With no plan for replacing Millstone, what are CT’s options?
For the third time in less than a year-and-a-half, the Connecticut legislature has come close, but still hasn’t approved a plan to boost the finances of the Millstone Nuclear Power Station.
Millstone’s owner Dominion is arguing it needs help because cheap power produced from natural gas is forcing it to consider shutting Millstone down.
But even if legislation does finally pass, it won’t change some basic realities: One day Millstone will close, and Connecticut doesn’t have a plan for that.
With Millstone will go some 2,100 megawatts of carbon emissions-free electricity. The plant is the largest single power source in the New England grid and accounts for nearly one-third of the power in Connecticut. It is critical to getting the state anywhere near meeting its goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Many say the state should have been working on an after-Millstone plan at least since the issue of its closing first came up in early 2016 – but really long before that – a dozen years ago when the licenses for its Units 2 and 3 were extended to 2035 and 2045, respectively. (Unit 1 closed in 1995.)
The question of how to replace Millstone elicits all kinds of ideas. But parameters matter: Are we talking short-term, long-term, cleanly, at what cost to ratepayers? But in a world of changing energy and energy delivery technology, there’s also the idea that all of Millstone’s power doesn’t need to be replaced and that whatever you do, you need to modernize the electric grid too.
“The first thing you do is free yourself from the idea that you do actually have to replace it,” said Karl Rabago, executive director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center at Pace Law School in New York, who has an extensive background as an energy executive and regulator. He also has advised Connecticut legislators and activists on a host of clean-energy matters.
“It’s not a zero-sum game. There are a lot of other resources that can displace the capacity,” Rabago said.
Raw numbers provided by Synapse Energy Economics of Cambridge, Mass., show the loss of Millstone wouldn’t plunge the region off a power cliff. Natural gas units scheduled to come online in the region by 2020 would offset currently scheduled plant retirements. Those are mostly coal plants, though one of the closures is the 670-megawatt Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Massachusetts in May 2019.
This expected new capacity does not include plants now in the early planning stage or any of the renewable energy sources under construction or somewhere in the pipeline. Massachusetts alone is requiring the building of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind and 1,600 megawatts of rooftop solar. Together that’s half-again Millstone’s capacity, even without other grid-scale clean power projects as well as additional rooftop solar.
According to a filing by the Independent System Operator that runs the New England grid (ISO-NE), an overview of power resources with and without Millstone showed that its loss right now would cut into the 16 percent reserve power ISO-NE maintains on the grid.
ISO-NE generally has 34,000 to 36,000 megawatts available. The highest demand ever on the grid was 28,130 megawatts on Aug. 2, 2006. Barring something cataclysmic, lights, air conditioners and everything else would have turned on even without Millstone.
Since then energy efficiency and rooftop solar systems have kept demand on the grid flat to declining, according to ISO-NE’s data. And ISO’s forecasts show those savings getting larger. Energy efficiency, which ISO says saves more than 1,800 megawatts now, is predicted to account for nearly 4,500 megawatts in 2026. In that same time period, it predicts solar will grow from around 1,900 megawatts to more than 5,600, and wind will go from 1,100 to more than 8,400.
It’s those ideas of efficiency and clean energy that Rabago is talking about. He and others believe Millstone can be replaced with an all-of-the-above approach that includes reducing power needs through more advanced energy management systems, microgrids that can take pressure off the main grid, as well as a suite of renewable energy options including solar, offshore wind, hydropower, fuel cells and the holy grail – energy storage.
“There’s no silver bullets, he said. “There’s only silver buckshot.”
That’s less of a radical concept than it might appear. Connecticut officials and energy experts need only look — and ARE looking — across the border to New York’s Renewing the Energy Vision — REV. It fosters new concepts in power generation, distribution and efficiency as the state faces shutdown of its Indian Point nuclear power plant, adopts a ban on natural gas fracking, and sets tough clean energy and greenhouse gas emission targets.
Rabago and others point to the 10-year shutdown processes underway at Indian Point and Diablo Canyon in California — both to be replaced with renewable energy.
“Instead of this sort of dance around ‘well maybe we’ll bail you out and maybe we won’t,’ it might be time to start the negotiations and say ‘dammit, shutdown is coming; now all we have to do is set the date,’” he said. “The planning objective is — it closes on Dec. 31, 202X, or whatever it is, and nobody notices. It closes and Connecticut breathes and New England breathes a collective yawn.”
But getting to that yawn, especially with replacement power that doesn’t add greenhouse gas emissions, hasn’t been the case with rapid nuclear shutdowns. Timing makes a big difference.
A survey by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) showed that all six nuclear plants that have retired since late 2012, including San Onofre in California and Vermont Yankee, were replaced with fossil fuel generation — mainly natural gas, one with coal. In all cases greenhouse gas emissions rose.
The most recent greenhouse gas inventory in California showed in-state emissions still 9 million metric tons higher than they were back in 2011 when San Onofre was running. In New England emissions went up by 2.5 percent in 2015 after Vermont Yankee closed the previous year.
“It’s not simple to replace them,” said Doug Vine, senior energy fellow at C2ES, who generally follows the nuclear industry. “It’s not simple to replace them quickly anyway. And all you’ve achieved is getting back to zero, so it’s like you’re running to stand still.”
That, along with the prospect that the knee-jerk replacement strategy for Millstone would be natural gas — particularly if it were to shut down soon — has the regional environmental community uniformly concerned, especially in the face of emissions in Connecticut that began rising again in 2013.
“The essential thing we’ve been saying throughout is you have to have a plan,” said Peter Shattuck, director of clean energy initiatives at the regional advocacy group, Acadia Center. “If there’s no plan to replace it — yes, it’s going to be replaced by gas right away.”
The environmental community and others also worry that if natural gas plants or pipelines become the short-term solution, the cost of such investments would keep them entrenched for decades, thwarting more robust development of grid-scale renewables, such as offshore wind and solar, as well as so-called distributed generation, the most common form of which is rooftop solar on individual homes and businesses.
Hydropower imported from Canada also is seen as a clean, quick-ish fix. “The large shiny object,” is what Vine called it. “It’s relatively close. The Canadians would love to sell more to the U.S.,” he said.
Environmental groups are split on hydro. There are tricky transmission issues — like getting lines built through northern New England’s undeveloped forests.
In a July executive order, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy authorized a rapid-response resource assessment to help figure out whether the state should come to Millstone’s financial defense. The assessment isn’t designed to be a replacement plan for Millstone, but it will make some evaluations of the kinds of things that might ultimately replace Millstone.
It also could begin to shed light on the costs to consumers of the various timing scenarios for closing Millstone, as well as the costs to prop it up. Those numbers are mysteries right now, especially with Dominion refusing to open Millstone’s books.
Because of the way the different regions within the New England grid receive power, the areas outside of Connecticut are likely to feel a greater pinch in power availability from the loss of Millstone than Connecticut would. (ISO-NE provided documentation, but refused repeated requests for an interview.)
And that speaks to a major dispute over the potential closing of Millstone — whether it’s a regional or a Connecticut issue.
Ask just about anyone in Connecticut wrestling with the Millstone problem, and the answer is regional.
“Connecticut is part of an integrated New England grid, so the question of what a replacement scenario looks like is also one we have to evaluate in combination with what else is happening in other states,” said Mary Sotos, DEEP’s new energy division chief. “We’re 25 percent of the New England load; Massachusetts is 50 percent. If Massachusetts is able to deliver on its aggressive goals, that’s good for us; that’s good for the region. But I think having a coordinated, thoughtful approach of how all those things work together will be an important part.”