Locals, politicians back state support for Millstone
Waterford — Supporters of the Millstone Power Station on Tuesday painted a bleak picture of the state's energy grid, carbon emissions and ratepayer electricity bills should owner Dominion Energy decide to shutter the plant within the next few years.
Speaking at a hearing at Waterford High School, more than a half-dozen lawmakers and a few locals based their comments in part on a recent report from state regulators that highlighted the plant's 1,000-plus workers, almost $30 million in property tax payments to Waterford and at least $1.3 billion in statewide economic benefits.
"There has been nothing produced by the (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) that has provided any information that contradicts the need for the continued operation of Millstone," state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said.
DEEP and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority are conducting an ongoing economic assessment of Millstone following a July executive order from Gov. Dannel Malloy.
Dominion has hinted that Millstone could suffer the same fate as U.S. nuclear plants that have shuttered after stiff competition from historically low natural gas prices. The company also says in the current wholesale market, hedge funds buy up much of its power and hike rates by the time electricity reaches consumers.
Dominion's push to sell electricity in a state-sponsored bidding process where it would compete with solar, wind and hydropower was backed by every elected official taking the microphone Tuesday night.
Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward said the energy market shift would help Millstone remain competitive, a move he supports because locals are concerned about jobs and ratepayer costs to replace Millstone's power generation.
The agencies projected between $700 million and more than $5 billion in costs passed on to ratepayers if Millstone were to close.
"As ratepayers, we are the ones that would have to pay that rate somehow, either through state taxes or our own taxation, which we would really prefer not to do," Steward said.
A few locals, including engineers and sheet metal workers with experience at Millstone, also touted the plant's positive impact on the region.
But DEEP and PURA's initial report noted even under worst-case market scenarios, Millstone would earn at least $100 million in profits annually through 2035.
Not everyone in the crowd was convinced the nuclear facility needed state support to survive.
"The industry has always thrived on lies, misrepresentations and corruption," Thomas Mccormick of Hartford said. "No corporation wishes to get a lower price for its product, and the only goal of Dominion going into the Connecticut auction is to get a higher price for its product."
Paul McCary, an attorney from the Murtha Cullina law firm who is representing NRG, an energy company opposing the proposed energy market change, fought against the popular sentiment of "Let them bid."
"Make no mistake, they're asking for a subsidy," said McCary, who added that Dominion refused to provide financial data backing up the company's claims that it needed market changes.
When Dominion did release confidential information to DEEP and PURA on Nov. 30, it was only two pages, an insufficient amount to provide genuine proof the plant was hurting, McCary argued.
Dominion officials note that unlike the company's Virginia plants, Millstone has two different kinds of units, requiring separate training and staffing, which produces higher-than-normal operating costs.
Kevin Hennessy, Dominion's state policy director in New England, said it was important to focus on legislation passed in October allowing the state to issue requests for proposals for energy in a bidding process akin to other kinds of state purchases.
"It's a pretty simple risk analysis," Hennessy said. "What's the risk in actually issuing the RFP? My personal feeling and my company's feeling is, it's nothing."
Hennessy said the state has become more expedient at vetting and awarding contracts, presenting little risks compared to "rolling blackouts ... if Millstone shuts down, the increased carbon emissions and huge increase in costs to customers. Those are huge risks."
DEEP Commissioner Rob Klee said in an interview that the agencies appreciated the feedback. He encouraged interested locals to submit written comments by Monday, Jan. 8.
Klee added DEEP and PURA would continue discussions with Dominion to better understand and incorporate its confidential financial data into agencies' final report.
Asked to respond to comments by Somers — who said DEEP was conducting "another endless series of stakeholder processes" instead of taking action — Klee said he welcomed the comments but that it is prudent for regulators to conduct a thorough review.
"We're taking our time because this is big, important, complicated stuff and we want to be right," he said.
Another public hearing is set for Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at Gina McCarthy Auditorium, 79 Elm St., in Hartford.
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