A revised green-energy bill that environmentalists and the AARP believe unfairly favors the owner of the Millstone nuclear plant in Waterford is heading for a showdown vote next week in a key legislative committee.
Opponents say the legislation is essentially a giveaway to Dominion Energy, but the company says Millstone Power Station, which provides about 60 percent of Connecticut’s power needs, fits green-energy criteria and could save ratepayers money.
The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has some problems with the bill, but is willing to keep revising it with legislative leaders as the session heads toward its June 7 adjournment.
Dominion officials say that if they can’t offer consumers relief from what are already the highest electric rates in the continental U.S., then as many as four levels of state regulators — including the attorney general and the consumer counsel — could reject Dominion.
The bill that the Energy & Technology Committee will vote on Tuesday afternoon was rewritten by legislators following a recent public hearing. John Erlingheuser, advocacy director for the AARP Connecticut, said the bill is still “anti-ratepayer” because it would lead to higher electric bills.
“I think the motive here is Dominion keeps saying this is a bill to allow fairness and to have them provide lower electric rates,” Erlingheuser said in an interview, charging that the giant energy company wants to avoid public disclosure.
“The irony of that is that, as a private company, they have an obligation to their shareholders to get the highest prices they can for electricity, therefore the highest profits,” he said. “It’s basically a giveaway, because if Dominion wanted to have contracts for electricity … with Eversource and UI, they can do that under the law now, but those contracts would have to be in a cost-to-service basis, meaning expenses and a reasonable rate of return would be all they’re entitled to. They don’t want to do that because they want no transparency — they don’t want to open their books to ratepayers.”
Erlingheuser said he expects the committee will move the bill to the Senate floor, as Dominion portrays its product as a non-carbon-emitting nuclear fuel which is not renewable and produces the problematic spent fuel rods that will be stored on the site until the federal government comes up with a long-term storage solution.
Nancy Burton, of Redding, director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone, said the plant emits radioactive Carbon 14, a greenhouse-gas component, into the air over the plant.
“I am honestly outraged at the process that the committee is following on this bill,” Burton said, recalling that the recent public hearing was based on a one-sentence description of the legislation. Still, many environmentalists from throughout the state opposed it.
“The idea of the nuclear industry coming in to squeeze out the trivial funding there is for renewable energy, it boggles the mind,” Burton said. “It boggles the mind. the whole process is a travesty — there’s no good reason to do this.”
Kevin Hennessy, Dominion’s director of federal, state and local affairs, said Friday that the bill would continue a long-established practice of public solicitations to buy power, while allowing Millstone to compete along with solar, wind, large-scale hydro from Quebec and other renewables.
“You have the highest retail electric rates in the country,” Hennessy said in a phone interview. “Over the last decade you’ve paid 7 1/2 cents per kilowatt hour, not including delivery charges. We feel extremely confident, if given opportunity to bid, we can reduce the 7 1/2 cents number in the best interest of ratepayers.”
Hennessy said that the DEEP, the attorney general and the consumer counsel would all review proposals, with oversight by the Department of Public Utility Control.
“It’s simply buying power smarter,” he said.
Dennis Schain, communications director for the DEEP, said Friday that the agency, which still has concerns about the bill, would continue to work with lawmakers and stakeholders in attempt to reach a consensus.
“Consideration of the future of Millstone is an issue worthy of discussion, given the large percent of power it contributes to the regional grid, the fact that this energy does not create carbon emissions linked to climate change, and the number of jobs provided at this facility,” Schain said.
“Any bill the legislature considers should clearly define the circumstances under which we would want to use the procurement authority it would provide,” Schain said. “The bill should also make clear that the interests of ratepayers would be fully considered and protected before moving forward with a procurement – including potential impacts a procurement of this magnitude would have on energy markets.”