Blogs > Power to the People

Following energy issues in the state of Connecticut and beyond.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Has NU-NStar Merger Hit A Snag?

The Boston Globe is saying it has.

Specifically, the Globe is reporting this morning that the administration of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is seeking to have that state's utility regulators delay action on the merger until at least next year. The Globe's story, quotes an NStar spokeswoman as saying that a substantial delay could jeopardize the deal.

If that were to happen, it wouldn't be the first time that action by a regulatory body had a hand in bringing NU merger plans to an end.

New York City's Consolidated Edison sought to acquire Northeast Utilities in a $7.5 billion deal that was first announced in October 1999. But, amid criticism from state officials and consumer advocates, the deal fell apart in March 2001.

In that case, Connecticut utility regulators approved the proposed merger, but imposed conditions that may have caused Con Ed to balk at the deal. In the NU-NStar deal, Connecticut regulators have refused to hear the case, a decision that has prompted a court challenge from the state's Office of Consumer Counsel.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Is New York Really No Longer In An Indian Point State Of Mind?

An interesting debate going on in New York, where there is some serious discussion of the state's future without the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which is shown in the photo below.

Connecticut residents should follow this with interest. A large chunk of the western part of Connecticut might face evacuation in the event of nuclear accident of a significant size and scope.

By Jim Fitzgerald
Associated Press

BUCHANAN, N.Y. — Imagining New York's energy supply without the Indian Point nuclear power plants, some see dirtier air, higher utility bills and an increased risk of blackouts.

Others see a lower risk of catastrophe from a terror attack or natural disaster.

And some see a long-term opportunity for alternative sources like solar panels on Manhattan rooftops and wind farms in the waters off New York Harbor.

The two reactors in Buchanan, 35 miles up the Hudson River from midtown Manhattan, provide about a quarter of the power used in New York City and Westchester. The plant began operating in the 1970s and licenses for the two reactors are set to expire in 2013 and 2015.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has declared his resolve to block relicensing; his aides recently met with the plant's owner, Entergy Nuclear. "We know he wants to shut it down," said company spokesman Jim Steets.

Critics have focused for years on preventing any relicensing for Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3. (Indian Point 1, from the 1960s, was mothballed in 1973.) Opposition spiked after the 2001 terror attacks, when one of the hijacked airliners flew right over the plant. Leaks of radioactive water, problems with emergency sirens, and the earthquake and tsunami crises at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have intensified the battle.

Of particular concern are evacuation plans in an emergency. An evacuation of 50 miles around Indian Point — the recent U.S. recommendation for American citizens around the Japanese plant — would mean moving out more than 17 million people, including almost all of New York City.

The governor, who lives 12 miles from Indian Point, has said he considers the plant "an unnecessary risk."

"I'm not against nuclear power but I am against nuclear power in this plant in this location with this density in Westchester County, with its proximity to New York City," he said.

Nuclear plants are regulated by the federal government, not the states. But Cuomo does have a weapon — a state water permit, so far withheld, that's required for the new licenses.

Vermont is also battling to close a nuclear power plant, one also owned by Entergy.

The governor and Legislature there are pushing to shut the Vermont Yankee plant when its license expires in March. Sarah Hofmann, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, said replacement power is not an issue there, although Entergy predicts higher consumer costs if it's shut down.

Much of the concern about the effects of a sudden Indian Point shutdown comes from New York City.

A new study commissioned by the city's Department of Environmental Conservation concluded in a preliminary draft that New Yorkers would pay more, the grid would become less reliable and air pollution would increase because most replacement power would come from fossil fuels.

That draft, leaked last week, estimated energy costs would rise up to 10 percent, not including any subsidies to new energy providers, upgrades to the grid or the costs of 1,100 jobs lost at Indian Point.

Leaders from several state agencies responded with a statement saying the figures in the study could also support the conclusion that closing Indian Point "is commercially feasible, does not compromise reliability, and has little impact on cost." They said consumers would pay 5 percent more at most.

The officials also said Indian Point's reliability was assured until 2020. The city study and a forecast from Con Edison, the city's primary distributor, both predicted that without Indian Point, reliability problems would start in summer 2016 — after the second reactor's license expires.

The dates are important because of the time needed to build new power plants. Experts estimate it would take three to five years for construction of a natural gas-fired power plant, even with new regulations pushed through by Cuomo that have streamlined the approval process.

It's still difficult to find a place to put a plant, especially in a densely populated area.

"The city administration has not encouraged any new plants to be built because of the political headaches that it causes," said Jerry Kremer, chairman of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, an industry group. "There is nothing of any substance in the pipeline which is going to provide additional power for the downstate region."

Philip Musegaas, a program director at the environmental group Riverkeeper, a longtime Indian Point critic, strongly disagreed, saying the region is well prepared to do without the nuclear plant.

He said that new transmission cables will bring in power from New Jersey and Quebec, and that energy efficiency projects are already dampening demand. The new regulations pushed by Cuomo will encourage smaller plants and boost wind and solar energy development, he said.

"This idea of an immediate energy shortage is just not reflected in the facts," Musegaas said. "If these measures that I've mentioned continue to progress over the next four years, we will have a stable energy supply and we can transition out of Indian Point."

Eventually, he said, wind and solar projects close to the city can be major contributors. He cited an ongoing City University project that found solar energy from the city's rooftops could meet half its demand. He said there was "tremendous potential" for wind-powered generation offshore.

Musegaas noted that whenever Indian Point closes, it's likely to leave behind another problem — its radioactive waste, currently stored on site in pools and casks. President Obama has refused to approve Yucca Mountain near Las Vegas as a disposal site and there is no other long-term plan for the nation's nuclear plants.

Cricket Valley Energy, an affiliate of Advanced Power Services, plans a 1,000-megawatt gas-fired plant in Wingdale, N.Y., about 65 miles north of the city, projected to open in 2015. Company officials said Indian Point's future was not a factor in the investment.

Another gas-powered plant with a 650 megawatt output is planned by Competitive Power Ventures Inc. in Wawayanda, about 50 miles from Manhattan. Spokesman Steve Sullivan said it could be open by 2014.

There is a good chance that Indian Point will be running beyond its expiration dates even if it doesn't have a new license. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that if its hearings — likely to start next year — go beyond the deadline, the plant would be allowed to stay online.

The same would apply if the state denies the water permit and Entergy challenges that ruling in court.

In the hearings, New York and environmental groups are alleging, among other things, that Entergy has not detailed how 20 more years of operation would affect buried pipes and cables and the domed "containment" buildings that house the reactors.

The water permit relates to Indian Point's use of Hudson River water — it takes in as much as 2.5 billion gallons a day — to make steam and cool the reactors. The permit has been withheld because the current cooling system kills nearly a billion organisms a year, including the endangered shortnose sturgeon.

The agency said Indian Point can operate legally if it converts to a water-recycling system known as closed-cycle. But Entergy said that would cost more than $1 billion. It claims its proposal — a new screening system that would keep most fish out — makes more sense.

No compromise seems close. Steets, the Entergy spokesman, said his company is not interested in a deal like that at the Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey, where the state backed off a demand for cooling towers when the owner, Exelon, agreed to close the plant 10 years before its 2029 license expiration

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Northeast Utilities Quarterly Dividend Announced

Northeast Utilities said Tuesday that its Board of Directors has declared a quarterly dividend of 27.5 cents.
The dividend is payable on Sept. 30th to shareholders of record as of the close of business on Sept. 1.

The company, which is the corporate parent for Yankee Gas Services and Connecticut Light & Power, has roughly 177 million shares outstanding. NU raised its quarterly dividend to its current level in February; prior to that the dividend had been a little over 25.6 cents per share.

NU’s utility companies in Connecticut, western Massachusetts and New Hampshire have more that 2.1 million electric and natural gas customers.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Area Town Near The Top In Energy Efficiency Challange

Following the Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge may never attain the popularity of following a baseball pennant race. But it has attracted enough interest in one New Haven area community that has enabled that town to move into third place in the energy efficiency competition.

Cheshire is third among the 14 towns taking part in the competition. trailing only Westport and Ridgefield. Bethany, the only other New Haven area town taking part in the competition is in last place, according to the standings listed Thursday on the Neighbor to Neighbor web site.

The goal for each of the participating towns is to get at least 1,000 people in each community to cut their energy usage by at least 20 percent. Each person enrolled in the program can score points for their community and help reduce their home energy bills by taking certain steps to reduce their energy consumption.

Towns with the highest scores will receive premiums such as electric car-charging stations and solar-powered LED lighting systems.

Despite its strong showing in the competition thus far, Cheshire isn't resting on it laurels. A workshop on how to join the program and reduce home electric bills will be held July 20th at 7 p.m. at Temple Beth David on Route 10.

Registration is required to attend this workshop. For more information, e-mail Pat Brosnahan at or call 203-272-0037 by July 18th.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Right Back Where We Started From

The Nuclear Energy Institute is praising legislation Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced that would create two federal interim storage facilities to begin consolidating used nuclear fuel from U.S. nuclear power plants.

The Nuclear Fuel Storage Improvement Act (S. 1320), comes in the aftermath of the Obama administration's decision deny funding for the permanent nuclear waste repository that the federal government had already approved for Yucca Mountain in Nevada (shown at left).

That decision, which many contend was the result of pressure from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) leaves the U.S. government without a permanent storage facility to accept used fuel from commercial nuclear facilities as required by federal law.

It is way too soon to say where these interim storage facilities might be located or even if the bill will pass.

But any state with a nuclear power plant - including Connecticut - ought to be worried. Because once these interim facilities have been sited, it will be that much more difficult to develop one central repository.

There are two places where spent nuclear fuel is stored in Connecticut. Some of it is at the site of the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Waterford; the other spent fuel storage location is in Haddam Neck, on the site of the decommissioned and demolished Connecticut Yankee plant.

Alex Flint, senior vice president for governmental affairs for the Nuclear Energy Institute, said Tuesday that “the events in Japan this year at Fukushima Daiichi have focused renewed attention on used fuel storage."

"While America’s used commercial fuel is stored safely and securely at each commercial reactor, federal law requires that the federal government move the fuel to a repository," Flint said in a statement. "“Central storage is part of an integrated used nuclear fuel management system that will provide safe and secure stewardship of this material while allowing research on advanced fuel treatment technology options, and development of a permanent repository for ultimate disposal of used nuclear fuel or resulting byproducts."

Of course, you don't see Mr. Flint volunteering to have any spent fuel repository in his backyard. And that's part of the problem with this interim plan: What state or region is going to "volunteer" to host one of these things, as Nuclear Energy Institute suggests is going to happen.

Even with incentives to host such a facility and the potential for job creation that Nuclear Energy Institute contends will likely follow, it seems highly unlikely that any political leader would volunteer his constituents for such a role.

Just ask Harry Reid.

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