Legal Battle Brews Over 2017 Clean Energy Funding Sweeps
The state budget crisis that resulted in government officials in Connecticut sweeping nearly $145 million from ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs has been pushed into the spotlight in federal court with a lawsuit by utility contractors and environmental advocates.
Partner Stephen Humes, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, has characterized the sweep as "brazen;" he told Judge Janet C. Hall that "there was no debate, no public policy discussion ... nothing normal about" the budget deal that has taken funds away from what they were originally intended for.
In court, Judge Hall highlighted that the nearly 20-year-old statute forming the clean energy funds includes no language barring their transfer into the treasury and that, although utility customers pay for a service and receive electricity and utility companies serve as a custodian for the collected surcharges, the statute gives neither the consumers or these companies any control over where the surcharges wind up.
However, Mr. Humes argued that according to the "regulatory compact" established through the clean energy funds, utility customers expect the surcharges to go toward efficiency programs as directed by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. He also pointed out that the state—a utility customer in its own right—took part in "self-dealing" through the sweep, effectively paying itself back all the money it had contributed to the clean energy funds.
"This is a problem coming up in other states, as well," said Mr. Humes in an interview with The Day. He added that the case could possibly set precedent, so states would be less susceptible to similar actions when policies shift due to administration changes.