Don’t let delaying tactics stop Vermont Yankee

Courtroom maneuvers should not determine state’s energy future

BRATTLEBORO — Now that the battle over Vermont Yankee has moved into the courts, only the terms and the tactics have changed. Vermont Yankee still wants to produce 620 megawatts of low-cost, low-carbon, reliable, jobs-rich electricity.

Having successfully stonewalled Vermont Yankee's legitimate effort to gain a state Certificate of Public Good (CPG), the state of Vermont will have to defend its anti-power, anti-jobs action in federal court.

Not surprisingly, the state is seeking “more time” in a transparent attempt to force a de facto shutdown. The state's lawyers know Entergy must buy fuel this summer for delivery in time to be able to refuel to operate past March 2012. So the tactic is “Please your honor, we haven't had enough time to study all these documents.”

But courtroom maneuvers should not determine this plant's or Vermont's energy future.

There was indeed a time when the state should have taken more time. That time was before the Senate voted in February 2010 to close the plant in 2012 before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) final decision on relicensing was made. Since that hasty, ill-considered vote, Vermont Yankee has been deemed safe and reliable to operate by the NRC, received a federal license extension, and offered Vermont ratepayers electricity for less than five cents per kilowatt-hour - a contract price far below the lowest available contract offered.

Meanwhile, renewable power projects have effectively stalled, unless heavily subsidized. The cost of market power has increased, and New England's power grid operators say that closing Vermont Yankee will increase the region's energy prices and the region's likelihood of blackouts. Vermont could even find itself in federal court again, this time with our fellow New England States as the plaintiffs.

Now is the time for expeditious action by the court, not more delay. Plant employees and all ratepayers deserve to know where they stand. It is one thing for Vermont utilities to opt out of Vermont Yankee as a reliable, low cost, base load supplier. This action seems contrary to the interest of their ratepayers and possibly of interest to the PSB. It is another for the plant's home state, Vermont, to deprive the other New England states of the benefits of reliable, low cost, baseload. Today, the other New England states are depending on about 350 megawatts of Vermont Yankee's current production.

Vermont might have a case if its 2002 Memorandum of Understanding with Entergy was the only issue and it had not been unilaterally modified by the state. But Vermont skewed that deal when in 2006 it gave itself the power to stop any CPG, and again in 2010 when it exercised that power. Opposition to this unfair tactic is just common sense and not up to the level or Vermont's famous “word”. You cannot promise someone a fair shot at winning, and after you have agreed, restrict their ability to do so.

Vermont received its benefits at the beginning of the agreement in a bonus and now wants to forget their side of the bargain. It's like the carnival barker who moves the basket when the ball is in mid-air.

Judges generally make their decisions according to what is right under the law and beneficial for society. In this case, saying no to the state's delaying tactics does both.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates