DEEP, PURA to hold Millstone public hearing in Waterford Tuesday

Waterford — State regulators reviewing the Millstone Power Station's financial outlook are asking locals to take the microphone to provide feedback to them Tuesday night at Waterford High School.

Hosted by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, the 6 p.m. hearing is a required step as the agencies analyze Millstone's economic viability, the impact of potential closure and possible energy market changes that owner Dominion Energy says are essential to keep the facility operational.

"We want to hear from the people," Chris Collibee, DEEP spokesman, said. "DEEP and PURA will do a brief presentation. Then we'll listen to folks."

Per a July executive order from Gov. Dannel Malloy, DEEP and PURA must take comments from the public and stakeholders and submit a final report on Millstone by Feb. 1.

The agencies said the final report will include recommendations one way or another on proposed methods to stabilize revenues for Millstone, which employs more than 1,000 people and provides about half the state's electricity.

Dominion has hinted that Millstone could suffer the same fate as shuttered U.S. nuclear plants that struggled to compete with low-cost natural gas. But a draft report released by DEEP and PURA last week showed Millstone stands to earn $100 million-plus in annual profits over the next several years in the existing market.

Dominion disputes those figures, saying analysts failed to consider Millstone's higher-than-average operating costs to run two dissimilar unit types. Millstone Unit 1 is already shut down, while Units 2 and 3 are licensed until 2035 and 2045, respectively.

As opposed to the current New England wholesale market — where Millstone officials say hedge funds serve as middle men buying electricity and hiking rates — Dominion wants permission to sell in a state-sponsored bidding process where it would compete with solar, wind, hydropower and other low-emitting energy sources.

Many locals, workers and officials say the proposed energy market changes are vital considering Millstone's economic impact on the community.

"The concern I have is, we need to be able to make sure we can provide power for the state of Connecticut," Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward said in an interview. "We've got 1,400 employees, and huge amounts to the state in revenue. This is an easy decision: let them bid."

But some power companies, environmentalists and groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons have voiced concerns about the proposals or described them as subsidies for a nuclear facility that analysts expect to remain profitable.

Dave Gaier, spokesman for national energy company NRG, recently called the proposed market changes a "cynical scheme" for a company running a profitable plant.

But Millstone spokesman Ken Holt notes Dominion is not seeking the kind of "straight subsidies" other states have implemented to help nuclear plants stay in business.

"All we've asked for is an opportunity to sell our power to the state," Holt said. "If they don't like the price, they don't buy it."

In October, Malloy signed a bill allowing energy officials to implement a bidding process that would benefit Millstone, but not before DEEP and PURA complete their review.

"DEEP and PURA have been extraordinarily busy assessing this important question," Katie Dykes, chairwoman of PURA, said. "We recognize the urgency of this question, as it has significant impact ... for Millstone, for the Waterford community, southeastern Connecticut and the ratepayers of Connecticut."

Another public hearing is set for Wednesday, Dec. 20 at 9:30 a.m. at the Gina McCarthy Auditorium, 79 Elm St., in Hartford.

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