Reflections on Vermont Yankee – 1

Although the nuclear power station known as Vermont Yankee had another 18 years left on its license, it was shut down for economic reasons at the end of 2014. Entergy Corporation,the plant’s owner, and others have cited the low price of natural gas in the region as deterministic, but the reality is that many other issues were also at play.

Seven authors—who have no official connection to Vermont Yankee, or to Entergy—have provided their opinions on the shutdown of the plant, its implications for the region, and possible implications for other nuclear plants in other areas of the country. This is the first of three posts presenting these opinions.

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The Price Is Not the Lesson – Meredith Angwin

Vermont Yankee was a small stand-alone plant (620 MW), exactly the type of plant which has the highest costs per kWH produced. So, when natural gas prices dropped to lowest prices in years, the plant was closed because it wasn’t economical to keep it open. That’s the agreed-upon story, anyway.

By saying “economics,” Entergy (the owner of Vermont Yankee) can claim it never yielded to opponent pressures or pressures from the state government. With “economics” as the reason, opponents can claim that they opposed the plant, but that they didn’t shut it down. Opponents can say that the pain of layoffs cannot be laid at their door: “It’s just economics.”

In other words, the story that the “plant shut for purely economic reasons” is a story that works for all the participants in the battle. However, this story is not a future guide for the nuclear industry. All plants can eventually be “uneconomical” if the opponents are determined enough to make them so.

When the state of Vermont tried to block Vermont Yankee’s 20-year license extension, Entergy took them to federal court (and won) costing them millions of dollars in attorneys’ fees.

The opposition legislators continued to hit Entergy in the pocketbook, making sure that Vermont Yankee faced many new Vermont taxes. “Generation Taxes” suddenly spiked to $12 million a year. The state of Vermont wanted Entergy to pay $770,000 to the Red Cross to prepare to shelter 6,000 people just in case there was ever an evacuation. Entergy knew that there would be no end to arbitrary taxation by the state of Vermont.

In my opinion, the lesson for the nuclear industry is that we must be engaged and working at the local level. We must oppose anti-nuclear activists with our own local groups and local supporters. Not everything is decided in Washington, D.C. We need local boots-on-the-ground. The plants have economic challenges, but many of their challenges are local, and political. That is the true lesson of Vermont Yankee.


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Meredith Angwin blogs at Yes Vermont Yankee. Among nuclear bloggers who have their own blogs, Angwin has been has been closest to the action involving the plant over the past five years.


Unspoken Reason for Closure – Leslie Corrice

Vermont Yankee’s owner, Entergy, says the unit’s closure is because natural gas prices have plummeted and its generated power is no longer economically viable. I don’t believe this is the main reason for termination. In my opinion, the economic rationale is a smoke screen for an unspoken, over-riding reason.

Vermont Yankee has been under a socio-political attack for decades. I think that Louisiana-based Entergy no longer had the heart to continue countering what seemed to be a never-ending plethora of contrived political and pseudo-legal challenges.

Vermont Yankee is a geographical outlier, and it is not improbable that Entergy has tired of managing its far-distant social, political, and cultural problem child.

In addition, the current market for selling electricity makes gas generation more profitable than Vermont Yankee. However, permanently closing it assumes that the financial advantage with gas will always be the case.

This is a naïve notion. The only true constant in the energy market is change-itself. Closure of Vermont Yankee  shows that Entergy has not adequately considered this undeniable truth.

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corriceLeslie Corrice has two blogs at the Hiroshima Syndrome website (Fukushima Updates and Fukushima Commentary) and is author of two E-books concerning the Fukushima accident.

6 thoughts on “Reflections on Vermont Yankee – 1

  1. Michael Mann

    Vermont Yankee’s situation is very similar to R. E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant’s current situation, while supported by the local public and government the state government is solidly anti-nuclear and has worked to shutdown the plant for years, Ginna is also a single unit plant, fortunately the local infrastructure cannot support the shutdown of Ginna and still meet the reliability requirements, Exelon is attempting to have the utility pay a premium for the reliability the plant brings to the system via a reliability support services agreement. I hope people realize that yes. their bill will increase if Ginna gets the agreement, but both their electric and gas bills will increase if Ginna gets shutdown as well as reduced electric grid reliability, reduced local services and a much smaller tax base.

  2. R, L. Hails Sr. (P.E. ret.)

    An informative blog which states facts, but obvious facts.

    No subject can withstand the power of a sovereign. He holds the power to tax and regulate. Thus he can turn the level field of competitive commerce upside down. This can and has set to zero the hard earned knowledge of highly talented workers. They have no marketable skills. America has wallowed in this unsustainable, irrational, chaos for generations. Insiders, mostly lawyers but also a sprinkling of scientists, almost no engineers, have killed off a vital profession and industry. There has been no instance in history when a rejection of an advanced technology ever recovered under the same governance. Example: the Roman Empire gave the world concrete, a killer app, but this skilled talent, and the empire was lost for centuries before other societies exploited it.

    A private review of engineering colleges, in 1991, revealed that 69 had dropped course work vital to power plant design. Their graduates could not find employment. By this time frame, my old design – constructor had laid off 2/3 of its white collar employees, roughly 30,000 workers; most were technical, engineers and designers. I was deeply involved in the human costs of this disaster. Only a handful let their kids become engineers.

    The function of currency is to reduce all judgments to a common parameter, money. When judgments are terribly flawed, it is reflected in currency, e.g. the Confederate dollar and the German Reichsmark after WWI, went to zero value. Financially, it does not pay to lose. You gotta know when to hold ‘em, or fold ‘em; when to walk away and when to run. Entergy made the right short term decision on V Yankee. When the Vermont grid collapses in a sub zero blizzard, either due to no gas pipelines (the current choke point due to BANANA policy) or flattened wind gen/ solar installations, a new power structure will replace the current governance. At hideous human suffering. We respect the laws of man, but obey the laws of physics.

    I performed engineering on 24 US nukes and 48 fossil fueled power plants, including a number of prototypes. I am a retired PE; have no financial ties to any energy technology.

  3. James Greenidge

    Graeme Weber:
    “Australia is the only OEDC country with a legislated prohibition to Nuclear Energy”

    Outside mass Hiroshima Guilt, what factual evidence exists that warrants such a willy-nilly feel-good prohibition? (I guess tens thousands of coal-related maladies are magically exempt somehow…) Jane Fonda & Co brainwashed the public that just one bad nuke would take out states the size of Pennsylvania and the immediate neighborhood, yet we had three in a row at Fukushima and the one major human causality was akin to a bad sunburn and they’re FINALLY selling rice in the region! Can anyone spell media bias and willful malicious disinformation towards nukes? Australia, grab some common sense and grow a spine against the fearmongers!!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  4. Graeme Weber

    I live in Australia. The Greens have so poisoned the political discussion on Nuclear Energy it is going to be very hard to adopt it. However with time (which we probably do not have) they will have to realise they are the stupid ones to have opposed Nuclear Energy in the first place and as a political party they will then die a probably violent death. Australia is the only OEDC country with a legislated prohibition to Nuclear Energy. The Greens continue to work hard at adding costs to any proposed Nuclear plant.

    Crazy Really,

    Graeme

  5. William Schulze

    These three pieces make excellent points as well as perfect sense. Thank you Leslie Corrice and Meredith Angwin.

  6. Nowhere to Go

    Both authors are correct. The “official” reason for the plant closing (economics) is simply political cover. The anti-nuclear forces from the Governor on down are thus free to say “don’t blame us, it was Entergy”. And Entergy is free to say, “we couldn’t help it, it was the market”. And of course, “the market” doesn’t answer, it simply is.

    The truth is this. Anyone who has taken basic biology knows that if you poison the environment the inhabitants die. If you continuously irritate and injure and otherwise stress an organism, it will suffer and will eventually die from the abuse. A business is no different. You have a Governor who ran an entire political campaign on a promise to shut down this plant. In the state Senate he led a near-unanimous vote to close the plant. He browbeat a kangaroo court PSB into doing all but say there would be no Certificate of Public Good ever issued for this plant. A tax specifically directed at this one plant was enacted. Requirement after requirement was imposed on its operation. Lawsuit after lawsuit was filed (or forced) into court. Employees were harassed and ostracized, no matter how much they contributed to their communities. The markets were rigged so that even if the plant offered competitive rates, and buyers were instructed not to accept bids from the plant. A much more hostile environment is hard to imagine. Now those who built something here will be forced to leave their homes and communities, or retire (whether they can afford to or not), or simply put out on the street with their families, to die a slow and unnecessary death. All because they had to temerity to operate and work at a nuclear plant, in an industry that has become a political pariah when in fact it is probably the only source of energy that can actually contribute something positive in the effort to mitigate the effects of climate change.