By Guy Page
It is interesting if not peculiar that Rep. Tony Klein may move to repeal the state’s new ban on hydrofracking, a process which uses chemicals and a large volume of water to extract natural gas (Oct. 30 Burlington Free Press, “The Renewable Energy Debate”)! He wants Vermonters who are unhappy with the industrial wind development he has championed to realize that the likely alternative is nuclear power, natural gas and even coal.
It is unclear why Rep. Klein believes instate renewables and Vermont Yankee can’t co-exist. Both are low-carbon, jobs-producing, tax-paying domestic power sources benefiting New England, our own state included. Clean power diversity is a good thing, especially when one source (renewable wind and solar) is expensive per kilowatt-hour and operates at full power only part of the time. Vermont Yankee, a low-cost, 24/7 producer, can compensate for these shortfalls by making the region’s power run more smoothly, reliably and affordably.
Vermont’s legislative leadership has, as a practical matter, helped push Vermont and all of New England further into the arms of the natural gas-burning electricity producers of southern New England. If successful, the effort to close Vermont Yankee would make Vermont and the rest of New England depend more than ever on the regional power grid, for which the main fuel source is natural gas. The loss of 620 megawatts of virtually carbon-free power would result in more, not less, greenhouse gases. This obvious, if inconvenient, fact of cause-and-effect has been generally ignored, but never rebutted, by the “close Vermont Yankee, live carbon-free, build renewables” coalition of advocacy groups and elected and appointed officials.
The Vermont Public Service Board will soon hear Vermonters’ testimony about Vermont Yankee’s economic, environmental, and reliability fitness for a 20-year Certificate of Public Good. The huge economic benefit of more than 1000 jobs, millions in annual state revenue, and low-cost power are widely recognized. So is the plant’s longtime, proven record of reliable 24/7 delivery of power on demand. Yet the environmental case for approving Vermont Yankee is for many people even more compelling, because in our great state of Vermont, the environment matters more than economics. And like most compelling arguments, it is fairly simple: if Vermont really wants to reduce greenhouse gases, we cannot close the state’s biggest carbon-free power producer, thus forcing the combustion of even more natural gas, coal and oil to meet the region’s energy needs.
A report recently released by the prestigious New England Council, the region’s oldest business organization, underscores this point. The Council says the most important step New England can make to be energy competitive and reduce greenhouse gases is to keep open the region’s four nuclear power plants.
Advocates of renewables and energy conservation will continue to articulate their vision. And it is indeed a glittering future that many Vermonters hope will come true – sometime. Yet the fact remains: closing Vermont Yankee would lead immediately to more reliance on fossil fuels and the addition of millions of tons of carbon to the atmosphere every year. Vermont can, and should, do better.
Guy Page is the communications director of the Vermont Energy Partnership (www.vtep.org), a Montpelier-based coalition of about 90 Vermont manufacturers, businesses and business groups, utilities, labor unions, and individuals committed to promoting a clean, safe, affordable and reliable energy future for Vermont. Entergy, owner of Vermont Yankee, is a member of VTEP.