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Vermont's energy future: trouble ahead?

The liberal Vermont legislature is quite possibly about to vote a death sentence for Vermont Yankee, the source of a third of the state's electricity. If it does so, this will be first time in American history that politicians voted to shut down a safe, reliable operating nuclear reactor. In fact, Vermont is the only state in the union where legislators have ever given themselves the power to order a shutdown.

The anti-nuke people, led by Senate President Peter Shumlin, have for years been trying to shut down Vermont Yankee solely because they believe nuclear energy to be an unsafe and indeed immoral blight on humanity.

In recent years Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, since 2002 the licensee of the plant, has given encouragement to its opponents. The Vernon plant has had a series of maintenance embarrassments - none of them consequential, but together enough to give the public the idea that the plant is a threat to fish, groundwater, bystanders, and future generations. Most recently, the opponents seized on a careless statement by an Entergy vice president (now departed) to charge that the company was lying about the existence of underground piping.

Let's look at the consequences if Shumlin's forces succeed in voting Vermont Yankee off the island.

By late 2012 the cheapest and most reliable third of Vermont's electricity will disappear. There is zero possibility that it can be replaced by any believable combination of conservation, wind turbines, solar panels, cow power, and landfill methane. Moreover, the wind and solar kilowatts come with a price tag from three to five times the price of Vermont Yankee's nuclear electricity. Furthermore, keeping the power grid steady when a third of the supply comes from unreliable sources remains an unsolved engineering problem.

We might be able to double the power purchased from HydroQuebec - if its management has forgiven Vermont for its ill-advised lawsuit aimed at breaking its supply contract after the ice storm of 1998. But that would leave Vermont with 2/3 of its power from a single supplier, not a good idea.

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