Millstone bill advances to hearing this week

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

A bill considered crucial to the future of the Millstone Power Station in Waterford and one of the most noteworthy of the current session in the state Legislature will be taken up Tuesday in what is expected to be the first of two Energy and Technology Committee public hearings on it.

Sponsors of the measure said they hope the bill can be crafted to simultaneously preserve the viability of Millstone and benefit electricity ratepayers.

“We think this can be a unique and groundbreaking format to provide a mechanism for Millstone to bid, not a subsidy,” state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme and co-chairman of the committee, said Thursday.

Formica is one of five sponsors of the bill, along with Republican Reps. Holly Cheeseman of East Lyme, Kathleen McCarty of Waterford, Devin Carney of Old Saybrook and Melissa Ziobron of East Haddam. The hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. in Room 1D of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

In its current form, the bill contains brief language that its intent is to amend state law “to provide a mechanism for zero-carbon generating facilities to sell power to electric utilities.” Formica said the language of the bill will be fully fleshed out after Tuesday’s hearing, based on testimony from state officials, representatives of Millstone owner Dominion Resources and citizens and ratepayer advocacy groups.

Once the full version is developed, Formica said he hopes the committee will host a second public hearing before a vote on whether to send it to the full state Senate and House.

The bill is being promoted as a means of reducing Millstone’s vulnerability to falling energy prices, by allowing plant owners to sell power directly to the state’s two main energy distributors, Eversource and United Illuminating, through long-term contracts it would bid for in a state-run process now open only to renewable-energy producers. Currently the 2,111 megawatts of electricity produced by the plant’s two operating nuclear reactors is sold through contracts with third-party brokers.

Volatility in energy markets due largely to falling natural gas prices has cut into profitability of several of the nation’s older nuclear plants, contributing to the closure of at least five around the country in recent years. Illinois and New York have provided subsidies to plants in their respective state borders to prevent closures.

Formica emphasized that Connecticut is not considering a subsidy, and that bids that are too costly could be rejected.

In addition to preserving the economic benefits of the nuclear plant, supporters of the bill also argue that ensuring the viability of the plant is necessary to meet Connecticut’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Millstone is New England’s largest source of carbon-emissions-free power, producing half the electricity used in Connecticut. In two recent reports, Dominion has quantified the economic and environmental impact of preserving the plant and the impact of its potential closure. The company has emphasized, however, that it has no current plans to shut the plant.

Advocacy groups, including the Connecticut Chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, have expressed reservations about the bill, concerned that ratepayers will end up paying more if it is approved.

Formica said he is aware of the concerns, and will work to ensure that ratepayers are protected.

Ken Holt, spokesman for Millstone, said Kevin Hennessy, director of state, local and federal affairs for Dominion New England, is planning to testify at the hearing.

“We think the Connecticut legislature is being far thinking about this,” Holt said. “We’re looking forward to presenting the facts at the hearing.”

Formica said taking steps to protect Millstone now is a prudent course of action, in light of what’s happening to other plants around the country.

“We know the nuclear industry has problems around the country,” he said. “Do we want to wait until it’s a huge problem in front of our noses, or do we want to solve it ahead of time?”

j.benson@theday.com

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