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State energy chief stepping down to resume Yale professorship

But it hasn't been an entirely clean tenure for Esty. The department has made enemies, at various times, of heating oil dealers, clean energy advocates, and renewable power developers. In October, state utility regulators publicly questioned the benefits of a Maine wind farm Esty chose for a state contract.

HARTFORD — Energy and Environmental Commissioner Daniel C. Esty, the Yale University professor and environmental consultant hired in 2011 to lead a major state agency through a period of broad consolidation and planning, is leaving office in February.

Esty said he is resigning to resume his tenured position at Yale Law School in New Haven at this point because time is running out on his university-issued leave of absence.

Esty, 54, broke the news Wednesday in a meeting with staffers. His last day at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will be Feb. 3.

No replacement was immediately apparent, though the governor is expected to put forward a name soon for lawmakers to consider.

The understanding between Esty and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was always that he would stay three years, Esty said. Leaving now rather than the end of his leave in March, lets him begin the Spring semester at Yale and the state go into the legislative session with the goal of confirming a new commissioner, he said.

"My sense was I wanted to do it in a way that the transition was smooth," Esty said.

In the three years as commissioner, Esty said, Connecticut has a better... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

HARTFORD — Energy and Environmental Commissioner Daniel C. Esty, the Yale University professor and environmental consultant hired in 2011 to lead a major state agency through a period of broad consolidation and planning, is leaving office in February.

Esty said he is resigning to resume his tenured position at Yale Law School in New Haven at this point because time is running out on his university-issued leave of absence.

Esty, 54, broke the news Wednesday in a meeting with staffers. His last day at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will be Feb. 3.

No replacement was immediately apparent, though the governor is expected to put forward a name soon for lawmakers to consider.

The understanding between Esty and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was always that he would stay three years, Esty said. Leaving now rather than the end of his leave in March, lets him begin the Spring semester at Yale and the state go into the legislative session with the goal of confirming a new commissioner, he said.

"My sense was I wanted to do it in a way that the transition was smooth," Esty said.

In the three years as commissioner, Esty said, Connecticut has a better footing on energy and the environment: The state has a strategic energy plan; its approaches to developing wind and solar resources are taking root, in many cases lowering costs; and getting a permit from the department has never been easier.

"There's a lot of implementation to do, and it remains a big challenge," Esty said in a recent interview in his wood-paneled office on Elm Street. "The best ideas can get off the rails if people aren't attentive, so we need to keep pushing on many fronts."

But it hasn't been an entirely clean tenure for Esty. The department has made enemies, at various times, of heating oil dealers, clean energy advocates, and renewable power developers. In October, state utility regulators publicly questioned the benefits of a Maine wind farm Esty chose for a state contract.

His time as commissioner also was marked the occasional red flag from outside the energy industry, as issues surfaced regarding his previous consulting for the energy industry, and political contributions to his wife, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, from executives at companies that his department regulates.

"There's going to need to be more recognition in the world ahead that you're going to have men and women, sometimes connected to each other, who need to be given the space to do their own careers and given some flexibility," Esty said. "In that regard, I think we have managed the potential for conflicts very tightly in this regard."

For much of Connecticut, though, the best measure for Esty's time in office might be whether bills are lower, the state permitting process is easier, and state parks and conservation lands are as accessible to residents as they were before.

Electricity rates had been falling, even before Esty took office, but the downward trend stopped ended Jan. 1 as concerns about natural gas pipeline capacity into New England contributed to higher prices throughout the region. Compared with the rates set Jan. 1, 2011, electric prices now are up 4 percent for residents with Connecticut Light & Power, while United Illuminated residents registered a 6 percent drop.

Esty said he expects prices in July to fall back to last year's levels, which were 8 percent lower than when he began as commissioner in March 2011.

On the permitting front, Esty said his goal was always to push for "a lighter regulatory burden without lowering standards." He said that 90 percent of business and environmental permits are issued in 60 days or less, that a huge backlog of applications has been nearly eliminated, and that the department is on its way to being a "paperless agency."

Esty said the state has continued to acquire open space and promote land conservation while the state managed tight budgets.

Reactions to the news, from Democrats and Republicans, made particular note of the department's work.

Malloy said in a statement that, while commissioner, Esty "led the way in integrating and reinvigorating our approach to environmental regulation and energy policy and building a strong foundation for 21st century action."

"Innovative and breakthrough programs were put in place to successfully address long-standing environmental and energy challenges," Malloy said. "In addition, steps were taken to lighten the burden of electricity costs, an issue that has created real problems for our families and businesses."

State Rep. Laura R. Hoydick, the Republican ranking member of the General Assembly's energy and Technology Committee, said in an phone interview that Esty was an "available" and "entrepreneurial" commissioner.

"He brought different perspectives" to the office, hired "intelligent, competent people," and "focused on things that were languishing," she said. "And as a member of the minority party I always had access to the commissioner. … I could call him at any time."

Former chair of the energy committee in 2011 and 2012, Sen. John Fonfara, a Democrat, said in a statement that Malloy's hiring of Esty "brought one of the best minds in the country into his administration," the result being "Connecticut has become a national leader in renewable energy."

"Since governor Malloy was elected, we have seen a ten-fold increase in the deployment of renewable power in 2013 over 2010," Fonfara said. "Last year alone, 1,500 residential solar projects and over 240 commercial clean energy projects came online."

Obama Adviser

A Connecticut native, Esty studied economics at Harvard University and at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar before heading to Yale Law School.

Hired to do environmental law at Arnold & Porter in Washington D.C., Esty soon left the private sector for the federal government. In 1989, Esty began working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, serving eventually as the deputy chief of staff and deputy assistant administrator for policy, where he was a U.S. negotiator during the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In 1994, he joined Yale University, teaching in the School of Forestry and the Law School as the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy. In 2007, began advising then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama from Illinois during his campaign for president and as he transitioned into the White House.

Malloy tapped Esty for the post in February 2011, to follow through on a state plan to consolidate the Department of Environmental Protection with the Department of Public Utility Control and a dozen energy employees from the Office of Policy Management into a new department.

The first year, Esty said, was challenging. "Change is hard, and that's true even when the status quo is demonstrably not working."

By June, lawmakers passed legislation consolidating the departments and empowering the new agency with additional renewable energy programs, a centralized plan for buying power for the state's standard service customers, and additional energy efficiency tools. The bill also called for the state to draft a comprehensive energy strategy.

The plan called for an unprecedented expansion of the state's natural gas pipelines, a controversial recategorization of hydropower as a top-tier renewable and a measure to increase funding for energy efficiency programs.

"That strategy, which the governor played a personal role in developing, is seen as a model," Esty said. "No state in the country has a better foundation for policy decision making, and certainly not in Washington where you see nothing like this."

Also in that first year, Esty weathered criticism that stemmed from his former work for the energy industry and his new duties regulating it.

In 2011, Esty's work as a consultant for Northeast Utilities from 1997 to 2005 raised concerns when he refused to recuse himself from a multimillion-dollar regulatory request from Connecticut Light & Power to install smart meters across its system.

Though he made $205,000 over those years, Esty said he didn't recuse himself because his relationship with the company ended six years prior and the management there had almost all but refreshed since then. The governor stood by Esty, saying the case wasn't a conflict of interest.

While in office, his wife, Elizabeth Esty, ran for and won an open seat in the 5th Congressional District, spawning allegations of favoritism from political opponents.

Last year, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat, agreed to return $4,500 in campaign contributions to Northeast Utilities executives and others regulated by DEEP after outcry from Republicans that the funds could translate into "favorable treatment" from her husband's department.

Focus On Energy

Technological leaps in recent years afford any number of yardsticks to gauge the state's progress in energy. How many electric vehicles are on the road? How energy efficient are homes in the state? How much does a kilowatt hour cost? How resilient is the state's energy grid to storms? How much does heat cost?

For Esty, a major measure focuses on how the use of energy interacts with the environment. In April 2011, he co-wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times titled "Pain at the Pump? We Need More," arguing for a carbon tax to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse gases.

"The best way to drive energy innovation would be an emissions charge of $5 per ton of greenhouse gases beginning in 2012, rising to $100 per ton by 2032," he and Harvard Business School professor Michael E. Porter wrote in the piece.

Gas was already $4 a gallon around the country. Republicans attacked, and the Malloy administration said it wasn't their policy. Since then, Esty's ideas on climate change have shifted.

"The truth of the matter is that the challenge of using some policy tool that might have been thought to be the best practice five of 10 years ago has proven to be so great that you need to be practical and be willing to shift gears," he said.

His new tack: Beat fossil fuels. "What the last three years have demonstrated in Connecticut is that the key to progress in climate change is progress in clean energy," he said. "And if we can bring down the cost or renewable power to bring it under the cost of the fossil fuel alternatives, that's when we'll transform the climate change picture."

If and when the prices invert, Esty said, you wouldn't "need the international treaties or big regulatory frameworks in Washington to change."


Source: http://www.courant.com/busi...

JAN 15 2014
http://www.windaction.org/posts/39503-state-energy-chief-stepping-down-to-resume-yale-professorship
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