education project called Green Eco Warriors. She said equity is an essential element of sustainability. What does that look like? Well, much of the energy our state uses goes into heating and cooling our homes and providing electricity for an ever-growing number of necessities and all the non-essentials we don’t need but want. And lower-income folks are the most likely to live in energy-leaking homes. If they can be tightened up to stop those leaks, residents will be more comfortable and healthier and save money at the same time. Those leaks generate in-home pollution and contribute to greenhouse gases escaping into the environment.
Leticia made a great analogy. She said efficiency and renewables are like rice and beans – each is nutritious alone but they are tastier and even more nutritious together. The rice is energy efficiency, and you can vary the kinds of beans and the seasoning as you wish – adding different amounts of different kinds of renewables, or even a little gas or nuclear or heating oil if that’s what you have – just so everyone has a plate (i.e., energy to meet their needs). She emphasized that not all “beans” are created equal, and that we need to move to renewables as soon as possible.
She also said, as worthy as electric cars and EV charging stations are for reducing carbon emissions, they are not the priority for low-income residents, who can’t afford them and who benefit more from clean air inside their homes and around their neighborhoods.
In fiscal years 2018-2019 the Connecticut General Assembly raided the energy efficiency monies that electric customers pay each month on their bill – which is meant for the express purpose of increasing efficiency – in order to help balance the state budget. The total amount of funds diverted over two years from the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, the Connecticut Green Bank and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative was a whopping $165 million. Energy efficiency work generates more than 34,000 jobs in the state, and after the raid on the funds, the number of buildings that were retrofitted plummeted 19% from 2017 to 2018 – when the number needs to soar instead – and many workers lost their jobs. Aside from the seeming illegality of the raid, it was extremely short-sighted, since research has shown that each dollar put into efficiency returns $7 in savings.
Leticia was part of a lawsuit joined by several environmental groups that sued the state to try to recover the funds. They lost in federal district court when the judge ruled that the statement on our electricity bills about what the money is for could not be considered a “contract.” The case is being appealed.
Meanwhile, the 2019 legislative session began on January 9, and the environmental community is unified that returning the raided funds – and ensuring that they are never raided again – is a top priority. With some new “green” legislators in office, and some veteran lawmakers also on board, I hope the big Democrat majorities in both houses will pass it and our new Democratic governor will sign it. He’s said some positive things about the need to address climate change and more people are pushing for that every day.