Diverse Energy Interests Battle It Out Over Connecticut’s Energy Future
HARTFORD, CT — Every year the legislature debates a bill that changes how energy is bought and sold, and how it comes together is never pretty.
It’s the proverbial making of the sausage.
Today, the Energy and Technology Committee is expected to vote on one of these energy bills, and opponents, including AARP, consumer groups, and environmentalists, were making a last-ditch effort Monday to amend it.
The bill they oppose would enable Dominion Energy, which owns the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Waterford, to bid on five year power contracts through an energy auction that’s overseen by state officials and regulators.The same bill would allow renewable energy sources to bid on longer-term 20 year contracts.
Kevin Hennessy, New England State Policy Director for Dominion Resources Inc., said that when you read the bill it’s clear it’s about much more than Millstone.
“It’s Connecticut’s comprehensive energy strategy,” Hennessy said Monday.
On this point, opponents agree and are trying to get lawmakers to introduce an amendment that simply strips out any language pertaining to nuclear energy.
Unlike past years where this type of legislation comes up after the public hearing and committee process, lawmakers have had at least a week to digest the 19-pages of a bill titled “An Act Concerning the Diversity of Baseload Energy Supplies In The State and Achieving Connecticut’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Mandated Levels.”
Opponents of the bill are asking lawmakers not to be fooled by its name. They complained Monday that all good energy policy written to appease environmentalists was added to win votes.
“What was added to that bill to try to lessen the opposition from many of us was an insult in its inadequacy,” Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said Monday.
He said the Energy and Technology Committee has a long history of doing “aircraft carrier” bills, but he’s never seen them have to do one so early in the process in order to try and move a bill along.
“That’s how indefensible this rat is,” Swan said. “It’s like they turned it into a Christmas tree for Dominion and instead of having ornaments they put a bunch of rats in to try and pick off votes.”
One of those so-called “rats” would be a proposal to extend long-term contracts for zero emission renewable energy credits and low-emission renewable energy credits for an additional year, according to Swan.
AARP’s John Erlingheuser said he has to wonder why Dominion, a publicly traded company, would say this legislation will lower rates, if they are looking to make a profit for their shareholders. He said that doesn’t make sense.
Erlingheuser said his group of consumer advocates wouldn’t ever be able to support the legislation unless they were able to see Dominion’s finances — to see if the company is really telling the truth about its financial situation.
Nationally, nuclear energy, which provides about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, is struggling to compete with the low price and abundance of natural gas. Millstone is no different, according to executives who testified last March during an informational hearing on the topic.
Environmentalists complain that creating a process that allows nuclear energy to compete will crowd out renewables like wind and solar, but Energy and Technology Committee Co-Chairwoman Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, said that’s a misunderstanding.
Reed said the bill limits how nuclear can compete and it won’t be competing against wind or solar. It will be competing against fossil fuels like natural gas.
Nuclear “will have their own lane and renewables will have their own lane,” Reed said.
She said she’s been committed to having an open dialogue about the legislation and it’s interesting to see how the various financial interests in and around the energy industry, including AARP, are making their case to lawmakers.
She called the recent alignment of environmentalists and natural gas companies a “shotgun wedding” type of arrangement. She predicted the two interests will be fighting one another shortly on other legislation.
Bill Dornbos, Connecticut director of the Acadia Center, said the bidding process for renewables should be separate and it should not be included in a bill dealing with nuclear energy.
“We need the renewables to ramp up,” Dornbos said. However, he disagreed that it should be in the same legislation with language that gives nuclear an option to bid.
Hennessy said Connecticut has been debating its long-term energy strategy for more than a decade and has failed to include nuclear as part of that debate. He said this legislation changes that and for the first time gives nuclear the ability to compete.
He said he’s struggling to see how this is different than previous legislation for other energy sources such as large-scale hydropower and natural gas.
Reed said that with nuclear energy providing a large part of the region’s electricity, this legislation is trying to offer a comprehensive approach.
“I said from the get-go that this is going to be a more holistic approach,” Reed said.
Last year, the Senate passed legislation that would have given nuclear energy an opportunity to bid, but it died in the House because lawmakers were wary about the last-minute nature of the legislation.
Reed said everyone has had plenty of time to get up to speed on the issue and she anticipates it will have broad bipartisan support.
The Energy and Technology Committee will meet at 2 p.m. in room 2E of the Legislative Office Building to vote on the legislation.