HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 2 p.m.) Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is using his executive authority to ask state energy regulators to review the viability of the Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Waterford.
It’s the second year in a row that the General Assembly failed to pass legislation that would allow nuclear energy to compete with natural gas. Last month, the Senate watered-down legislation to allow regulators to examine whether it was really necessary to give Millstone the power to bid on energy contracts, but it was never called for a vote in the House.
Dominion Energy, which owns the nuclear facility, has argued the ability to bid on these contracts is necessary in order to keep the plant operating. It said if the General Assembly decided not to act, it would “begin a strategic reassessment” of its plans for the power station, which employs more than 1,100 workers and provides an economic benefit to that part of the state.
It doubled down on that position Tuesday when it said “the time for a study without action has passed.”
Paul Koonce, CEO of Dominion’s Power Generation Group, said they have been talking with state officials and legislators for more than 21 months.
“Without action this year, the prospects for continued operation of Millstone diminish,” Koonce said.
He said in Wisconsin they engaged with government officials for 18 months before closing a nuclear plant in that state.
“We continue to conduct our strategic assessment of Millstone and will make a business decision regardless of Connecticut’s latest study,” Koonce said.
But Malloy maintained his desire to study the issue.
“In order for our state to have an efficient and comprehensive approach in how our energy future should be advanced, we must objectively and thoroughly review and evaluate the relevant information and market conditions of the Millstone facility and the sustainability of legacy zero-carbon generation in the context of reducing costs for consumers and moving our clean energy strategy forward,” Malloy said Tuesday in issuing the executive order.
The executive order says resource assessment is needed to determine how Connecticut should take action to support existing nuclear power facilities. He pointed out that facilities across the country have been closing. Part of the reason facilities are closing is related to the low price of natural gas and the high cost of keeping the facilities running.
Malloy acknowledged those competitive pressures and environmental concerns in his executive order, which asks the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Public Utility Regulatory Authority to review the role of existing nuclear generating facilities, as well as large scale hydropower, and emissions-free renewable energy to determine what mix will best help the state achieve its immediate and long-term emissions targets.
It also asks them to examine the “current and projected economic viability for the continued operation of the Millstone nuclear generating facilities using the best available information, including such facilities’ audited financial statements and such other financial data that is reasonably requested by DEEP or PURA.”
Representatives of Dominion Energy have repeatedly said they would decline to share financial information with state regulators.
Malloy will also require regulators to involve the public in the process and report their findings to the Governor’s Council on Climate Change, and the chairs and ranking members of the Energy and Technology Committee no later than Feb. 1, 2018.
John Erlingheuser, state advocacy director for AARP Connecticut, said his group has opposed giving Dominion the ability to bid on contracts, but supports the governor’s executive order.
“It’s what we’ve been asking for all along,” Erlingheuser said. “A review that includes audited financial statements.”
He said the AARP wasn’t opposed to helping out nuclear energy, but not at the expense of ratepayers and not without having them disclose information.
Sen. Paul Formica, who co-chairs the Energy and Technology Committee, said studying the issue is just one step forward. He said the state needs to take action because it’s “apparent that there is a problem in the market.”
He said those would try and discredit Millstone’s concerns are often those who would profit from the plant closure.
“We have to look at this situation objectively, and we have to act to preserve Millstone’s presence over the next few years and do what is in the best interest of all ratepayers to preserve energy stability while we work towards a renewable energy future,” Formica said. “Inaction could prove devastating.”
A group calling itself the Stop the Millstone Payout coalition, which includes Calpine, Dynegy and NRG Energy, who produce and sell natural gas, applauded the executive order.
“Governor Malloy made the right call today in seeking additional information from Millstone before any decision is made regarding financial support for the company, particularly when all the external evidence suggests the plant is profitable and is obligated to serve the energy markets until at least 2022,” Matt Fossen, a spokesman for the group, said.