Feb. 27--Connecticut is facing a watershed moment in energy policy as two bills currently before the General Assembly illustrate.
Connecticut has some of the highest energy costs in the country, so the subject is never far from the minds of state lawmakers. Two of the pieces of energy-related legislation getting much of the attention in Hartford are Senate Bill 106 and House Bill 7036.
This could be a critical week for both pieces of legislation. The Energy and Technology committee is expected to start determining which of the energy bills under its purview should be moved out of committee for consideration by the state Senate and House.
Senate Bill 106 is legislation that focuses specifically on the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Waterford, which is owned by Dominion Energy. The Virginia-based company wants to be allowed to compete in the state's procurement process for renewable energy sources.
Dominion officials say that successful legislation would force the state to accept the bids it would make into the procurement process.
But a coalition of environmental, consumer advocacy groups and fossil fuel power plant operators has formed to lobby legislators against approving any help for Millstone or, at the very least, require the company to show lawmakers Millstone financial performance data before any legislation is approved.
House Bill 7036 would allow electrical utility companies in Connecticut to procure up to 10 megawatts of electricity from fuel cells as part of a pilot program to provide improved reliability and grid stability.
Opponents of the Millstone bill have been making the rounds to Connecticut media outlets in recent weeks armed with the argument that approval of SB 106 will cost the state's electric ratepayers more money in the long run and hurt efforts to transition to renewable energy sources.
The group's members include Calpine Corp., Dynegy, NRG Energy and the Electric Power Supply Association. Dynegy operates 10 power plants in New England, including one in Milford.
Ken Holt, a Dominion spokesman, called the group's claims "a red herring."
"The state has been using the power procurement process for years," Holt said. "None of the other companies in the process have been asked to show their books."
Similar legislation was introduced late in last year's session and was passed by the state Senate, but in a flurry of last-minute activity did not come up for a vote in the Connecticut House of Representatives.
Holt declined to say what Dominion Energy might do if the legislature fails to pass SB 106.
"We continue to evaluate conditions in all businesses we operate in," he said.
But with nuclear power plants closing all across the country, the specter of the Millstone Nuclear power plant closing is an unsettling thought among Connecticut's political leaders.
Dominion Energy has never formally said it has any plans to close Millstone. But lawmakers are mindful of the trend of closings y and Dominion's closing of the Kewaunee nuclear plant near Green Bay, Wisconsin in 2013.
Three nuclear plants in the Northeast have either already closed or are slated for closure. All three -- Vermont Yankee, the Pilgrim nuclear plant and New York State's Indian Point -- are owned by Louisiana-based power giant Entergy.
Vermont Yankee closed at the end of 2014 and the Pilgrim nuclear plant, located south of Boston, is slated to close in May 2019. A third Entergy nuclear plant, New York State's Indian Point, has also announced it will close in April 2021.
Once the Pilgrim plant closes, New England will have only two operational nuclear power generation stations: Seabrook, which is located on New Hampshire's seacoast, and Millstone.
Connecticut lawmakers face a difficult decision because of the closings trend, according to State Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, who is co-chairwoman of the General Assembly's Energy and Technology Committee.
"We recognize they operate in a kill or be kill environment, but they are putting us in a difficult position," Reed said of Dominion. "If there had not been this trend, we would not have been as inclined to listen to this."
Nuclear power is a bridge to a future, she said, where renewable sources of energy -- wind, solar and hydropower -- as well as fuel cells and some natural gas plants serve the energy needs of New England and Connecticut. Reed said it is in the state's best interest to ensure that Millstone keeps operating for another three to five years.
"Nuclear power is done," she said. "The power plants now operating are coming to the end of their operating term. We know it's going to end, we (Connecticut lawmakers) just want it be done on our terms."
Reed said the advantage of fuel cell plants is their ability to be built on small sites, unlike wind and solar farms. Fuel cell plants can also produce base load power and improve the reliability of the power grid, she said.
"They can be sited in cities, they can be built on brownfields," Reed said. "We're trying to create a new lane for the fuel cell industry with this. It's something we can call our own and we don't want to lose it."
The industry employs about 3,000 people in the state and generates $600 million a year in revenues. FuelCell Energy alone has 200 workers, according to company officials.
In addition to FuelCell Energy, another one of the industry's major players in Connecticut is Doosan Energy, a South Korean company that has a presence in South Windsor.
A recent study conducted by the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut found that the fuel cell industry here has the potential to create as many as 9,000 jobs a year in the state over the next 27 years if use of fuel cells is accelerated over that period of time. Steady growth in use of fuel cells would result in about 6,000 jobs a year being added to Connecticut's economy, according to the study.
FuelCell Energy officials are still smarting over a decision by Connecticut and Massachusetts officials last year to reject a bid by a Beacon Falls fuel cell farm for inclusion in multi-renewable energy procurement.
Michael Bishop, senior vice president and chief financial officer for the company , told the New Haven Register's editorial board recently the pricing that FuelCell Energy submitted for the process "was very competitive." Solar projects that were selected in the procurement are tax-exempt, he said.
Jennifer Arasimowicz, vice president and managing counsel for FuelCell Energy, blamed some of the state's reluctance to fully embrace the fuel cell industry on what she called "silos separating different state agencies." And Frank Wolak, vice president in charge of government business for FuelCell Energy, acknowledged that while state officials have been supportive of the company and the industry in general, "they like to do it in small doses."
Testifying before the Energy and Technology Committee in support of House Bill 7036, Rob Klee, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said pilot programs like the one called for in the legislation help "in siting clean energy resources."
"These demonstration projects can help target the best-suited areas," he said.
Call Luther Turmelle at 203-680-9388.
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