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What's The Future Of Connecticut's Only Nuclear Plant?

Millstone Power Station
The Millstone nuclear plant produces nearly half of Connecticut's electricity generation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

A bill that could change the way Connecticut's only nuclear power plant sells its energy is taking shape at the state capitol. Officials at Millstone Power Station are asking legislators to let them sell electricity directly to utilities.

As commodities go, electricity is unique. It's generated, shot out to the grid, and for the most part, consumed in real time.

Kevin Hennessy is with Dominion Resources, operator of the Millstone Power Station in Waterford.

As we stand by a buzzing transformer at their plant he said, "there's no real meaningful storage of electricity yet. It's too expensive. It's not to scale."

And that's key, Hennessy said, to understanding why Millstone sells power the way it does.

"What we do here, at Millstone, is we actually sell our power forward -- to hedge funds and other financial groups," Hennessy said.

Electricity prices can be volatile -- subject to supply, demand, and weather. So at Millstone, a "baseload" generator that's online pretty much all the time, they guard against that volatility by selling power credits today that will be consumed years from now, when prices could be different.

"We like certainty," Hennessy said. "We don't like the volatility of a spot market."

But as the price of natural gas has fallen, nuclear commodities -- at least for now -- have become less attractive to hedge fund buyers.

Millstone is asking the legislature for help. They're supporting proposed legislation that would let them sell power directly to utilities, alongside renewable resources.

Environmental groups say classifying Millstone alongside renewables could temper the growth of smaller-scale renewable power like wind and solar.

Other skeptics just want Millstone to open up its financial books to prove help is needed to begin with.

In testimony to the state legislature, Millstone's Kevin Hennessy said other nuclear plants in the region have closed, or announced plans to close in the coming years.

That raises the near-term question, what power source would replace Millstone if it closed -- since, right now, the plant generates about half of Connecticut's energy.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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