Nuke-plant legislation passes key committee
HARTFORD — With hopes for an eventual reduction in Connecticut’s high consumer-electricity prices, a bipartisan majority of lawmakers on the Energy & Technology Committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow the Millstone nuclear station in Waterford to compete with renewable sources for contracts with the state’s major energy providers.
The bill, which next moves to the Senate, was the target of criticism by environmentalists and the AARP. But lawmakers said that the legislation, which is as close as the General Assembly has come to a comprehensive energy strategy in recent years, will likely be revised before it is finalized.
Even supporters of the bill said they were skeptical, but they feel assured that oversight will include the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Office of Consumer Counsel, the attorney general and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.
“I don’t love this bill,” said Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, committee co-chairman, who voted for it. Another lawmaker, Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, voted against it because Dominion Energy, Millstone’s owner, hasn’t opened up its books. “I too want a comprehensive energy strategy, but I don’t see this getting us there,” Tercyak said.
Millstone can help the state cope with current higher natural gas-related electric costs, said Rep. Laura Hoydick, R-Strratford, who supported the bill. “We have to drive those prices downward,” Hoydick said.
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, a committee member, agreed that a comprehensive plan is needed. “This bill, in lieu of that (Comprehensive Energy Strategy), provides an integrated approach to looking at a lot of the issues that go well beyond Dominion, well beyond any individual generator and speak to our long-term strategy,” he said. “On that basis alone we need to move this bill forward. This is a good-faith effort to try to address some of those issues.”
The legislation would allow Millstone, a 2,100 megawatt facility, to compete for five-year contracts with electric providers including United Illuminating Co. and Eversource.
“I think a lot of people who very much care about the environment, about renewables don’t realize that to replace that amount of mega wattage, they’re not ready for that,” said Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, co-chairman of the committee. “They’re not ready for prime time.”
“There are no subsidies provided for the nuclear plant in this bill,” said Sen. Paul M. Formica, R-Niantic, co-chairman of the committee. “Rather, an (request for proposals) process that provides for bid opportunities. And the bid opportunities would only be accepted should they be in the best interest of the ratepayer. Our mandate is to ensure capacity and reliability.”
Formica called the legislation “the bridge to the renewable future” at a time when solar, wind, hydro-power and fuel cells can’t carry the load that Millstone offers the region. About 60 percent of the state’s needs are supplied by the nuclear station. “We know that this is not asking for an expansion of nuclear,” he said. “I think that this bill is a good opportunity to move our state forward to provide for the next opportunity in renewable energy and to maintain our base load power each and every day as well as maintaining jobs.”
Opponents said they won’t give up attacking the legislation as the General Assembly heads toward its June 7 adjournment.
Matt Fossen, spokesman for the Stop the Millstone Payout coalition, said the Virginia-based Dominion Resources, Inc. is already a profitable company.
“This is a bad bill that will raise rates for Connecticut consumers and businesses, who are already struggling to get by in a state that has some of the highest utility bills in the country,” Fossen said in a statement. “Dominion is a highly profitable company that does not need a corporate handout and has no intentions of closing Millstone. Now more than ever, we need legislators to say enough is enough and stop the Millstone payout.”
John Erlingheuser, state advocacy director for the AARP, said the bill would let Dominion Resources get paid higher prices for energy it currently sells on the New England wholesale market.
“AARP is disappointed in the Energy and Technology Committee vote,” he said. “Many advocacy organizations have expressed concerns about this legislation and its negative impact on ratepayers who are already paying among the highest electric rates in the country. Dominion has failed to demonstrate the financial need for this special deal or how it will lower rates for consumers. Any special deal must first require them to disclose their claimed loss in profits to regulators and ratepayers.”