How Connecticut’s nuclear bill could open a new front in the plant subsidy debate
The Connecticut bill designed to offer a lifeline to the state’s sole nuclear power plant, Dominion Energy’s 2,110-MW Millstone in Waterford, is moving forward.
The bill appears to have gained strong legislative support, even as it has attracted a string of opponents.
On March 21, the General Assembly’s Joint Energy and Technology Committee approved the bill, SB 106, in a 17-7 vote with one abstention. The main components of the bill call for the creation of a solicitation for nuclear resources and a doubling of the state’s renewable portfolio standard target to 40% by 2040 from 20% by 2020.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Last year a prior iteration of the current legislation, SB 344, won unanimous approval in the Senate, but the legislature adjourned five days later before the House could take up the bill.
The main difference between the two versions of the legislation is that SB 344 was focused on creating a solicitation for nuclear power while SB 106 calls for a broader solicitation process and a more expansive RPS.
Sen. Paul Formica (R), a sponsor of both bills, called SB 344 “a bridge to the renewable future.” With SB 106, he said, “We are beginning to build those bridges.”
The Senate’s unanimous passage of SB 344 last year, combined with recent the bipartisan committee vote, suggests that SB 106 could win approval in the House, as well, says Timothy Fox, vice president at Clearview Energy Partners, an energy focused research firm.
In a research note, Fox said the committee vote is “a potential bellwether for how the whole Connecticut House would vote, supporting our current view that the effort may have sufficient bipartisan and bicameral support to pass this year.”
Fox cautioned, however, that the bill still has a way to go and progress could be slowed by amendments. In addition, he says the Governor’s view of the bill is still unclear.
Bill still evolving
The bill already has seen at least one change in committee. A recent version of the bill called for the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to issue a solicitation for Class I renewables that includes resources that “emit no pollutants and have a nameplate capacity rating of twenty megawatts or more and can achieve a combined project total capacity factor of at least sixty per cent.”
That is criteria very few, if any, renewable resources can meet. But nuclear facilities like Millstone would be included, as they routinely notch capacity factors above 90%.
Formica says the language requiring a 60% capacity factor was struck in committee. The original language, he says, was meant to encourage baseload renewable energy by combining resources such as wind and solar power with energy storage.
“That was dropped for the moment,” Formica said, but “storage needs to be addressed,” most likely in separate legislation. But he says the aim of the bill remains the same: “to preserve baseload capacity and to create new baseload capacity and to wean ourselves off” energy resources that damage the environment.
Millstone provides 50% of Connecticut’s power capacity and as much as 40% of New England’s electricity generation. If Millstone were to close, Formica argues that renewable resources would not be in a position to replace the lost capacity. That capacity would be replaced by natural gas-fired generation, and “costs would more than double and the environment would suffer,” says Formica.
Some studies show that could be the case. “If you remove baseload power the supply curve shifts to he left, goes up, and prices rise,” says Dean Murphy, a principal at Brattle Group.