An energy bill that activists warn could hurt Connecticut's efforts to encourage rooftop solar power and the solar power industry cleared a General Assembly committee Thursday, but key lawmakers agreed to continue working on the legislation.
The legislature's Energy and Technology Committee also failed to approve a proposal aimed at preserving "net neutrality" on the internet in Connecticut. The Trump administration has moved to end net neutrality, a decision critics say will favor major internet providers at the expense of consumers and small business.
Approval of the energy bill drew applause from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who said the legislation would help Connecticut achieve its clean energy goals.
But the committee's House chair, Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, said the panel's members voted for the measure despite the fact that most agreed the legislation is not yet "ready for prime time" and needs far more work.
"It's definitely got a long way to go," Reed said of the legislation. She said one of her prime goals for revising the bill is to make sure it "continues the current net metering we now have" for rooftop solar power.
That issue is one of the most controversial parts of the existing bill. The legislation would revise the way residential customers with solar power in their homes are now compensated for the power they produce. Critics claim the change would result in higher costs for homeowners and stall Connecticut's solar power installation industry.
"Ending net metering would end a customer's right to consume their own solar power, and would hamper the development of a clean, modern, efficient electric grid," Emily Lewis, a policy analyst for the activist group Acadia Center, said.
Malloy insisted the new system would result in "increasing accessibility of residential rooftop solar."
Energy activists and environmental groups praised the panel's approval of the legislation that would also increase the state's goals for renewable energy. The bill calls for at least 40 percent of Connecticut energy to come from renewable sources like solar and wind power by 2030.
The controversy over net neutrality has become a national issue. The Federal Communications Commission has voted to end net neutrality, the current system that insures all users can have high-speed access to the internet.
Republican senators on the Energy and Technology Committee used a parliamentary tactic that resulted in the death of a Democratic net neutrality bill. The legislation would have given the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority the ability to prohibit internet service providers from setting different prices for different types of service, which could result in some lower-paying customers getting slower internet speeds.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, ripped the GOP maneuver and said Republican lawmakers "chose to stand with big business and President Trump instead of the people of our state."
But Republican lawmakers have said net neutrality is a fairly new concept and that Connecticut state government shouldn't get involved in the issue.
"The federal government has made it clear that states cannot create their own net neutrality laws," Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said Thursday. "Net neutrality is under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The only reason certain lawmakers proposed this bill was to try to inject Washington politics into Connecticut."
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