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Time is running out for Conn. bill to aid Dominion nuclear plant

The window to pass legislation to make Dominion Energy Inc.'s Millstone nuclear plant more profitable through a long-term contract is closing fast, as Connecticut's 2017 legislative session draws to an end on June 7. Despite passing the General Assembly's joint Energy and Technology Committee in a 17-7 vote in March, Senate Bill 106 will likely die on the legislature's floor again this time around, leading Connecticut lawmakers predict. A similar bill passed the House in 2016 before it was blocked in the Senate.

In the face of strong lobbying efforts by the oil and gas industry and others opposed to the bill, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff and energy co-chair Sen. Gary Winfield, both Democrats, told The Connecticut Mirror in June 2 interviews that there is not even a simple majority to pass the legislation to shore up Millstone's finances.

The bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Lonnie Reed, a Democrat, also conceded that the "radioactive" bill is "dead" and nothing more than legislation authorizing a study into the matter can now pass the state Legislature. "[But] Dominion doesn't want a watered-down bill. They want to play hardball in the post-session atmosphere," she concluded.

"We have until Wednesday at midnight to try to get something out and we're going to be working like crazy," said Sen. Paul Formica, a Republican and the bill's co-sponsor, in an interview. "Everybody is welcome to have their opinion on what's going on. My focus is here in the Senate and I'm going to try to get something out of the Senate and shepherd it through the next step. I'm looking forward to having it ultimately signed into law."

Millstone's future in doubt

In an era of nuclear plant retirements brought on by volatile power markets and cheap natural gas supplies, the legislation seeks to secure Millstone's future by allowing the 2,100-MW nuclear plant in Waterford, Conn., to compete against biomass and trash-to-energy generators for a power purchase agreement through 2029 for roughly half of the facility's generating capacity. The bill also would increase the state's renewable portfolio standard from 20% to 40% by 2040.

The bill's introduction in January by energy committee co-chairs Reed and Formica provoked a backlash from the American Petroleum Institute, the state's two utilities, Eversource Energy and Avangrid Inc.'s United Illuminating Co., consumer groups like AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons), anti-nuclear environmentalists and several energy companies.

"This bill would raise rates and hurt consumers," said Matt Fossen, a spokesman for the Stop the Millstone Payout coalition, which includes Calpine Corp., Dynegy Inc., NRG Energy Inc. and the Electric Power Supply Association.

Dominion spokesman Kenneth Holt said the status quo championed by these opponents is not working, as Connecticut residents already pay the highest electric rates in the continental U.S. Failure to pass the bill would be a missed opportunity for Connecticut to reduce its electric rates while meeting its targets of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring "the sustainability of a major employer this year given recent events," Holt added.

Even though Dominion missed a March 24 deadline to inform grid operator ISO New England if it was planning on shuttering Millstone before May 2022, Holt raised the specter of an early retirement that has loomed large over debates surrounding the bill. "We remain committed to finding a long-term solution that benefits the people of Connecticut, but we also must be fiscally responsible with our investments," he said. "We will begin a strategic reassessment of our plans for Millstone Power Station."