Just two days after electing their new governor, Vermonters also learned that the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is for sale. For many years this plant has provided one-third of Vermont's electricity at a low, fixed cost with virtually no carbon emissions. Vermonters may fairly wonder what the future impact will be on the cost of electricity, the economy, and the environment.
And yet, nothing of real significance to Vermont Yankee has changed. While Governor-elect Peter Shumlin, a Yankee opponent, won narrowly, Lt. Governor-elect Phil Scott - a Vermont Yankee supporter - won by a larger margin. The relicensing vote remains in the hands of the Legislature. And regardless of who owns the plant today or in the future, its continued operation is very important for Vermonters.
In January, the legislature should take a fresh, dispassionate look at Vermont Yankee. To get politics out of this important decision, the legislature should empower the Vermont Public Service Board and Department of Public Service, which have expertise on these matters, to determine Yankee's future.
Despite November's headlines, three central facts are unchanged and must be considered.
With or without Vermont Yankee, almost all of Vermont's electricity will still come from traditional, base load power plants fueled by hydro, coal, natural gas and nuclear power. Today, 270 megawatts of Vermont Yankee's electricity is used by Vermonters on a typical day. Renewable power and efficiency might possibly produce a third of that amount in the next five to ten years. Even if that ambitious marker is reached, the other 180 megawatts would still come from base load sources.
The question is whether Vermont utilizes our largest in-state base load power provider, Vermont Yankee, or the New England power grid, through which Vermonters will then burn mostly fossil fuels to power their refrigerators, televisions, and lights. New England smokestacks will emit tons of air pollution and particulates on behalf of Vermonters who thought, mistakenly, they were "going green." This could include as much as two million additional tons of carbon dioxide annually. Additionally, if Vermont Yankee closes nearly 1,300 jobs and millions in annual taxes would be lost.