2014 Connecticut Economic Outlook
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The Malloy administration is already projecting that between 3,000 and 4,000 new construction jobs will be created over time, thanks to a new plan to expand the state’s natural gas distribution network proposed by Yankee and Connecticut Natural Gas as well as by Southern Connecticut Gas. The plan, which was approved by Connecticut utility regulators in November, calls for adding 900 miles of natural gas distribution lines to 280,000 customers over the next 10 years.
Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) Commissioner Dan Esty recently visited a union training program in Meriden that is designed to provide some of the workers needed to fill those jobs. During the visit, Esty said the expansion of the natural gas distribution network in the state will ensure that “Connecticut’s energy future will be different from Connecticut’s energy past.” In addition, he said, “This is a big deal in terms of jobs. We desperately need to present this state as a platform for jobs. You’re seeing some of the work being done already, but it will really pick up the pace after the beginning of the year.”
Esty’s remarks in Meriden came before Malloy announced in early December that he had reached an agreement with his counterparts in the five other New England states to promote joint investment in—and cooperative planning of—energy-infrastructure projects across the region that would be paid for with pooled ratepayer money. The main goal of the effort is to lower energy costs by building new natural gas and electric transmission lines that would link to cheaper and cleaner energy sources in remote parts of New England and in Canada. That will lower costs for existing businesses and enable Connecticut and the region to become more competitive in attracting new business, according to Esty.
He predicted that the states’ efforts in expanding natural gas transmission lines beyond what has been proposed by the private sector has the potential to cut the cost that Connecticut consumers now pay for the fuel in half.
But Joel Gordes, a West Hartford-based energy consultant, says that by focusing largely on transmission projects, the Malloy administration is missing out on an opportunity to create jobs in other segments of the energy technology sector. “If this agreement means building more transmission lines around New England, I don’t see that as strength,” says Gordes. “I see that as a weakness particularly if it comes at the expense of the solar industry and of developing more microgrids.”
Solar energy, microgrids and fuel cells are key elements in what’s known as distributed generation, which involves the production of energy at a local level rather than using large regional power plants.
The state is already home to a pair of significant fuel cell manufacturers: Danbury-based Fuel Cell Energy and Proton OnSite in Wallingford. Connecticut has also seen a surge in rooftop solar installation, in part because of the Solarize Connecticut program, which is offered through the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA). Fifteen towns or groups of communities are participating in the program, which is based on a model that already has been successfully used in Oregon and Massachusetts, says Bryan Garcia, president and chief executive officer of CEFIA.
“We continue to see our financing tools and the Solarize model bringing down the cost of solar and making it affordable for more and more homeowners throughout Connecticut,” says Garcia.