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Conn. Senate passes contract bill for Millstone nuke on last session day


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Conn. Senate passes contract bill for Millstone nuke on last session day

Legislation aimed at boosting the finances of Dominion Energy Inc.'s Millstone nuclear power plant through a long-term supply contract has made it through the Connecticut state Senate.

After burning the midnight oil, that legislative body passed Senate Bill 778 — a successor to Senate Bill 106 — in a 23-9 vote early on June 7. But to be enacted, the measure still needs to be approved by the state House of Representatives before the 2017 legislative session draws to a close at the end of the day.

If signed into law, the bill would authorize the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, or DEEP, to assess if allowing the 2,100-MW nuclear plant in Waterford, Conn., nuclear generation to bid for a power purchase agreement is in the public interest. If so, the DEEP would either solicit, or the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority would require, electric distribution companies to enter into 3- to 10-year contracts for 6 million MWh to 12 million MWh of electricity from Millstone. The plant is effectively the only eligible facility that could bid into the state-led procurement thanks to very narrow restrictions in the bill.

Supporters believe the legislation is necessary to secure Millstone's economics in an era of volatile electricity prices and cheap natural gas supplies and thus prevent any possible early closure of the emission-free generator. Unsurprisingly, the bill has come up against stiff opposition from the oil and gas industry, competitive gas-fired generators and the state's two utilities, Eversource Energy and Avangrid Inc.'s United Illuminating Co., which believe the out-of-market measure will raise rates while creating unnecessary windfall profits for Dominion.

Complaints over an "implied threat" by Dominion to close Millstone absent the legislation also echoed through the chamber as senators debated the bill's passage. Among them was Deputy Majority Leader and energy committee co-chair Sen. Gary Winfield, a Democrat, who the Connecticut Mirror quoted as saying, "I don't like being bullied and that's what's happening."

"Millstone provides over half of Connecticut's daily power and 30% of the power for all of New England," said energy committee co-chair and the bill's co-sponsor Sen. Paul Formica, a Republican. "If the plant were to close, more than half of all of New England's electric power would have to be supplied by gas-powered facilities. Connecticut simply does not have that kind of capacity. That dramatic increased demand for natural gas, especially in the cold winter months, would lead to skyrocketing energy costs and ratepayers would suffer."

In addition to the increased threat of wintertime gas pipeline constraints if Millstone shutters early, Formica said carbon-free nuclear energy must be preserved as a bridge to renewables. Connecticut has set a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050, and Millstone provides 96% of the state's carbon-free electricity. "Without it, our state's energy system as we know it today would collapse, and ratepayers would be the ones struggling," he said. "Dominion made it very clear that without state action, they would reconsider their presence in our state."

While Senate Bill 778's passage out of the Senate vindicated Formica's optimism in recent days, his co-sponsor and fellow energy committee chair, Rep. Lonnie Reed, a Democrat, in contrast has said the bill is "dead," blaming the public's negative image of nuclear energy. Other leading lawmakers also believe the bill will not have a simple majority to pass the General Assembly in time.

During a media briefing the morning of June 7, House Democrats Majority Leader Rep. Matt Ritter and Speaker of the House Rep. Joseph Aresimowicz held back from endorsing any bill for a contract until Dominion becomes more transparent with lawmakers on Millstone's financial needs.

Aresimowicz further reserved final judgement on the bill until he reads the Senate's passed version and caucuses with his party to craft legislation that is "consistent" with their beliefs. However, he did relate that he has heard the House bill will be a study bill to authorize an investigation into the matter "with some more benefits, sweeteners," and said he is comfortable adjourning early as well.