Stakeholders voice support for Millstone at annual meeting

Waterford — Audience members at a Millstone stakeholders meeting on Tuesday raised several arguments in favor of a bill pending in the state legislature that would allow the nuclear power plant to sell its electricity directly to energy-distribution companies rather than third-party middlemen.

“In order to stay viable, that plant really needs that bill, and it will help consumers,” said Bill Sheehan, a town resident and member of the Connecticut Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee, a citizens’ watchdog group. Sheehan cited a recent financial report from plant owner Dominion Resources that stated that the company lost a total of $64 million from 2015 to 2016 on all its power-generating assets in states where the energy markets are deregulated, including Connecticut. The information was included in a 2016 Securities and Exchange Commission statement on Dominion’s website.

While the report did not say how much of that loss was attributable to Millstone versus the company’s other plants, it is clear that “basically, Millstone lost money for Dominion,” Sheehan said.

Kevin Hennessy, Dominion’s director of state policy for New England, did not dispute Sheehan’s assertion, but added that, “Dominion is committed to Millstone. We are making money there now. But this bill is a way for us to get some clarity and some certainty.”

The bill Hennessy and Sheehan referred to, SB 106, would allow Millstone to sell up to 950 megawatts of the power it produces directly to Eversource and United Illuminating in a single five-year contract through a bid process overseen by state regulators now open only to renewable energy producers. The measure has been crafted as a means of stabilizing the plant against energy market volatility and preserving the baseload power Millstone provides. The plant produces a total of 2,100 megawatts of electricity, about 55 percent of the power consumed in Connecticut.

Last month the bill passed the Legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee and is expected to be taken up by the full Senate later this month. Opponents of the bill are skeptical it would benefit consumers by lowering electricity prices, as bill supporters contend, and argue it would give the plant an unfair advantage in energy markets without requiring Dominion to be transparent with its finances. Others are concerned it would undermine the growth of renewable energy in the state.

The 30 state lawmakers, local leaders and residents at the annual stakeholders’ meeting at Langley’s Restaurant, however, focused on the potential benefits of the bill and actions that could help it advance.

State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, cited Millstone’s contributions to the local economy as one of the region's major employers. Dominion employs about 1,100 full-time staff at the plant, and another 1,500 full-time workers are employed by contractors at the plant.

Sate Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, urged that the town’s senior citizens be enlisted to lobby in support of the bill, based on its potential to lower electricity rates.

Ed Munster, a member of the Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee, asked Dominion officials how much consumer electricity rates could decrease if the bill is passed.

“If you could project what impact it might have on consumers, that would generate support for the bill,” he said.

Hennessy said that number is difficult to quantify “because we don’t know yet what our bid strategy would be. But the company has calculated that if the plant were to close, electricity rates in New England would rise 21 percent, he said.

Earlier in the meeting, Hennessy presented figures illustrating how the volatility of the energy markets has cut into Dominion’s revenues from the plant.

In 2016, the plant sold its power for 2.9 cents per kilowatt hour — the lowest amount since 2007 — to third-party hedge funds, which in turn sold it to the wholesale market. At the same time, Eversource sold it to consumers at 8.1 cents per kilowatt hour, and UI sold it for 9.4 cents.

If Millstone is allowed to sell its power directly to the distributors, Hennessy said, it could sell it for a higher price that is still below what Eversource and UI are charging, and the difference would be passed on to consumers in the form of lower electricity bills, he said.

“Basically, the energy markets are broken,” he said.

 j.benson@theday.com

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