Legislature, Dominion need to step up

Good lawmaking happens when a bill is debated with consideration of its effects and possible side-effects, when every legislator has read and understands it, when the public has had a chance to comment, and when there is time to weigh all of the above.

That's the exact opposite of so-called "implementer bills," ostensibly designed to allow the provisions of a new budget to go into effect but often sneakily carrying, like viruses, hidden provisions that were never aired.

For once, however, we are happy to hear about a possible post-session bill: When the General Assembly finally takes up a budget proposal, there may be another opportunity to vote on permitting Dominion Energy, owner of the two operating nuclear power units in Connecticut, to enter into long-term energy contracts outside of the wholesale markets.

Connecticut needs the Millstone Power Station in Waterford, its 50-plus percent of the state's electricity, its 1,100 jobs, its tax payments and its production of almost all the carbon-free power in the state. What the state does not need, and what Dominion has done to make its request objectionable, is the company's refusal to be transparent about Millstone's profitability even as it warns that low profits may shut the units down.

The legislative stalemate is two years old, but new developments make this a good time — an urgent time — for progress.

Connecticut is one of the states that vowed to keep on with its clean air goals despite the Trump administration's dismantling of environmental policy and planned withdrawal from the international climate agreement. The state's updated comprehensive energy strategy, which was a year late partly because the energy supply picture had shifted, is now focused on an overall electric grid powered by energy that doesn't produce greenhouse gas emissions. Separately, a study of the Millstone units' economic viability, ordered by the governor, is underway.

In the immediate, big picture of energy and the environment, Millstone looks more like a solution than a problem.

Nevertheless, it has an array of strange bedfellows as foes. The state Senate, for the second year in a row, passed a bill that would have granted Millstone some form of what it's seeking, but the House has twice refused to take it up. Competitors in both fossil-fuel and renewable energy industries, consumer advocates fearful of higher rates, and conservationists who have had issues with Millstone for decades have sent a combined message that House members have heeded. The southeastern Connecticut delegation, heavily Republican, has been unable to convince enough colleagues in the Democratic-ruled House that Millstone's future must not be risked.

The new state energy strategy calls for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030; that disappointed some environmentalists who say it doesn't aim high enough. If Millstone were out of business by then, even that goal might be unattainable. 

Ironically, it may not be the urgency of cleaning up the air that, in the end, would persuade the House to consider the bill passed by the Senate. It may be the kind of deal that would traditionally fit into an implementer bill — not particularly pretty.

Legislators desperate to add revenue sources to the biennial budget with its estimated $2.3 billion gap were reported by the Connecticut Mirror to be discussing possible ways that Dominion might get access to the deregulated energy market, in return for an arrangement that somehow gives the state between $75 million and $125 million for a set number of years. The Associated Press said one possible arrangement might be budget language that allows Dominion to bypass the wholesale electricity market and sell directly to the state, if recommended by the governor's study results.

Connecticut has had to watch as major corporate employers, including General Electric, Pfizer Inc. and Aetna, move significant portions of their workforce out of state. That stings, but the premature loss of Millstone before the two units' operating licenses expire a few decades from now would hurt more. Not only jobs would be lost, but also the state's major carbon-free energy producer until technology gives us new, mass-scale renewable energy sources.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority will hold a hearing for the Millstone study at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in the Gina McCarthy Auditorium, 79 Pearl St., Hartford. To register to comment, email DEEP.EnergyBureau@ct.gov.

The legislature needs to stop protecting competing interests and Dominion needs to participate candidly in the state's planning for its energy future. Try again.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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