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    Sunday, March 03, 2024

    Is data center key to extending Millstone’s future in Waterford?

    Waterford ― At a meeting Monday night, officials from NE Edge, Dominion Energy Nuclear Connecticut and the town discussed how the construction of a 1.5 million- square-foot data center at the Millstone Power Station could extend Dominion’s operation of the nuclear plant.

    In March, First Selectman Rob Brule signed a host fee agreement with data center developer NE Edge, which wants to construct two two-story data buildings and a switchyard at Millstone. It would receive power directly from the plant and pay the town $231 million over the 30-year life of the agreement.

    At Monday’s Representative Town Meeting, Town Attorney Nick Kepple raised another potential benefit for the town beside the $231 million payment ― that the data center might be a way of extending Dominion’s operation of the Millstone Power Station.

    The licenses for Millstone’s two operating reactors are set to expire in 2035 and 2045, while a third reactor is permanently shut down.

    NE Edge attorney William McCoy said Wednesday that placing the data center on the Millstone site would be a factor in encouraging Dominion, whose decades-old infrastructure is expensive to run, to keep the nuclear plant in operation. The data center would be a guaranteed source of income for Dominion as it deals with fluctuating power costs and demand.

    Millstone site Vice President Michael O’Connor said Wednesday that the steady income Dominion would receive from the data center, which would consume around 15% of the plant’s output, would help Dominion pay for operational costs such as maintenance and equipment.

    Dominion might make more money if it sells the power at market rates, O’Connor said, but the fixed income from the data center would provide stability if rates were to plummet.

    “When we have some assurances of the future value of the energy produced, then we can properly plan for the safe and reliable use of the units,” he added.

    But he and O’Connor agreed the data center would not be the sole reason that Dominion would choose to renew or allow the leases to expire in 2035 and 2045.

    “The license extensions that attorney McCoy talked about ― they’re not solely dependent on the data center, but the data center certainly supports keeping the plants in service longer,” O’Connor said at the meeting.

    “And so, the synergies that are being built with the data center and Millstone Power Station, and subsequent license renewal, and additional power sources on into our future ― these things that we’re doing in the next three to five years make sure clean energy comes into our peninsula for the next 100 years,” O’Connor said. “And it’s up to us to do that responsibly. And that’s what I’ve observed through this process so far.”

    He added that without a data center, “we would seek to figure out solutions to make sure Millstone was here a long time.”

    McCoy said Wednesday that while he was not speaking for Dominion it is valid to say that the data center provides incentive for Dominion to stay and operate here.

    O’Connor said that locating the data center on the site would allow for the potential of further nuclear expansion at Millstone, the only location in the state that can host more reactors. The state has a nuclear moratorium, but in 2022 passed an exemption that allows development at Millstone, its only operating nuclear power plant.

    In addition, proposed legislation in Congress, called the Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy, seeks to develop new nuclear technologies and deploy them across the country.

    Kepple that if Dominion were to stay in operation for an additional 20 years it would pay $34 million annually in taxes, resulting in around $680 million in revenue for the town.

    Waiting for a ruling

    Dominion petitioned in July for a declaratory ruling from the Connecticut Siting Council to sever three parcels from Millstone’s property to be used for the data center. In September, the siting council voted, in spite of numerous requests from concerned citizens, not to hold a public hearing on the petition, and to set a deadline for a decision on the boundary request for Jan. 24, 2024.

    McCoy said the siting council decision on severing the properties has been the primary roadblock to the project so far. If the council severs the parcels, then the town’s Planning and Zoning and Inland Wetlands commissions would handle the project going forward. This would include hearings in which residents would have the opportunity to comment on the plans. If the council does not sever the parcels, then it would handle the approvals.

    If the council severs the parcels, NE Edge expects to be before the Planning and Zoning Commission in early spring of 2024, but the company cannot commit to that date because there is still engineering work to be performed, McCoy said. The Inland Wetlands Commission approval process would take place at the same time.

    Residents weigh in again, for and against

    At Monday’s meeting, residents again spoke for and against the project.

    Members of local unions, in favor of the project, told the RTM the project would provide around a million man hours in union jobs, one quarter of which would go directly to Waterford residents as a result of a project labor agreement between NE Edge and the town.

    Those who spoke against the project cited continued concerns over the project’s noise levels, environmental impact and quality-of-life concerns.

    Brian Sayles, the leader of the Concerned Citizens of Waterford, again requested that the town, which he has said has not been transparent throughout the process, hold a special meeting where a discussion can be held about the project.

    d.drainville@theday.com

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