McQuiston: Yankee Poker

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(Host) As editor of Vermont Business Magazine, commentator Tim McQuiston has been especially interested to hear what the Post-Vermont-Yankee Task Force is saying about the potential economic impact of closing the aging nuclear facility.

(McQuiston) A task force organized in Windham County has been looking at the state’s economic future after Vermont Yankee. But the plant’s closure date was not their actual focus. The group wanted to start the process of figuring out how to transition the local economy to a day when Yankee is no longer operating – whenever that may be.

The Post-VY Task Force employed many statistics and wrote at length about the hundreds of jobs that would be lost, the millions of dollars in local and state tax revenues that would end, the disruption in the social fabric of the area, including charitable giving, and the impact on home values.

The plant’s license expires on March 21, but litigation on the part of both the state and plant owner Entergy will ensure its continuation for some time to come. At the very least, the plant will operate for another year, until the current fuel supply is exhausted.

Entergy wants the plant to operate for another 20 years to maximize its investment, but at some point it will close, and then what?
The Task Force was wise enough to realize two things:

First, even if Entergy wins out, 20 years is right around the corner – relatively speaking.

Second, the Task Force understands that a more important issue than when – is what.

What’s going to happen to the physical plant when it does close? Entergy wants to moth ball the plant under a plan it calls SAFSTOR. This would put off dismantling the plant for perhaps another 80 years.

But dismantling the plant right away would have many benefits. First, it would generate many jobs – thus creating its own economic transition phase. That would also make the site available for some other use as soon as possible.

Both Governor Shumlin and Entergy, who have been bitter opponents in this whole discussion, agree that the site is valuable. Entergy says it’s valuable not only for the relatively cheap power it produces, but also because it’s an integral part of the New England power grid. Shumlin says the site could be used for some other industrial purpose, perhaps energy related because of the grid connection.

Entergy wants to SAFSTOR the plant simply for its own financial benefits. Otherwise, there’s no reasonable argument in favor of boarding up the plant to let it just sit idle, but SAFSTOR is a powerful card for Entergy to play.

This brings me to wonder if the Shumlin Administration might consider trading 20 more years of operation in return for a guarantee from Entergy to drop the SAFSTOR plan in favor of immediately dismantling the plant when the 20 years are up.

I doubt if even Entergy wants to keep pouring money into litigation when the outcome is so uncertain.

And I very much doubt that Peter Shumlin wants his legacy to be that of a cold nuclear plant sitting like a tombstone in Vernon long after every Vermonter now living has passed into memory.

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