Millstone workers, state & local officials tout 10-year deal
Waterford — Dan Brown, a supervisor in training at Millstone Power Station, relocated his family to Connecticut after plant owner Dominion Energy shuttered another nuclear facility, the Kewaunee Power Station in Carlton, Wis., in 2013.
With Millstone facing some of the same economics that squeezed Kewaunee — mainly competition from historically cheap natural gas — Brown worried the same fate awaited the Waterford plant and its 1,500 workers.
"I've seen firsthand the devastation that a plant closure can have on a region — to the individuals, to families and to the community," Brown on Monday told a relieved, upbeat crowd of 100-plus Millstone employees, Dominion executives, and state and local leaders who last month helped craft a deal, with help from Gov. Ned Lamont, to keep the plant open at least another decade.
Under a large tent in front of the plant, Brown shook hands with Lamont, State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, and Kevin Hennessy, Dominion's state policy director in New England, after thanking the governor and his team for hammering out a deal with Eversource and United Illuminating just weeks after Dominion executives said premature closure of Millstone remained possible.
"We all know nuclear plants have been challenged ... forcing many states into economic and energy supply chaos. We were determined to avoid that scenario," Formica said, explaining that the state and New England could not rely solely on natural gas for its baseload power.
Monday's celebration event — which fell on Lamont's 100th day in office — came a few years after a bipartisan group of lawmakers pushed to allow Millstone to compete with higher-priced wind, solar and hydropower in the state's zero-carbon auction. The state's pick of a Millstone proposal in the zero-carbon auction let Dominion sell some of its power to utilities at higher rates than it could earn in the wholesale electricity market. But unlike moves made by lawmakers in other states with nuclear plants, Connecticut's path to keep Millstone open involved no direct subsidies.
"There's not too much bipartisanship going on in the nation's capital. But fortunately, that is not the situation in Connecticut," said Dominion President and CEO Thomas Farrell.
"Connecticut's method was creative, fair and highly responsible to everybody involved," he said.
Farrell added in an interview that Dominion would eventually seek relicensing of Millstone's two operating units. Unit 2's operating license with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission expires in 2035, while Unit 3's expires in 2045. Unit 1 ceased operations in 1998.
State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes noted the 10-year contract reached between the state, Dominion and utilities was a "Millstone milestone," but she added it was not quite a done deal yet. The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority must complete a review of the contract by October.
Many speakers noted that Millstone's continued operation maintains several benefits to the region, state and all of New England — jobs and economic activity from support vendors; nearly carbon-free power; and a reliable electricity grid.
Dykes said Millstone's substantial power was critical in helping the state combat climate change and to keep the lights on in the winter.
"We know that during the winter time when we have prolonged periods of winter weather, a lot of the gas-fired plants on our grid are not able to get fuel and run," Dykes said. "It's a facility uniquely like Millstone that's so important to maintain the electricity we need for our state and thriving economy."
Lamont, Formica and Dykes also framed the deal to keep Millstone open as a bridge to the region's expansion of renewable energy, particularly offshore wind and solar power.
"What Texas is to oil, what West Virginia is to coal, I'd like to see this part of the state ... be the hub of green power for the next generation going forward," said Lamont. "It starts right here at Millstone. I'm talking to the nuclear scientists, they say there's still a lot of legs to this place."
Laura Wagnecz, a nuclear engineer who's worked at Millstone for 25 years, said in an interview that news of last month's deal gave her "such a good feeling, especially with the plant running so well."
Wagnecz and dozens of other Millstone employees had gathered for the event wearing blue jackets with insignias that signified a top rating in 2018 from the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, a nonprofit that sets industry standards and evaluates nuclear plant safety and reliability.
Debbie MacDonald, a manager of engineers at Millstone, said in an interview that the plant has been looking to hire people, but the lack of clarity over whether the plant would stay open long-term has presented challenges over the last several months.
"This assurance helps us bring talent into the area," she said.
Farrell said that he hoped Lamont and Dykes would continue work with New England governors and the regional grid operator, ISO New England, to "fix the market structure in New England so we don't need this structure in Connecticut anymore. I think that would be the best option for everybody."
Last month at Lamont's suggestion, New England governors agreed to evaluating "market-based mechanisms that value the contribution that existing nuclear generation resources make to regional energy security and winter reliability."
How such "market-based mechanisms" will play out between states, Millstone, Seabrook Station Nuclear Plant in Seabrook, N.H., and the power grid remains to be seen, but Dykes said the state was open to all options.
Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward said the town was "just pleased to have this resolved and to keep Millstone as part of the community."
"The state doesn't have a ready, reliable backup," he added.
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