Energy Secretary on State Pier Project: 'We want to replicate this'
U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said during her visit to eastern Connecticut Friday that President Joe Biden has singled out Connecticut, and Waterford and New London in particular, as examples of how the country can reach its clean energy goals.
Granholm traveled throughout eastern Connecticut during her visit on Friday, including a stop at UConn to tour the Energy Department's Southern New England Industrial Assessment Center. Her two final stops were at Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Waterford and the State Pier in New London.
Granholm was joined by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, State Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, Waterford First Selectman Rob Brule and many Dominion Energy workers for a tour of Millstone on Friday.
Members of the group, comprised of the news media, politicians, their staff, and Dominion staff, traveled across the power station and into the unit 1 control room. At that point, the group split up, as a smaller group of Granholm and others went inside.
The group joined back up at the dry cast storage site. In addition to spent fuel pools, Millstone has dry storage in metal canisters encased in concrete, which can be stored for decades. There are federal efforts to find a national repository underway, with $20 million allocated in the federal budget both last year and this year for a Request for Information process where the federal government seeks localities that would welcome such a repository. Courtney said the budget for 2023 contains $53 million to that effect.
After Dominion officials answered questions from Granholm, Granholm took questions from the news media while standing adjacent to the nuclear waste storage facility.
Granholm said solving the waste issue is an important part of relying on renewable energy.
"Clearly, we want to be able to continue to use these plants and the ones we want to build, and right now nuclear fission has waste, and so we've got to figure out where that's going to be solved," she said. "A lot of communities raised their hands and said, yes, we are excited to have a nuclear plant, but they didn't all volunteer to host the waste. So in order to make good to those communities, we have to have a consent-based siting process for the waste. So we've begun that."
About 200 communities responded to the federal RFI expressing interest in building nuclear power in the community, but, Granholm said, a much smaller percentage of these communities expressed a willingness for further conversation about storing the nuclear waste.
"There are communities that are willing to engage in that conversation," Granholm said. "And those communities would have to be compensated, there's infrastructure issues, et cetera, we want to make sure that they are made whole for doing this service to the country. That conversation's ongoing, and we will be putting out another RFI based on the first before the end of the year."
Granholm concluded the impromptu press conference discussing why Millstone is essential to the state's and the country's clean energy goals.
"This facility, especially for this region, is huge. It represents 40% of your power and over 90% of your clean power, so this is really important to get to the goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035, which is the president's goal," Granholm said. "It's one of the reasons why your Congressman has been such an advocate for finding the solution for waste but also for nuclear power. You get a lot of your power from natural gas, but this particular site is critical to reach your goals."
Dominion officials maintained that it can safely store the spent fuel, but urged Granholm for a federal site to be chosen.
Brule, along with other local actors past and present, have expressed frustration with the fact that there is nuclear waste in town. Brule has said he wants Dominion to adhere to the original agreement, and maintains that nuclear waste puts the community in danger in multiple ways.
A bill passed in this spring's legislative session would exempt Millstone Power Station from a state nuclear power facility construction moratorium.
The bill is meant to allow the state's existing nuclear power facilities — Millstone — to expand to other nuclear technologies on-site, but not to build a third full-scale reactor.
As Dominion Energy New England Policy Director Mary Nuara wrote in public testimony on the bill, "Dominion Energy supports the state's efforts to explore all options available, including advanced nuclear technologies like small modular reactors, to achieve its long-term decarbonization goals."
The bill was supported on a bipartisan basis in both the state House and Senate. Senate Bill 10, also passed this past legislative session, requires the state to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from electricity supplied to Connecticut customers by 2040, which legislators say can't happen without the full-scale inclusion of renewable energy.
The federal government had originally committed to taking possession of nuclear waste from facilities like Millstone but later reneged, meaning Millstone stores its used fuel on site.
Dominion Senior Vice President and chief nuclear officer Dan Stoddard said Friday that Dominion will not begin planning on building small modular reactors at Millstone until a new power purchase agreement is arrived at, and until Millstone extends its operating license out to 80 years. At that point, they will begin looking closely at the possibility of building such reactors at Millstone.
Granholm's trip to Millstone follows a Thursday exchange between Blumenthal and Granholm during a Senate Committee on Armed Services meeting. Blumenthal noted the importance of cybersecurity for facilities like Millstone.
"I would suggest that we need cybersecurity in existing industrial control systems — nuclear, wind, solar — not only new ones but those being built ... We are vulnerable," Blumenthal said. "I will be interested tomorrow to hear and see some of your suggestions about how we can safeguard our cybersecurity, particularly on nuclear."
Granholm said in response that the National Nuclear Security Administration has the same concerns as Blumenthal.
"They have hired an evaluation to happen and that evaluator has identified some points of excellence but also some points of challenge, and the points of challenge involve further investments in the work force ... as well as infrastructure that will prevent ... hacking, prevent penetration," Granholm said. "That includes monitoring, includes detection, includes addressing on the spot, includes projection about where things are going."
Blumenthal asked if Granholm had reviewed Millstone's security systems. She said she was looking forward to learning about Millstone on Friday.
"Well, we hope that you will give us the benefit of your assessment when you finish with your view because cybersecurity there and at every nuclear power plant has to be regarded with a tremendous urgency," Blumenthal said.
Granholm concluded the exchange by saying for financial and security reasons, the U.S. needs to focus on homegrown clean energy.
After seeing Millstone, Granholm was taken on a tour of the State Pier. She along with Courtney, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes, Gov. Ned Lamont, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and representatives from Eversource, Ørsted, Kiewit Infrastructure Company, building and construction workers and other state and municipal leaders, including Mayor Michael Passero, came to the site Friday afternoon to celebrate the project's progress.
Passero pointed out that federal politicians and officials along with Lamont have taken a great interest in New London due to the State Pier project in recent years.
"It's one of our banner days when we celebrate New London being on the cutting edge of the new green economy that the Biden administration is bringing to the United States," Passero said.
Port Authority Board Chair David Kooris said the State Pier is a "terrific example" of what it takes to build a green and clean energy economy.
"We're really happy to deliver this project less than a year from now, and we can't wait to see turbines here and the ships bringing those out to the offshore farm," Kooris said.
Eversource President Joe Nolan said the State Pier "will be the epicenter of wind development in the whole northeast."
"There's no other place that this vessel can land other than Norfolk, Virginia, that's how large this vessel is," Nolan said.
Ørsted Head of Northeast Government Affairs David Ortiz said the company is looking forward to beginning offshore construction next year. He said its first three projects will provide enough power for a million homes in Connecticut and across the region.
Lamont praised the public-private partnership supporting the State Pier remake.
"In the next four years, 92% of our electric grid is going to be carbon-free," Lamont said. "I want to be a leader in this country right now. Wind power along with nuclear power, what that means in terms of a carbon-free grid; it makes a big difference."
Lamont and others also praised the project for its provisions of hundreds of jobs. Granholm, Blumenthal and Courtney celebrated the fact that they are union jobs.
"I particularly want to thank the men and women who are out there every day, our laborers, our teamsters, the unions are making it happen again," Blumenthal said. "Organized labor is coming through here."
"To my colleagues in the United States Senate, if you want to see the future of energy in this country, come here, come to New London, come to the State Pier. This is the future of energy in the United States of America," Blumenthal said.
Murphy said offshore wind is "the holy grail of public policy" because it begets jobs in the short term, it accounts for economic development in the long run, "it makes the country more secure, and it helps save the planet."
"What other investment gets you all of that, all at once?" Murphy asked.
In his remarks at the State Pier news conference Friday, Courtney said that what's happening in New London is "eye-watering."
"Just the dimensions of this project, the complexity of the work, and the speed with which it's being implemented, is really just extraordinary," Courtney said. "That schedule, which we heard for next year, I think is on track and it's going to stay on track to make sure that we execute the plan exactly as it was initially envisioned."
Granholm said she was asked to come to Connecticut by the White House "because y'all have been doing amazing things here in Connecticut."
"The President has this goal of getting to 100% clean electricity by 2035," Granholm said. "The reason why the President was fascinated by what you are doing is because we want to replicate this."
Costs for the State Pier project have spiraled since the original estimation of $93 million, coming to a new projection of $235 million. The project has also been facing allegations of corruption in recent years, including a federal investigation into the spending and related contracts.
The state Contracting Standards Board, a watchdog agency that had its funding politicized, but ultimately provided, during a budget battle this past legislative session, recently completed an investigation into the Connecticut Port Authority, which criticized past practices of the Authority.
A federal grand jury has issued a subpoena for documents related to Konstantinos "Kosta" Diamantis, the former deputy director of Office of Policy and Management, who was assigned to oversee the Connecticut Port Authority's $235 million State Pier redevelopment project and also led the state's Office of School Construction Grants and Review. Diamantis resigned after being suspended amid an ethics probe of his daughter's hiring by Chief State's Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr. and a school construction contractor.
Asked whether she was aware of the federal investigation, and if so, whether it would affect her feelings on the project, Granholm said, "The project is a great project. I don't know about the local issues. This is a great project though."