West Hartford, CT: Bob Barrieau just doesn’t get it. He's one of the local home heating oil dealers gearing up this week for round two of a fight to stop a proposed $6.8 billion energy plan which would create even more of a utility monopoly and potentially cost 4,000 people in Connecticut their jobs.
“I started out with nothing. No one helped me out,” said the West Hartford small business owner who started Barrieau Oil Company on Reed Avenue from scratch in 1971. Yet, Barrieau, like so many others in his industry around Connecticut, can’t understand how state leaders are encouraging consumers to switch from home heating oil to natural gas and Governor Dannel Malloy wants to give them a $500 tax credit to do so.
It’s a move which could cost the state $150 million in lost revenue over the years, and favors a $16 billion mega-utlity company and its rich shareholders over hard working people like Barrieau and the 26 people he employs.
“We get calls, we respond, we get there!” said Barrieau. “Gas companies are different. They get a call and they get there when they get there; could be today, could be tomorrow, could be the day after that? We are service oriented. Just last week, one of my drivers found an elderly woman outside who slipped and fell on the ice. My guy called 911, put his jacket around her and held her hand until help arrived. That’s what we do. We care about our customers but if this plan goes through, there will be fewer trucks and guys on the road.”
Governor Malloy’s $6.8 billion comprehensive energy plan calls on converting 300,000 homes in Connecticut to natural gas and building 900 miles of new natural gas pipelines. After a series of public hearings on the plan in November and December of last year held by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, this week begins round two of the process with legislative hearings on aspects of the plan.
“The Governor doesn’t tell people which cell phone company or cable company he or she should be using,” said Rose Viola Rainville of Teddy’s Oil and Energy in Manchester. ”Why is he telling consumers how to heat their homes? What’s next, the governor will tell people to pick Comcast over Cox or AT&T over Verizon?”
Malloy believes his plan will lower energy costs for consumers but Connecticut Energy Marketers Association or CEMA, which represents 600 home heating oil and propane dealers around the state, hired an independent consultant who found the plan is built on faulty data and makes the dangerous assumption that natural gas prices will remain at an all-time low. During a Feb. 13 forum on the plan, United Illuminating executive Garret Sheen said there are no guarantees that natural gas will stay at the same price it is now.
“I think one of the first questions people ask when they hear this though, is what guarantees do we have that this is going to last? That this is going to stay?“ Sheehan said in the seminar which was available on the internet. “Frankly, there are none and there are several risks out there.”
“If customers want to switch, it should be their choice. We don’t have a problem with that,” said Kate Childs, vice-president of Tuxis-Ohr’s Fuel in Meriden. “State government should not be dictating where money should go. It’s undermining small businesses. United Illuminating is a multi-bullion dollar company which already has an advantage on setting the price. It doesn’t need the government’s help.”
The proposed energy plan would strangle the home heating oil industry while securing the monopoly stronghold utility companies already have over the state. The proposed natural gas conversions would take away 40 percent of home heating oil customers and eliminate its workforce by at least 30 percent. Ratepayers would pick up the cost of the conversions which is estimated to be at least $11,000 per home.
“If any other company or industry in the state announced 4,000 people could be losing their jobs, state leaders and members of Congress would be scrambling, holding emergency meetings and coming up with a rescue package,” said Chris Herb, vice-president of CEMA, “In our case, there is no rescue package being drawn up because it’s the state who is sending people to the unemployment line. ”
DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty has said that displaced workers would be re-trained or placed into other jobs but Herb says that’s an empty promise at best.
“Our workers are highly trained professionals. It would be like asking a surgeon to put in a bid for a janitorial position, expect the same pay and get the job. It simply isn’t going to happen.”
Meanwhile, Bob Barrieau says he’s going to keep doing what he’s doing.
“We have to fight to stop this,” he said. “What else are we going to do?”
(A committee hearing on the proposed 500 tax credit will be Monday morning in the Legislative Office Building. Thursday, another hearing will be held on expanding the thresh-hold of earnings for utilities. )