Where the Golden State Leads, Another Will Follow

by Martin Harris

The headline reads “Troubled Nuclear Plant to be Closed”. But the dateline reads San Clemente, CA (the nearest city) not Brattleboro, VT. Within the newspiece is this quote: “Edison International decided to permanently close the $2 billion San Onofre nuclear plant on the Pacific Ocean between Los Angeles and San Diego when it became clear that it faced a long political fight to re-open…” and so on, including mention of “…expensive repairs..” and but not including mention of location, near the Christianitos branch of the San Andreas fault line which is overdue to shake the Pacific Coast once again. It used to be said, in earlier, happier times, that whatever governance improvement took place in cutting-edge Progressive California would soon be imitated in more conservative (slower) and less politically blessed States, but that trope isn’t heard much any more as the Golden State, now unning out of gold and a once-prosperous middle class, implores Washington for loans or gifts or, at least loan guarantees, deriveable from taxes on wealth generated in less-politically-blue States and re-distributeable to those like CA which chronically spend more than they can raise from their own less- or non-taxed, for the usual blue-State reasons, citizens.

In a comment which might as well have come from equally-blue Vermont Governor Shumlin, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner (he presides over, in similar Progressive fashion, 1.3 million compared to Vermont’s .63 million) is quoted thus: “It should have happened a long time ago. Our energy future never relied on an aging nuclear power plant.” And he’s similarly “sorry for the jobs [that would be] lost” the 8 June Wall Street Journal reports. Parallels to Vermont Yankee are fairly clear: in its 2013 Annual Report, Entergy’s wordsmiths wrote of “,,,uncertainty regarding the continued operation of Vermont Yankee…” in the context of a long list of licensing/operating approvals from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in contrast to an equally long list of permit delays, denials, and lawsuits from Vermont government and anti-nuclear advocacy groups. In preparation for a Vermont Yankee destiny repeating that of San Onofre (where CA goes, VT follows?) Entergy has already written down the VY plant value from $517 million to $162 million, a shareholder “hit” that doubtless parallels the original value of San Onofre ($2 billion) declining to its present value as a no-income ocean-front real estate lot encumbered by large chunks of concrete. The Journal reported no present dollar value.

There are, of course, some non-parallels. No San Andreas earthquake fault near Vernon; no comparable internal plumbing problems; and no equal-size nearby customer base. And, while the regulatory climate in CA and VT is comparably anti-nuclear, for the usual green-advocacy reasons, such closures as San Onofre’s and soon, perhaps, Vermont Yankee’s, aren’t comparable to nuclear plant closures in Florida and Wisconsin because of old-fashioned profitability reasons: those plants couldn’t compete with the new, cheaper, supplies of natural gas to fire up utility generators, the official reasons for Duke Power’s closure of Crystal River in Florida and Dominion Resources closure of its Kewanee plant in Wisconsin. (Humble Scribe rhetorical question: will anti-nuke activists become pro-fracking (the deep-rock fracturing process for natural gas extraction) as NG carbon-based therms replace no-carbon isotopic atomic-reaction therms for boiling of water to run generators?)

Those differences and similarities aside, there’s one highly visible way in which such leading-blue States as CA, and such following-blue States as Vermont, plan for solutions of their energy supply reductions as they choose, for a range of environmental-ideological reasons, to disdain various options, from nuclear at the large end of the quantity scale to wind at the small end. It’s the I-word: import. The WSJ reports that “…the loss of one of the [CA] State’s largest and steadiest source of power –the plant has furnished Southern California with roughly 17% of its power—carried consequences for the State’s grid. California’s officials have taken steps to line up more generating resources and make transmission upgrades to so more power can be imported into the the Los Angeles basin…” Gloryosky, Zero (a Little Annie Rooney neologism, there); isn’t that the exact-same way Vermont won’t allow drilling for NG but will build pipelines to import it from less-noble States which will allow drilling? Now that Entergy is exporting Vermont Yankee power (which was once sold in-State) into the Northeastern grid, there’s no way of outsiders knowing how much of that power is then bought back into Vermont by its pre-dominantly-Canadian-owned major utilities, but that’s OK under the CA rule followed by VT: it’s ideoligcally-approved to forbid (NG) or discourage (atomic) certain forms of energy production domestically, but it’s also ideologically-approved to import the same types of power from elsewhere. Example: some of that imported power will come from the Entergy-owned Pilgrim nuclear plant on the Massachusetts Atlantic beach-front. (Second HS rhetorical question: in the continuous-consciousness-raising process joyfully experienced by environmental activists as they evolve into deeper understanding, will there soon be the same sort of disapproval based on generation-place for energy as now has taken control of purchaser decision against clothing made in South Asia, under adverse-to-worker-survival conditions; or precious stones and metals mined in Africa, for the same noble reasons?) No, Entergy hasn’t yet announced VY closure. But stay alert: HS prediction is that once again, CA will lead and VT will follow.