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Dominion ponders future of Millstone nuclear plant after Conn. support bill dies

Time ran out on Connecticut legislation aimed at shoring up the economics of Dominion Energy Inc.'s Millstone nuclear plant through a long-term contract as the clock struck midnight and the 2017 legislation session drew to a close June 7.

Despite implied threats by Dominion to shutter the 2,100-MW nuclear plant in Waterford, Conn., the state House of Representatives decided not to vote on Senate Bill 778 before adjourning. The inaction by the lower chamber came nearly 24 hours after the Senate passed the bill in a 23-9 vote in the early hours of June 7. House Republicans blamed their Democratic colleagues for letting the bill die.

"I cannot imagine the impact Waterford, and the state, would suffer if the plant’s doors were forced to close prematurely," said Rep. Kathleen McCarty, a Republican from Waterford. "It is inexcusable that this bill was not called in the House — a bill that had the potential to lower electricity costs through a competitive process and was in the best interest of our ratepayers."

Supporters of the legislation believe that offering Millstone a long-term power purchase agreement is necessary if the plant's emissions-free baseload generation is to be preserved in an era of volatile electricity prices and cheap natural gas supplies. They also fear Connecticut's electricity rates, which are the highest in the continental United States, would increase even further were the nuclear plant to shutter. Opponents, including the state's two utilities Eversource Energy and Avangrid Inc.'s United Illuminating Co., disagreed and argued the out-of-market measure would raise rates instead.

S.B. 778 — a successor to S.B. 106 would direct the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, or DEEP, to determine if bolstering the finances of Millstone through a long-term power purchase agreement would be in the public interest. If the answer is yes, the DEEP would either solicit for, or the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority would require, electric distribution companies to enter into three- to 10-year contracts for 6 million MWh to 12 million MWh of electricity from Millstone. Due to very narrow restrictions in the bill, the plant is effectively the only eligible facility that could bid into the state-led procurement.

"We were disappointed that the House chose inaction," said Chet Wade, vice president of corporate communications for Dominion. "Continued inaction harms customers, the state's ability to meet its climate goals, and the state's economy."

When asked if Dominion is now considering retiring Millstone early, despite signals recently made to the regional grid operator that the facility intends to supply power through May 2022, Wade said, "We will continue assessing our investments in Connecticut while advocating for needed action."

The House's decision not to vote on the legislation was applauded by Matt Fossen, spokesman for the Stop the Millstone Payout coalition, which includes Calpine Corp., Dynegy Inc., NRG Energy Inc. and the Electric Power Supply Association. "While no one questions the value of Millstone to the state, proponents of the bill failed to demonstrate that special financial treatment for Millstone was necessary to its continued economic viability at this time," said Fossen.

Before the General Assembly adjourned, state lawmakers adopted a bill saying it will reconvene for a special session before June 30 to pass a budget for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.