By Brian Lockhart
Staff Writer

Published November 26 2007

A coalition of state lawmakers has issued a report that concludes Connecticut is “completely unprepared” for what experts are forecasting as a sharply constrained supply of oil in the world.

“However, early intervention can and will mitigate the severity of impacts on the state and our people,” says the report from the Peak Oil Caucus of the General Assembly.

The group, which includes state Rep. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, and state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, calls on colleagues and Gov. M. Jodi Rell to consider two dozen proposals to promote conservation and alternative energy.

Recommendations include creating a state Department of Energy, banning incandescent light bulbs, and forcing businesses to turn off illuminated signs when they are closed.

The caucus has the support of the co-chairmen of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee – state Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, and state Rep. Steve Fontana, D-North Haven.

Fonfara said some believe it is up to the federal government to deal with an energy crisis.

“I know a lot of people look at petroleum issues as beyond our realm,” he said. “I don’t share that. You have to be creative.”

The report specifies that not all of the ideas are endorsed by every caucus member.

For example, Rell unsuccessfully pitched the recommendation of creating an energy department to the legislature for two years.

“We haven’t been sold on the idea of creating a new bureaucracy,” Fontana said. “Other than that, I think the report is dead on.”

The Peak Oil Caucus was established by Duff, a vice chairman of the energy committee, and state Rep. Terry Backer, D-Stratford, to raise the alarm about dwindling oil supplies.

Leone is a member with a fellow Democrat, state Sen. Bill Finch, the newly elected mayor of Bridgeport.

“I know there are some who still don’t believe in (peak oil), but considering the price of oil and how high energy costs are across the spectrum, it suggests we’re heading in that direction,” Leone said. “And once you pass a peak, the downslide is much faster than we’d like. The more we get in front of this, the better prepared we’ll be to at least cushion the blow.”

Earlier this month, the caucus organized a forum in Hartford at which energy experts testified that the world either reached maximum oil production in 2005 or will in 2012.

Some think the peak will hit from 2020 to 2030, according to the caucus report.

“In any of these events except the most optimistic, the prospective time horizon is closer than any one of us would like,” says the report. “Given the long lead time it takes to institute systemic change through planning and implementation, these time frames are extremely short.”

The first recommendation is to create a Peak Oil Task Force to develop laws that would provide incentives to begin planning. Portland, Ore., has such a task force.

“We can expect municipalities will be affected seriously,” the report says. “The cost of heating municipal public buildings . . . will strain budgets. Likewise, the cost of maintaining other energy-intensive municipal operations such as sewage treatment plants and vehicle fleets will become more difficult. Municipal and state government will be pressed to afford their normal schedule of repaving and maintaining black-top roads. The cost of asphalt for paving closely follows the rising price of oil.”

State government can expect escalating energy bills for vehicles, offices, prisons, colleges and universities.

Connecticut would generate less revenue from sales and service taxes as families cut back on discretionary spending to pay their energy bills and to foot higher prices for food and other essentials caused by the spike in energy costs, the report says.

At the same time, demand for state social services would increase, according to the report.

“Low-income families and fixed-income seniors are already at risk,” it says. “The prospects for this population at any higher prices are disconcerting.”

During the forum, guest speaker Charley Maxwell, a senior energy analyst for Weeden and Co. traders in Greenwich, said it would not be easy to replace oil with coal, natural gas and nuclear energy.

Clean-burning coal technologies are 15 years to 20 years away, Maxwell said. Liquefied natural gas supplies are undependable because they originate with some of the same oil suppliers that are hostile to U.S. interests, he said. It takes at least a decade to build a nuclear plant.

Much of the caucus’ report focuses on efforts to conserve energy by promoting hybrid vehicles and upgrading the state fleet to run on bio-fuels; forcing buyers of gas guzzlers to pay an additional fee to be used for mass transit; updating building codes to require more energy efficiencies; having more state employees telecommute; increasing state work days to shorten the work week and commuting time; banning sales of certain incandescent light bulbs; requiring that businesses turn off illuminated signs after hours; and revisiting the placement of street lights.

“The government needs to be a leader in a lot of this,” Duff said.

In an energy bill passed this year, the state took steps to improve conservation, but they are mainly voluntary, Fontana said.

“And the steps we took . . . I don’t think adequately prepare us for where we need to be,” he said.

Copyright © 2007, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

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