By Guy Page
Thursday’s Boston Globe editorial verbally slapped Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Gov. Peter Shumlin for their role in the closure of carbon-free Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant.
The editorial followed last week’s decision by the state of Connecticut to keep open the Millstone nuclear power facility to prevent further regional losses in greenhouse gas-free electricity generation. Vermont Yankee closed in 2014 and Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, MA is scheduled to close this summer.
The editorial begins: “Two New England states, two Democratic governors, two very different outcomes for the climate.” It contrasts last week’s decision by the governor of Connecticut to support the Millstone nuclear power plant with Gov. Peter Shumlin’s prodding Vermont Yankee to close, with support from Sen. Bernie Sanders and ice cream mogul Ben Cohen. It also singles out the Conservation Law Foundation for saying Vermont Yankee was “worth more dead than alive,” even though Vermont Yankee generated 620 MW of carbon-free electricity, equal to about two-thirds of Vermont’s total load at the time.
The editorial continues to say it plain: “The consequence of listening to such experts was an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from New England, and a hole in the region’s energy grid that will haunt it for decades. Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions have gone up more than the nation’s as a whole, putting the lie to its green self-image. “
That energy hole is real and dangerous. Shortages and blackouts during a prolonged cold snap are a very real possibility. Knowing this, fossil-fuel burning plants like Mystic in Boston, MA charge ratepayers a premium just to stay open.
When the Vermont Yankee power contract was set to expire in March, 2012, Shumlin and the Legislature sent signals to both utilities and plant owner Entergy that a new power purchase agreement would not be welcome. Vermont Yankee, sans contract, closed in 2014 due in part to an inability to compete with the ultra-low market price of natural gas.
The Globe then makes an “if, then” statement that raises the question: Are anti-nuclear climate activists serious about emissions reduction? “If climate change is viewed as an existential threat, then keeping clean power sources from disappearing, even through out-of-market intervention, ought to be common sense. … The region needs to add clean power, but it also needs to keep the zero-carbon sources that it already has in order to avoid treading water.”
It’s too late for Vermont Yankee. But Vermont could be more welcoming towards low-carbon electricity that doesn’t come from wind or sun. For starters, the Vermont Legislature could issue a resolution thanking Connecticut for its cost-effective, pro-climate support of Millstone. The “climate caucus” faction of the Legislature could welcome big hydro and nuclear as partners with wind and solar in global climate change reduction. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources could stop trying to shut down, in the name of environmental concern, reliable hydro facilities like Morrisville Water & Light’s Green River dam.
Last year the United National Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admitted that every conceivable pathway to avoiding climate disaster involves nuclear power. Conservation and wind/solar power alone won’t get it done. Now that other New England states and even the United Nations have removed their anti-nuclear blinders, maybe Vermont should too.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.