Keeping Millstone humming

It may seem odd that a plant would celebrate being judged “at risk,” but such is the case with Dominion Energy, which learned last week that the “at risk” status of its Millstone Power Station nuclear plant in Waterford will better position it to land profitable energy contracts.

This is the latest step in a long effort, stretching over two years, to provide Millstone station the stability it needs to remain viable. The final step should come soon when the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is expected to include Millstone among the power generators selected in its “zero-carbon” auction.

While Millstone may be operating profitably now, Dominion recognizes its longer term prospects were not good unless something changed. It could no longer compete with power plants fueled by cheap natural gas. Nuclear plants have closed across the country because they could not survive in their markets, including the Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin in 2012. Also operated by Dominion, it confronted price pressures similar to those facing Millstone.

A sudden shutdown of Millstone would pose a big problem, given that it supplies about 50 percent of Connecticut's electric power and about 95 percent of the state's zero-carbon energy. It is a major southeastern Connecticut employer, with about 1,500 high-priced jobs.

In passing a law that this newspaper strongly advocated for in its editorials, the state legislature allowed Millstone to enter into an auction with other technologies, such as solar, wind and hydropower that, like nuclear, have the benefit of not producing greenhouse gases.

But the “at risk” of closure designation, granted by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, was a critical finding under the legislation. It means that DEEP will grade Dominion’s bids to sell power from Millstone not only on price but also on consideration the economic and environmental benefits the plant provides.

Because of their proprietary nature, Dominion provided confidential records documenting the economic challenges facing Millstone to state regulators. Both the Office of Consumer Counsel and DEEP urged the PURA to designate the nuclear station as at risk of retirement.

DEEP will select winning proposals by year’s end. The winning bidders then will negotiate contracts with electric distribution companies Eversource and United Illuminating. PURA anticipates approving the contracts next spring.

In time Millstone should be displaced by renewable energy sources, but keeping it open now provides a bridge to that clean-energy future.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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