Committee vote slated on 'energy diversity' bill that would benefit Millstone

While the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments is urging passage of a bill that would allow the Millstone Power Station to sell its power directly to electricity distributors through a state-run bid process, a coalition of competing power producers and the state chapter of the AARP are raising doubts that the measure would benefit consumers.

The bill, SB 106, is scheduled to be voted on by the state Legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee at its meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building. If approved, it would advance to the full state Senate and then the state House.

Even if approved in both chambers, it is unclear whether Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would sign it. David Bednarz, spokesman for the governor, said this week that the governor’s office was analyzing the full version of the bill, released last Monday, and declined further comment.

“It’s under review, and we will continue to follow it through the legislative process,” Bednarz said.

State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, co-chairman of the committee, said that the bill is intended to foster diversity in baseload sources of electricity and establish policy to have 40 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable sources including wind, hydroelectric, solar, fuel cells, anaerobic digesters and biomass by 2040.

“What we’re trying to do is not call it the Millstone bill,” he said Friday. “We want to call it the energy diversity bill.”

He and other committee members this week met about the bill with representatives of renewable energy producers about the bill, and with officials from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Formica said he expects the committee will make minor changes to the bill based on input from DEEP.

DEEP would run the bid process that would allow Millstone to sell up to 950 megawatts of power in a single five-year contract to Eversource and United Illuminating, provided state regulators determine the contract would be in the best interests of ratepayers.

Officials from Millstone owner Dominion Resources say the bill would help stabilize the plant, which supplies about half the power used in the state, from market volatility. The plant currently sells its power to hedge funds and Wall Street financial institutions, which in turn sell it to the regional wholesale market, and is now prohibited from selling it in the state bid process now open only to renewables.

Since the nuclear power plant produces no greenhouse gas emissions, Dominion officials and bill supporters argue that the plant is an essential bridge needed to achieve the state’s carbon-emissions reduction goals. They also say ratepayers would benefit if the plant sells directly to Eversource and UI at a lower rate than power sold through middlemen.

The Stop the Millstone Payout Coalition, however, disputes those arguments. The coalition includes three Houston-based companies, Calpine, Dynegy and NRG Energy, that own plants that power with a variety of sources, including natural gas, coal, oil, wind and solar.

“This bill is bad for residents and bad for business,” said Matt Fossen, spokesman for the coalition. “It would provide Millstone a huge corporate payout — funded by raising utility bills for businesses and residents. It is a cost Connecticut cannot afford. The Legislature needs to vote against this bill and stop the Millstone payout.”

John Erlingheuser, Connecticut AARP director of advocacy, called for more transparency from Dominion.

“Dominion is claiming this legislation will lower rates for consumers,” he said. “But you have to ask, why would a publicly traded company that is supposedly losing money want to get lower rates, thus lowering their profits for the shareholders expecting a high return for their investment? Any proposed special deal for Dominion must first require them to disclose a loss in profits to regulators and ratepayers. SB 106 requires no such disclosure.”

The council of governments, which represents 22 towns in Southeastern Connecticut, supports the bill as a consumer-friendly measure.

“In essence Connecticut would use competition to reduce its retail rates and achieve environmental goals via this legislation,” the council said in a letter to the committee. “As municipal leaders, we find this appealing because it focuses on consumers first. Also, it is not an either/or scenario pitting renewables against nuclear. Multiple bids could be selected ... It appears to be a win-win for both consumers and the environment.”


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