The photo at left is an early 20th century ad piece courtesy of the CL&P website. It depicts a “Future Kitchen” in which electric appliances and facilities stand ready to do the heavy work and make the kitchen a safe, pleasant place in which to work. The artist could not have dreamed of the extent to which our 21st century kitchens depend upon large supplies of electric power to function. Whether modern, highly energy-hungry kitchens and homes are good or bad, we’re unlikely to return willingly even to the simple facility in the picture.
Connecticut’s annual power consumption increases by about 2.5% per year, and CL&P is running to keep up with the demand, particularly the increasing peak summer demand as New England embraces air conditioning as a summer necessity. CL&P presently operates two nuclear generating facilities, Millstones 1&2, both located in Waterford. The utility also operates two coal-burning plants and a long list of natural gas-burning plants fed by pipelines from long distances. New gas burning plants are proposed, but construction has been halted on two projects due to financial considerations. A recent explosion at a gas burning facility in the commissioning stage resulted in five fatalities and a public rethinking of the wisdom of locating large central generating plants around the state vs. buying power generated from outside the state and paying a premium for transmission losses.
Today, March 23, the Connecticut State Senate Finance Commission meets to consider a proposal to divert funds allocated for renewable energy projects around the state to the General Fund to meet budget shortfalls. “Securitization” of Clean Energy Funds, allocated not from taxes but from utility surcharges, would effectively halt the progress of renewable energy growth in CT by ending subsidies for residential and commercial wind, hydroelectric and photovoltaic (solar electric panels on roofs) energy installations, leaving only corporate entities like CL&P and others in a position to invest in energy generation. The measure would effectively permanize the monopoly CL&P now holds over the energy future of Connecticut.
This link will connect you to a press release in which CT Governor Jodi Rell commits the state to a goal of 20% renewable energy consumption by 2020. The sleight of hand that would buy from hydroelectric sources out of state begs the question of energy independence as well as energy costs. Connecticut residents pay about 20 cents per kilowatt hour, as high as any state in the lower 48, exceeded only by Hawaii. The future of renewable energy in CT is tied to the future of consumer independence, reasonable power rates and the public’s influence over energy policy in this state.
Concern for the environment in American politics is at an ebb. The recession has focused our attention on the issues rubbing us raw: jobs, taxes, the failure of American corporation too big to fail, and the need for little taxpayers to shoulder a heavier burden to keep the whole system from tanking. But the long view is not an expendable luxury. What we do now will start affecting us a little next year, and a lot in ten years, when power rates will be even higher, and Connecticut taxpayers along with all Americans will see energy take a huge bite out of our ever-decreasing real wages.
The artist who drew the Future Kitchen above could not have dreamed of the appetite Americans would develop for the convenience of electrically powered devices in every room of the house. But that artist was a veritable visionary compared to the CT legislators who would consider selling our energy future for the little good the money might do in a bad financial (and political) year.