Energy questions raised as state plans nuclear-free future
For more than a few in southwestern Connecticut in early January, it was no small relief when the state of New York set the schedule for the shutdown of the Indian Point Energy Center nuclear power plant located just upwind in Westchester County.
As for the eventual replacement of the nuclear Millstone Power Station in eastern Connecticut that supplies half the state’s electricity? It is anyone’s guess which way the wind is blowing.
Steaming to full output in 1976 and 1986 respectively, Millstone’s twin nuclear reactors are generating electricity today on Nuclear Regulatory Commission license renewals that push out their operation to 2035 and 2045.
If Millstone still has 30 years left, the timeline to consider its replacement is tighter, depending on the options Connecticut ultimately approves to generate or import electricity. While gas turbine generator construction is comparatively quick — plants can be completed in three years — the process for bringing a new plant online, nuclear or otherwise, can take well over a decade from concept to flipping the switch.
At the same time, Connecticut has made commitments to cut air pollution, with nuclear plants largely worry-free on that front, even as they pose major headaches on safety and secure transport and storage of spent radioactive fuel. Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, testified in March on the issue to a committee of the state General Assembly in her role at the time as deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
“To the extent that we see the possibility of the retirement of nuclear units, that could be a significant challenge to us in meeting our climate goals and ensuring resource adequacy,” Dykes said. “This is an issue of special concern and something that we have to watch very carefully and be prepared for here in Connecticut.”
Excluding smaller, alternative sources of energy like wind farms and solar parks, Connecticut’s Kleen Energy Systems natural gas plant is New England’s newest regional-scale electricity plant as tracked by the federal Energy Information Administration, with the Middletown facility completed in July 2011 after a construction delay the year before following a massive explosion that killed six workers.
Next up is CPV Towantic Center in Oxford, where natural gas-powered turbines will furnish 785 megawatts of electricity when it commences operation, expected for 2018, some two decades after a facility was first proposed for the town. At Bridgeport Station in 2019, PSEG Power is planning to offset the closure of the city’s coal plant with a new natural gas generation facility with 485 megawatts of capacity at the same Bridgeport Harbor property. And further out, the Connecticut Siting Council is considering a proposal for a natural gas plant of roughly the same output in Killingly.
The state last studied the adequacy of Connecticut’s energy resources in 2014, noting that New England will require at least 1,500 megawatts of new electricity resources within a decade — about the capacity of Connecticut’s next two largest electric plants after Millstone in Killingly and Middletown. And that is the conservative estimate, with the “tight” outlook under any rapidly growing economy and accompanying consumption requiring a full 4,000 megawatts of new power sources.
In its own report in 2015, the Connecticut Siting Council listed Connecticut’s “dispatched generation” requirements at about 8,000 megawatts of power, produced both in state at more than 100 power plants as well as imported.