Moore: Glut of natural gas makes nuclear power a tough sell

2011-6-2

Green Mountain Power’s recently announced agreement to buy electricity from the Seabrook nuclear power plant has important implications for the retirement of Vermont Yankee specifically and our state’s energy future
more broadly.

Different Vermont utilities rejected Entergy Vermont Yankee’s power offer for different reasons. Entergy gave them three good ones to choose from and just added a fourth: 1. The aging reactor has proven itself to
be unreliable given the corporation’s inability to adequately maintain the facility and avoid events like its collapsed cooling tower, a major transformer fire and multiple radiation leaks that have contaminated
Vermont’s soil and groundwater. 2. The corporate owners of the reactor showed time and time again that they could not be trusted. 3. Nuclear power is inherently dangerous and creates highly toxic waste. 4. The
price of power from Vermont Yankee is more expensive than similar power options.

Slick ads that have deluged Vermonters month-after-month asserted economic catastrophe after Vermont Yankee retires on schedule in 2012. Entergy and their marketers trotted out a series of threats that our
lights would go out, that our electricity bills would skyrocket, that businesses would flee the state – and duped some Vermonters in to believing them. But GMP’s proposed deal with Seabrook shows these to be
more Entergy lies.

In reality, it’s a tough time to be peddling expensive power from the aging Vermont Yankee plant because there’s a glut of available electricity in the New England grid. Every Vermont utility has planned
for the reactor’s retirement and not one is planning on buying any power from Entergy after March, 2012. No flickering lights, no rate hikes, no business flight. Just further evidence that Entergy will say anything
to squeeze more life out of its old and crumbling reactor.

But let’s be clear, trading out one old nuclear reactor for a slightly newer reactor isn’t a bold step forward. In fact, there is reason to question whether it is a step forward at all from an environmental and
safety standpoint. For instance, when the online news outlet The Daily Beast recently ranked the most vulnerable nuclear power facilities in the country, Seabrook came in near the top of the list at #11.

There has been talk that the Seabrook deal is a bridge, a contract that ramps down utility reliance on nuclear power over time, and will lead us to a different kind of energy future. Are our utilities building a
bridge that further facilitates exporting our environmental impact and gives a nod to local renewable power, or are we in the early stages of a local clean energy transformation? GMP’s projects like the Lowell wind
farm and their solar program have been leading the way and point to a transformation. A 23-year deal with Seabrook clouds that vision.

For the long term vitality of our communities and environment we need to be aggressively developing Vermont-based energy solutions that match Vermont values and create an energy supply that we are proud to pass on to our children and grandchildren.

Everywhere you look Vermonters want to be part of developing a local clean energy future. Ski areas like Bolton and Burke are installing wind turbines; the communities of Searsburg, Sheffield, Lowell and
Milton are all looking to host wind farms; a handful of the largest solar power systems in the country are being built right here in Vermont; nearly twenty farms are moving forward with cowpower facilities; and thousands of home owners and business leaders are looking to install solar power on their roofs or on their property.

Local clean energy is good for our economy, too. After all, it’s our neighbors who make energy upgrades to your home, pour the cement for a farmer’s manure digester, evaluate and develop renewable wind resources,
and climb your roof to design and install solar panels.

Right now most of these technologies carry an upfront premium to build. However, that premium is putting friends and neighbors to work, circulating money in our local economy and building a clean energy
infrastructure that will pay dividends for decades to come.

To ensure that these projects are the foundation of our clean energy future rather than window dressing will require visionary leadership, business innovation, and a willingness to invest some today for a better future. Governor Peter Shumlin’s new twenty year energy plan, due this October, has the potential to provide the much needed vision and leadership. To be successful it will need to support business innovation with strong incentives, fair regulation, and ambitious clean energy requirements.

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