Time for a Real Energy Policy Discussion

by Senator Peg Flory

Where is Vermont’s energy policy heading?

If recent U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission public hearings about Vermont Yankee are any indication it is a chaotic, sad and unruly place. And, a bevy of independent, highly respected economic reports makes clear that loss of Vermont Yankee means higher costs, fewer jobs, and dirtier power.

Indeed, many Vermont business and labor groups are very concerned about the potential loss of Vermont Yankee, which provides a third of the state’s electricity. While Vermont has a well established and mutually beneficial relationship with Hydro-Québec which also provides a third of the state’s power, without Vermont Yankee the state will be importing more than 80 percent of its electricity.

With the loss of Yankee, Vermonters will ship billions in energy payments and jobs to other states and Canada. We will have a less reliable grid while increasingly depending on imported power – from New Hampshire and other places in New England.

No one bears more responsibility for this mess than Governor Shumlin.

In February 2010, at the height of concern about tritium at Vermont Yankee, then Senator Shumlin aggressively pushed for a vote to deny the Vermont Public Service Board the ability to consider if Vermont Yankee should continue to operate. Put differently, at the pinnacle of emotionalism politicians told the state’s independent experts they did not have a role in this critical energy decision.

Then Senator Shumlin, on the eve of the primary season for Governor, took these concerted actions knowing the legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office had commissioned an exhaustive and thorough taxpayer funded study to determine the economic and fiscal ramifications of closing Vermont Yankee. The tritium situation had not been resolved nor had the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission made a decision at that time on Vermont Yankee’s license renewal.

Shortly after the Senate vote, the JFO study was issued. It found that relicensing Vermont Yankee and adopting a portfolio with a strong presence of renewable energy will yield, “the largest average positive employment and other economic impacts, with immediate job gains, no job losses and lower long-term power bills.”

Tom Kavet of Kavet Rockler & Associates and Jeff Carr of Economic & Policy Resources, Inc. prepared this important study.

The basic problem Vermont has with electricity is that we do not produce enough. While most states produce all or nearly all of their electricity in state, Vermont, even with Vermont Yankee operating, no gets about half of its power from Canada and New England states. Without Vermont Yankee, the state will produce only 20 percent or so of its electricity in state for the foreseeable future.

The longer power has to travel, the more it costs and the less reliable it becomes. The state losses the jobs, taxes, and economic benefits that come from power production. In the case of Vermont Yankee, this is more than $100 million in annual economic benefits.

Vermont is also now engaged in a costly and protracted legal fight with Entergy, Vermont Yankee’s owner, about the plant’s future. This is a drain on taxpayers and gives Vermont a black eye when trying to attract and retain job producing companies here.

Vermont can no longer indulge in Governor Shumlin’s use of Vermont Yankee for political purposes to appease those on the far left wing of the Democratic Party. In fact, the Doyle poll and numerous other surveys have shown significant support for Vermont Yankee and nuclear power in general. The Vermont Energy Partnership, which represents more than 90 business and labor groups, is among those opposed to the plant’s closure.

If the Governor and Entergy cannot enter into a settlement in the near future, the Vermont Legislature as its first order of business in January should be to empower the PSB to decide about the plant’s future.

Otherwise, the drain of Vermonters’ jobs, cash, and business reputation will knock the state down economically for years to come.

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Peg Flory, R-Rutland, serves in the Vermont State Senate.