Approve bill to help Millstone secure its future

When in special session to finally adopt a budget, the House of Representatives should also approve legislation that would empower state regulators to permit Millstone Power Station to compete with other carbon-free energy sources. The proposal, allowing about half the energy Millstone produces to be sold in this fashion, would still be contingent on regulators judging it to be in the public interest.

This compromise addresses both concerns expressed by Millstone owner Dominion Energy that the plant cannot remain economically viable in the current market and fears from consumer advocates that the new arrangement would lead to a price spike.

On Sept. 15 the Senate approved the legislation 28-9. Playing a key role in the bipartisan effort were two local legislators, Republican Sen. Paul Formica, whose 20th District is home to the Waterford nuclear plant, and Democratic Sen. Cathy Osten, who’s adjacent 19th District is home to many who work at Millstone. The pair co-chair the Finance Committee.

Millstone owner Dominion contends that current energy pricing policies in Connecticut's deregulated market do not mesh with its nuclear model, built on long-term consistent operation. The development of fracking technology has produced an abundance of natural gas and a growth in gas-powered electric generation plants. That has led to extreme volatility and lower prices in the daily energy markets. Several nuclear plants, unable to operate profitably, have closed across the country.

Under the legislation approved by the Senate, Dominion could compete with hydro, wind and solar to sell about half the energy Millstone produces to the state’s two major electric power distributors, Eversource and United Illuminating, using long-term contracts. That stability will assure Millstone’s operation for many more years, providing a bridge to when renewable energy sources are ready to meet more of the state’s energy needs, Formica said.

We can’t ignore how important the Millstone plant is to the local economy and in meeting Connecticut's, and New England’s, energy demands. Millstone generates $1.5 billion in annual economic impact and employs a workforce of 1,000-plus, not counting the jobs from companies that contract to provide services to the nuclear station. It has a payroll of $118 million and pays $27 million in property taxes to Waterford.

Millstone supplies about 55 percent of the electricity purchased in Connecticut. If it were to cease operations, consumer prices would certainly spike, benefitting plants powered by natural gas. It is no wonder, then, that the natural gas industry has led the opposition to providing Millstone some pricing relief.

After efforts to pass legislation in the regular session faltered, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered a study of “the current and projected economic viability for the continued operation of the Millstone nuclear generating facilities.” We endorsed the study, expecting it would provide the evidence the legislature would need in 2018 to finally pass a Millstone bill. 

However, Dominion executives said another long delay risked a plant closing. This new approach would allow the state agencies undertaking the Malloy-ordered study to use that information in deciding whether to permit the new energy sales arrangement for Millstone, rather than having to await legislative action. 

If the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Public Utilities Control Authority determine that the energy-sales proposals submitted by Dominion are not in the public interest, they can block them.

Favorable pricing for Millstone is no done deal, even if the legislation passes. Last week Dominion told DEEP and PURA they would not answer many of the questions the regulators had about the plant’s financial standing, calling such information proprietary and vital to its ability to compete. With this stance Dominion risks a finding, assuming the House passes the legislation, that state regulators do not have enough information to judge its new sales arrangement as in the public interest.

But with the legislation, Dominion would have a fair shot to compete and no one to blame if it fails.

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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