Connecticut will expand its energy efficiency programs to small, urban, and minority-owned business through a new aggressive government office.
"This time, we will leave no one behind in our commitment to bringing down energy bills," said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. "This means energy auditors, trained in the communities they are serving, will be on the street in our city centers helping small businesses solve the energy problems they face."
Under the state's proposed comprehensive energy strategy, Malloy wants to create an Office of Energy Efficient Businesses sending liaisons door-to-door to hard-to-reach businesses with information about Connecticut's various programs to promote energy savings.
"Energy is intimidating for a lot of people," said State Sen. John Fonfara (D-Hartford), co-chair of the legislature's Energy & Technology Committee. "If you are a business, it isn't likely that people will take the time to learn about kilowatt-hours or savings programs."
Connecticut's energy efficiency initiatives, such as the Small Business Energy Advantage program, offer businesses funding and information to make lighting, equipment, and other energy upgrades in order to reduce their electric and heating/cooling bills.
However, these programs offered through organizations such as the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund require businesses to seek out the incentives. This has left a large gap among small businesses — especially in urban areas — not knowing or seeking out the assistance, Fonfara said.
"These are sharp people, but they don't know every program that is available," Fonfara said.
Not only do these types of businesses not have the time to seek out assistance programs, but other barriers such as language and technological knowledge curb the prevalence of the programs, Fonfara said. He specifically mentioned the Park Street neighborhood in Hartford, which he represents.
By having liaisons visit these businesses, and having those liaisons come from those communities, Connecticut increases its overall energy efficiency, Fonfara said.
Under Malloy, the state has sought to lead the nation in energy efficiency, bulking up programs designed for businesses and residents to upgrade lighting, insulation, appliances, and other equipment. Connecticut's electric rates are among the five highest in the nation — usually No. 2, depending on the time of year — so Malloy and his administration want to curb energy use to cut overall costs.
"Efficiency is a mechanism that allows us to bring down the bills," said Dan Esty, commissioner of the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection.
In addition to adopting measures that cut down on upfront upgrade costs, Connecticut needs to make sure these programs are widely used by everyone, said Esty said. The Office of Energy Efficient Businesses helps in that goal.
"It is a way to get out into those communities that have been traditionally underserved by other energy efficiency efforts," Esty said. "We are trying to make sure we can reach a broad audience."
Fonfara sees the new effort as a business development tool. By helping firms cut energy costs, their Connecticut operation costs lower, making them less likely to go out of business or leave for another state.
"We have the tools, we have the resources, and now we have the financing," Fonfara said. "We need to do everything we can."