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Collinsville Renewable Energy Promotion Act: 'Another White Elephant'

By Chris Budnick

Earlier this month the Collinsville Renewable Energy Promotion Act, known locally as the Collinsville White Elephant Act, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives almost unnoticed and without any comment; which really is too bad since it deserves a much closer look.   The bill was sponsored by Connecticut’s 5th district freshman representative  Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty and has been long championed by Cantons First Selectman Richard Barlow.  It would enable the town of Canton to assume a dormant license to operate a long defunct hydroelectric power generating facility on the Farmington River.  On the surface this legislation and idea seems noble and good. However; there are some serious issues with the entire concept.   The facts are simply contrary to the fuzzy general statements issued by Congresswoman Esty and it’s local promoter Canton First Selectman Barlow.  It simply is not a “win win” that “enables” the residents of the Farmington River valley to do anything except pay more for their electricity.

We, in the state of Connecticut, pay the second highest all sectors price for electricity in the nation.  Only the folks in Hawaii pay more says more recent study conducted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  For those with a digital inclination the table can be found here; http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_5_06_a.  This is just another sad metric on a growing list of woe for the state of Connecticut.  A Collinsville hydroelectric facility does nothing at all to help the residents and businesses in the state pay less.  In fact; it will actually add to our burden through a scheme called Virtual Net Metering, which only municipalities may participate in and through the potential use of renewable energy credits; known in the electricity underworld by several innocent government acronyms such as IREC’s CREC’s and ZREC’s.  These little beauties are subsidies plain as day and you as the rate payer fund them all through a collection mechanism called your electric bill.   Of course; there will be by necessity the use of a now ubiquitous tool called a government grant.  Grants, for the uninitiated, are free money handed out by various government agencies to entities hither and yon without any expectation of repayment.  You the tax payer fund grants too. 

Here is how all this works and without subjecting anyone to language and forced dense reading that would not even be allowed in a Guantanamo Bay interrogation cell.  The town runs the dam and generates electricity.  The excess amount of power it is not able to use in certain town buildings and activity centers would be sold back to the grid.  Fair enough right?  Here’s the rub.  The price the town would get, simply because it is a town, for the power sold to the grid would be the full boat retail price you pay on your bill for generation, not the wholesale cost that any other private beaver who owns a dam would get for the power they make.  You, the rate payer, pick up the tab on the difference via you electric bill and those little charges on the back page that no one reads.  That is the law of the land in the State of Connecticut.  The worst part about all this is that the extra cash the dam might generate goes directly to the Canton General fund for Mr. Barlow to spend or misspend as the case may be. So in effect folks in Avon, Farmington or Representative Esty’s home town of Cheshire are writing checks to Mr. Barlow and the town of Canton. 

It’s not over yet.  We need to cover those actually not so little renewable energy credits.  If you ran a business that made donuts wouldn’t you love to get paid by your customers for your donuts and then again by someone else just because you make nice low calorie donuts.  This is the concept behind renewable energy credits; the producer gets paid twice.  Guess who picks up the bill on both payments.  Right;  the Connecticut electricity rate payer.  Here again people in Simsbury and Burlington are sending cash to the town of Canton simply because it makes a certain class of low calorie donut which is already overpriced. 

It is a shame none of these details have been written about nor publicly discussed by any proponent of this idea.  One has to admire the discipline of the advocates of Collinsville hydroelectric dam;  they certainly are sticking to the advertising campaign slogans for this project which have it as an artisanal handcrafted and quaint hydroelectric power solution.   There is another term of all this:  Solyndra.  This project can not stand on its own economic merits without a complex subsidy scheme which may help us become numero uno in the electricity cost top 50.  How all this helps the already over burdened rate payer or the State of Connecticut as a whole create new jobs is a mystery.

Mike February 28, 2013 at 02:02 PM
When the Collins Company produced electricity from the Farmington River, the flow and amount of water available was controlled by the company by dams. The company was responsible for building Otis Reservoir In Massachusetts to insure adequate supply. The height of the river in Collinsville changed daily. Attempting to reuse and rehab structures that haven't seen any care in well over half a century to produce electricity along with no control over water flow seems somewhat short sighted. One should consider also a proposed plan to provide millions of gallons of water from the Farmington to the University of Conn.
Canton Taxpayer February 28, 2013 at 09:20 PM
Chris, I knew there was a catch....thank you for explaining what the catches are. I would not have known and as you stated, the proponents are sticking to the party line so I wouldn't hear the truth from them either. On the other hand, Canton would just love that money -- we have so many 'wants' to be met that our budget/taxes just can't keep up....

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