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Why Risk Our Economy for Vermont Yankee?

Printed in the January 24, 2010 edition of the Times Argus/Rutland Herald

The Vermont seal of quality carries with it a cachet that few other states can claim. Over the years we’ve done a great job leading the country on issues that affect the common good, such as land stewardship, energy efficiency and environmental conservation. We’ve set the bar high — from the passage of Act 250, Vermont’s comprehensive land use and development law, to the nation’s first feed-in tariff, designed to jumpstart the in-state generation of renewable energy; and from the creation of Efficiency Vermont, the country’s first energy efficiency utility, to the 2008 legislation that took the visionary step of declaring groundwater a public trust resource.

 

The Vermont brand is widely recognized as the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs for the Green Mountain State. Branding, as public relations professionals will tell you, is essential in any successful business venture as a way of defining market niche and developing a trusting and loyal consumer base.

 

It’s paid off in Vermont for many businesses, including Ben & Jerry’s, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Vermont Butter and Cheese, Jasper Hill and Cabot. It is also reaping dividends for Vermonters by helping to attract the new generation of renewable energy technology firms — NRG Systems in Hinesburg, groSolar in White River Junction and Northern Power Systems in Barre.

 

Consider the solar company that’s deciding whether to open a factory in Chittenden County. Skypoint Solar is a start-up operation that plans to make electricity-generating solar panels. To be sure, one consideration for Skypoint is whether the state’s economic incentives package, including the VEGI (Vermont Employment Growth Incentive) program, will be generous enough to lure them to the Green Mountain State. But Vermont’s high quality of life, defined in large degree by our healthy and safe environment, has been a factor for Skypoint. It’s an edge that we maintain over any other state.

 

People from all over the world trust the Vermont brand to be safe, healthy, enjoyable and even inspiring. And that trust, once lost, would be almost impossible to rebuild.

 

Why, then, do so many seem to deny the existence of the 800-pound gorilla in the room — the single biggest threat to the Vermont environment and the future of its renewable energy economy that we’ve ever faced — Vermont Yankee? Especially after recent, deeply troubling news that Vermont Yankee’s owners, Entergy Nuclear, misled Vermont regulators about the existence of underground pipes, which appear to have leaked dangerous radioactive tritium into the groundwater and surface water around the plant.

 

We all want a safe, healthy and prosperous Vermont, and a Vermont that is a leader in the growing renewable energy field. But we are at a crossroads. If the Legislature votes to extend Vermont Yankee’s license beyond 2012, it could be the single biggest blow to Vermont’s brand as well as to our budding clean energy economy.

 

The question Vermonters must help answer — and legislators ultimately decide — is: What kind of future do we want to create? Will we choose an aging, potentially deadly nuclear reactor to help power our lives? Or will we lay the foundation to truly grow a clean, green energy economy in Vermont?

 

It would be foolish to underestimate the magnitude of this decision.

 

Will Vermont risk what it has taken centuries to grow in our unparalleled brand of quality? Will we stifle and undermine our ability to grow thousands of green jobs as a world leader in innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy technology? Will we hitch our wagon to a potentially deadly nuclear power facility, which beyond all the reasons outlined above, carries with it mind-boggling financial risk for Vermonters of a decommissioning fund now $600 million short and the prospect of a highly leveraged, debt-ridden company supposedly responsible at the end of the day? Will we do that?

 

The reality is that Vermont has too much at stake to allow Vermont Yankee to operate for 20 more years. And the fact is, under the proposal currently on the table, VY would only provide 11 percent of Vermont’s power in the future. Eleven percent of our energy demand is approximately 115 megawatts. Eleven percent is clearly doable without Yankee. Last year alone the Department of Public Service put out a request for 50 megawatts of renewable energy projects in Vermont and received proposals representing over 200 MW of community-scale power.

 

For all these reasons and many more, I would argue that the worst environmental and economic decision Vermont could make is to relicense Vermont Yankee.
Please let your legislators know what you think. Contact them today.
For VNRC’s position on the relicensing of Vermont Yankee, click here.