Updated: Connecticut revives nuclear support bill after Dominion threatens Millstone review
Update: The Connecticut House on June 7 extended its legislative session to June 30 due to budget issues, potentially giving lawmakers more time to debate a nuclear support bill which failed to pass on June 7. Utility Dive's original post follows.
Connecticut senators have revived legislation to explore financial support for the state's sole nuclear plant, Dominion's Millstone facility, just days after leading lawmakers in the Senate pronounced the bill dead.
The bill, approved 23-9 early Wednesday, would authorize the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to determine "whether a competitive procurement process for nuclear power generating facilities shall be conducted," according to the CT Mirror. It now heads to the state House, where it faces a stiffer test on the final day of the 2017 legislative session.
Last week, Democratic leaders in the Senate said they would not move on a larger subsidy bill, calling it a "toxic brand." But Dominion threatened a "strategic assessment" of the plant's viability, pushing lawmakers to reluctantly revive parts of the bill.
A measure to support Connecticut's sole nuclear plant is still alive, but just barely.
The CT Mirror reports a last-minute push from Republican lawmakers and a "thinly-veiled threat" from Dominion were enough for the Senate to revive portions of SB 106, which would have provided special nuclear power purchase agreements in its original form.
Following weekend reports that the bill was dead in the Senate, Dominion said it would consider shutting down the Millstone plant if some sort of support did not pass.
"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," Dominion spokesman Ken Holt said in an email Tuesday. "If SB 106 does not pass, we will begin a strategic reassessment of our plans for Millstone Power Station.”
Now the bill has been scaled back from outright PPAs to an authorization for state energy authorities to evaluate special procurements for nuclear generation.
"The Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection shall conduct an appraisal regarding nuclear power generating facilities, and determine whether a competitive procurement process for nuclear power generating facilities shall be conducted," the new text reads.
Dominion officials said they are satisfied with the revisions to the bill, so long as it does not require any further legislative action in 2018.
While the revised bill passed by a comfortable margin, Democratic leadership in the Senate bristled at being "bullied" into the vote.
“If we don’t do this, there’s an implied threat," said Sen. Gary Winfield (D-New Haven), co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, according to the Mirror.
Dominion says Millstone generates about 98% of Connecticut’s emissions free power, but the bill faltered last week after pushback from environmental groups and lobbyists such as AARP, along with lawmakers’ concerns about the costs the bill would impose on ratepayers. A recent MIT study found Millstone to be the most profitable of the nation’s operating nuclear plants.
The bill now heads to the House, where the Mirror reports it faces "difficult prospects." Lawmakers would have to work fast, as June 7 is the last day of the legislative session.
“The status quo, which our opponents champion, is not working for Connecticut,” Holt wrote to Utility Dive. “It would be surprising and a missed opportunity for Connecticut not to reduce the highest electric rates in the continental United States, meet its long-term carbon goals, and ensure the sustainability of a major employer this year given recent events."
Connecticut was following the lead of states such as Illinois and New York, that have created mechanisms to provide nuclear plants with subsidies based on their zero emission baseload power. In each of those cases, nuclear operator Exelon also threatened to shut plants down if supports were not approved, and it issued a similar ultimatum to Pennsylvania lawmakers last week regarding the Three Mile Island plant, which failed to clear PJM's latest capacity auction.
This post has been updated to integrate details from the amended bill text.
- Connecticut General Assembly Amendment To Subst. Senate Bill No. 778
- Power Dominion to Reassess Plans for Millstone’s Continued Operation after Connecticut Nuclear Support Bill Thwarted
- Connecticut Mirror Dominion Energy loses legislative fight over Millstone pricing