Local officials ask state House to move Millstone bill forward

Dominion's Millstone Power Station in Waterford is seen from the air on July 9, 2011. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Dominion's Millstone Power Station in Waterford is seen from the air on July 9, 2011. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Local officials from the region are urging state legislators to take a vote on the bill, passed by the Senate last week, that could allow the Millstone Power Station in Waterford to sell power directly to utilities.

The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments unanimously voted Wednesday to send a letter that asks the state House of Representatives to move the bill forward.

The legislation would enable the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to decide if it's "in the best interest of ratepayers" for nuclear power plants to sell power directly to utilities in a state-sponsored competitive bid process, according to a news release from Southeastern Connecticut senators. The bidding process currently is open to renewables and other low-emitting energy sources.

Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward said at Wednesday's council of governments meeting that the impact of Millstone closing to Southeastern Connecticut would be 1,400 jobs and approximately $2 billion of income.

“We are looking at a major loss of 50 percent of the power to the state of Connecticut, so it’s not just southeastern Connecticut that’s impacted,” Steward added. “It’s every electric user in the state of Connecticut who would be impacted by the diminishing power that comes from Millstone."

At the same time as local officials are pushing for a vote on legislation, the state DEEP and PURA are working to complete by February 2018 a study on the economic viability of Millstone that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered in July after similar legislation failed earlier this year in the General Assembly. Dominion had said, in response to the study announcement, that it would still continue its "strategic assessment" of Millstone.

Dominion recently filed responses to data requests from DEEP and PURA. The packet showed Dominion's "fully loaded" payroll was about $188 million last year and the company paid $27.1 million in property taxes.

Dominion CEO Paul D. Koonce wrote in a cover letter that the company "made every effort to provide the requested information while maintaining our competitive position." He said it's important for the company to maintain its "competitive position" since the legislation would allow "multiple resources, including older Canadian hydro assets and others, eligible to bid in the same competitive procurement process." Comments made by some utilities "make clear that competitors are eager to use any confidential information that we file to their own advantage."

"It is important that we be able to protect and maintain the confidentiality of our information, and to safeguard it against such unwarranted intrusions," Koonce wrote. "As a result, we will not be providing competitively sensitive information at this time. We propose to supplement the information we have enclosed with oral briefings of your designee on trends for both revenues and expenses for the power station."

DEEP and PURA said they are reviewing Dominion’s response to their request.

"The conclusions of this study will have significant implications for our state’s ability to meet our goals of a clean, cheap, and reliable energy future," DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said by email. "For this reason, we are considering carefully the information that has been provided, and our ability to obtain the information needed to make informed recommendations."

Chris Collibee, a spokesperson for Malloy, said in a statement Wednesday that under Malloy's executive order, the two state agencies have until the beginning of the 2018 legislative session to report back to the governor and legislature.

"When that report is complete, we will review those findings for further possible action," Collibee said.

Stop the Millstone Payout coalition, which includes Calpine Corp., Dynegy, NRG Energy and the Electric Power Supply Association, and has opposed legislation along with groups such as the AARP, issued a news release Wednesday criticizing that Dominion "failed to file meaningful financial data" with the state agencies. The coalition has maintained that the proposed legislation would lead to higher electricity bills for ratepayers.

A coalition spokesman, Dan Hendrick, who is also NRG director of external affairs, said that while Dominion has spoken about the need for legislation for the past two legislative sessions, the data requests were an opportunity to provide "tangible proof" that assistance is needed.

"At the end of the day, they haven't filed any tangible proof that the plant is in economic duress," he said, adding that Dominion could have provided information confidentially under a protective order.

Hendrick added that the coalition is not looking to close down the plant and respects the workers there, but does not think Millstone should have a special deal, without demonstrating the need for it to ratepayers and legislators.

Dominion Spokesman Ken Holt said the coalition is continuing to mislead the public. He pointed out that the filings show his company has provided a lot of information, but kept some proprietary information out of public filings, where competitors could access it, and instead offered "face to face" meetings with the state. He said the legislation is not a "special deal" and said the state can reject any bids that are too high.

State Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London, said he supports moving the House bill forward.

He said by phone Wednesday that while some colleagues have had reservations due to past efforts around deregulation, the bill at this point has been so watered down and puts the onus on regulating agencies to determine if it's good for Connecticut and ratepayers to allow Dominion to compete in the wholesale market.

Soto also said it's important for Connecticut to be consistent, and the state has given corporations millions of dollars to stay in the state and didn't ask them to open their books.

State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, said she thought Dominion raised a fair point regarding the sensitive competitive information. She said focusing on how much Millstone is making now and in the future is beside the point, when one only has to look at the nuclear market to see that power plants, including Dominion's Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin, have closed prematurely.

She pointed out that the legislature in the past was asked to accept on faith a proposal to provide subsidies to Sikorsky Aircraft. 

She said Dominion is only asking for the right to bid, if it's found to be in the best interest of ratepayers.

"This is a vital energy resource," Cheeseman said. "They are asking for the ability to bid into our process. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by allowing this to go forward."

k.drelich@theday.com

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