Communities Lose When Nuclear Power Plants Close

by Deb Schulze

Carlton, Wisconsin. Little town on the Lake Michigan shore, less than an hour’s drive from Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. Sounds like a pretty little corner of the world to call home. But apparently not enough people think so, because the real estate listings that I checked a few days ago are full of really nice homes selling for under $100,000. Carlton, Wisconsin is another Midwestern town hit hard by the recession, and next month they will take another blow: Kewaunee, the local nuclear power station, will close.

According to local media, it is not closing due to safety issues. Nor is the State of Wisconsin trying to shut them down. The problem is the plant’s owner, Dominion, and the state’s utilities cannot agree on a contract. Without a power contract or customers, Kewaunee can’t afford to continue operating – a consequence of the economic law of supply and demand. This begs the question: when Kewaunee’s 633 employees stop getting paid beginning May 1 who will be left in Carlton to buy those homes, make mortgage payments to the local savings and loan, get their hair cut at the local salon, and pay school taxes? The answer, of course, is that everyone else will pay more.

And here in Vermont, on the shores of the Sixth Great Lake, we might say, “Those are the breaks. When a business can’t sell its product, the doors must close.” Yet that is precisely why the Vermont Yankee situation is so aggravating. The plant has a happy buyer for its power – the New England grid. It wants Vermont Yankee’s market-cost, low-carbon power almost as much as Windham County needs the 1000-plus jobs the plant provides. But Vermont Yankee is threatened by a few state leaders with their superficial , xenophobic talk of “Entergy Louisiana” and an “aging” plant that they say should be shut down, even though the independent experts at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have intensely reviewed the plant’s operations and found it safe to operate for another 20 years.

If Vermont Yankee closes, who will suffer? Certainly not the wealthy investors in guaranteed high-return renewable power projects who have led the anti-Yankee charge in Montpelier. It will be the hard-working Vermonters who already struggle to pay their mortgages, their power bills, their taxes, and virtually everything else.

If Vermont Yankee closes, it will lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic activity to the state and further compound the severely impaired economic situation in Windham County. In short, Windham County – already losing people and jobs and threatening to become the new Northeast Kingdom – will just get poorer.

The good news is that there is still time to follow a different course toward a more promising future. We can prevent the self-inflicted wound from driving out economic opportunity for ourselves and our children from Vermont. Let’s not make Windham County the next Carlton, Wisconsin where you can pick up a nice, empty house on the cheap.