Salmon: PSB’s duty is to view Vermont Yankee objectively

Editor’s note: Tom Salmon is the Vermont state auditor, a certified public accountant and a certified fraud examiner. He lives in St. Johnsbury.

The three members of the Vermont Public Service Board are about to get more free advice than all the Boston Red Sox managers combined. That’s because the best case the opponents of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant have to shut the plant down is to convince the PSB that it is no longer worthy of a certificate of public good.

As state auditor, it is my duty to evaluate the performance of state government. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that state government has wasted a lot of taxpayer money trying to destroy a flawed but valuable asset.

Vermont’s legislation to close the plant in 2010 was carefully worded to forbid the PSB from considering the plant’s application for a certificate of public good. Why? The PSB’s mission is, in part, “to ensure the provision of high quality public utility services in Vermont at minimum reasonable costs, consistent with the long-term public good of the state.” Then-Sen. Peter Shumlin and his allies were afraid the Public Service Board would make a decision based on its mission.

Vermont Yankee produces baseload electricity at about 4 cents per kilowatt hour and has offered to renew contracts at about 6 cents. Wind turbines produce it intermittently at closer to 20 cents/kwh as mandated by the Legislature. Despite some serious transgressions over the years by Entergy, the plant’s owner, the PSB could not ignore the cost factor, the near zero greenhouse gas emissions, taxes paid to the state and the impact of more than 1,000 jobs. When the cost of electricity is factored into the current economic climate for other Vermont businesses, it is easy to see why Vermont Yankee’s opponents would be worried.

Now that Vermont’s defense of that law has been rejected in federal court at great expense to taxpayers, we’re back to square one at the Public Service Board.

The other portion of the PSB’s mission statement says: “The Board strives to achieve this mission by providing an independent, fair and efficient means of resolving public utility disputes; and by guiding the development of state utility policies and rules for public services to best serve the long-term interest of Vermont and its residents.”

When it comes to independence and fairness, the PSB is under the microscope in a big way. The Green Mountain Care Board was supposed to be independent, too. But this facade of independence was torched by Gov. Peter Shumlin when he demanded that members of the GMCB cancel plans to hire some communication help and they actually did.

PSB Chairman Jim Volz and members David Coen and John Burke have the duty to remain objective in the face of shrill, arrogant anti-nuclear zealots who could care less about the practical issues involving energy policy. Just as importantly, there is a great opportunity.

This is the opening for our state’s majority of pragmatic, reasonable Vermonters to insist on a practical, affordable plan for our energy future. Realistic Vermonters understand that the threat of global warming far outweighs any perceived threat to safety from nuclear power. Vermonters can demand that this source of inexpensive, virtually carbon-free baseload electricity be kept on-line to serve us rather than out-of-state utilities. They can also demand that Entergy clean up its act and run the plant properly or sell it to a firm that can. Gov. Shumlin’s plan to power the state with 90 percent renewable electricity by 2050 ignores the mission of “minimum reasonable cost” and the fact that renewables only produce power intermittently. Vermonters who understand this should say so before they are priced out of existence.

Comments

  1. Doug Hoffer :

    There he goes again.

    First, Mr. Salmon said, “As state auditor, it is my duty to evaluate the performance of state government. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that state government has wasted a lot of taxpayer money…”

    Recent events regarding energy policy and Vermont Yankee are the result of elections and legislative action. Decisions by our elected officials are unavoidably subjective and cannot be audited like a state program. Mr. Salmon’s comments were about policy decisions. The fact that money was spent reflects choices made by our elected officials. That’s their job; not Mr. Salmon’s.

    Mr. Salmon also said, “PSB Chairman Jim Volz and members David Coen and John Burke have the duty to remain objective in the face of shrill, arrogant anti-nuclear zealots who could care less about the practical issues involving energy policy.”

    Wow. It’s ironic at best that Mr. Salmon – who routinely ignores the statutory limits of his own job, feels the need to lecture the members of the PSB about their responsibilities.

    This is reminiscent of Mr. Salmon’s bizarre ex-parte communication with a state judge over a year ago when he complained about “insincere” public records requests and told the judge how he should do his job.

    Mr. Salmon often says he is “unemotional.” Presumably, this means he is objective. So when he uses words like shrill, arrogant, and zealots, we have to wonder where he left his objectivity.

    Unfortunately, this is not the first time Mr. Salmon has compromised his objectivity. In august of last year, he called for Burlington Telecom to be auctioned and made unflattering remarks about Burlington’s elected officials. At that time, his office was conducting a legislatively mandated TIF audit of Burlington. To make such remarks during an audit of the city compromised his objectivity.

    A year ago Mr. Salmon said he didn’t want to be State Auditor anymore and hoped to run for U.S. Senate, Governor, or Lt. Governor. Having changed his mind, he now seeks to change the definition of his job so he can do what he wants without giving up his very well-paying job. This is not what taxpayers expect of their State Auditor.

    This is just the latest in a series of press releases and media events by Mr. Salmon about Vermont Yankee. Perhaps he should resign and register as a lobbyist for Entergy; this press release certainly reads like it was written by Entergy.

    Clearly, Mr. Salmon would prefer to be a legislator or chief executive. But he’s not. He’s the State Auditor and he should act like one.

  2. George cross :

    Seems we have a State Auditor who thinks his job is to advocate for the nuclear industry. This is very strange indeed. The auditor might want to question various expenditures made by the state. Fine, that is his job. But to do so he needs to document how an expenditure is outside of the legislative authorization for it, or is contrary to generally accepted best practices. Calling citizens, “… shrill, arrogant anti-nuclear zealots who could care less about the practical issues involving energy policy.” simply because they disagree with his perspective on nuclear power is not a function of the office of State Auditor. It almost makes one wish for a recall provision in state law. Maybe name calling works well in the Republican presidential primaries, let’s not allow it to work well in Vermont.

  3. William Boardman :

    As an auditor, maybe he could compute the full cost of Vermont Yankee, from mining through fuel cycle and operating to complete and safe mothballing.

    Once we have a ballpark number for the real cost, my guess is that nuclear power still won’t be “too cheap to meter.”

  4. Bob Stannard :

    Mr. Salmon’s comments demonstrate that he is not fit for the position he holds. He is not acting as an auditor for the state, but as a cheerleader for Entergy.

    He also misrepresents e case just as Entergy is so keen on doing. There are only 650 jobs at this plant; not 1,000. There has never been a formal offer to our utilities of $0.06/kwh. He fails to mention that Entergy’s last best offer was for only 115mgw vs. the 250mgw they were selling to us.

    Misleading information is something that we have come to expect from Entergy. Our Auditor of Accounts has no business carrying the water for this deceitful corporation.

  5. don eggleston :

    “This is just the latest in a series of press releases and media events by Mr. Salmon about Vermont Yankee. Perhaps he should resign and register as a lobbyist for Entergy; this press release certainly reads like it was written by Entergy.”

    The state auditor is quite correct to point out that the state’s fraudulent and quixotic quest to shut down VY is against federal law and wasting millions of Vermont taxpayer dollars and is being done for purely POLITICAL reasons: for Sorrell and Shumlin to shore up their reelection prospects with the left wing of the electorate.

    Rather than disparaging Salmon as being a lobbyist for VY, Mr. Hoffer should acknowledge that he is a shill for Shumlin. Mr. Stannard, in particular, gets paid to disparage Entergy.

  6. Jim Candon :

    There are many Vermonters that understand that this is a nation of laws, not men. Judge Mutha made His decision based on the law and the facts.
    I suppose if we had a system of mob rule in this state, the plant would be closed. Fortunatately we are not there yet.
    Tom Salmon is right.

  7. Gary Stahl :

    Mr. Salmon has attained a new level of offensiveness by purporting to use the office of state auditor in a political attack upon legitimate decisions undertaken by the Governor and the Legislature. Even more damaging is Mr. Salmon’s calculated use of a few one-sided and misleading figures in an attempt to create the illusion of being neutral.

    Lost (of course) in Mr. Salmon’s analysis is the fact that the actions of the Legislature and the Governor were precipitated by continuing leakage of radioactive water from Yankee Nuclear and Entergy’s deliberate attempts to conceal the leaking underground pipes from the Legislature. The real question, which Mr. Salmon evades, is whether Vermont — or any state — can “afford” to have a nuclear plant owner that spills radioactive water and then lies about it.

    In addition, the cost of the recent litigation is really attributable to Entergy. Had Entergy conducted itself in a responsible manner, litigation might not have been necessary. In any event, the cost of the proceedings before Judge Murtha is minor compared to the ongoing costs that all Vermonters will incur in connection with the unreliable, leaky and decaying Yankee Nuclear reactor.

    Mr. Salmon asserts that YN produces almost no greenhouse gas emissions. But with tritium laced water leaking from YN; with Entergy refusing to allow new testing; and with no national plan for disposing of nuclear waste, it’s no wonder that Mr. Salmon lives far upstream from Yankee Nuclear. He’d probably find living downstream from the reactor way too costly in terms of everything that matters.

  8. Alex Barnham :

    If a State Auditor has the blithering dumbfounded notion that Vermont Yankee produces baseload electricity at about 4 cents per kilowatt hour and has offered to renew contracts at about 6 cents, he needs to go back to school. The massive cleanup costs? That Entergy says they cannot afford? I suppose Mr Salmon has forgotten that the world of corporate america can no longer get away with the sleazy govt bailout equations they so blithely force down our throats. Oh well, open mouth, insert money.

  9. Vic Hudson :

    Mr. Salmon is right. I’m glad SOMEONE in Montpelier cares about the shameful wasting of taxpayer money that is going on in the Governor’s vendetta against VY.

  10. Hattie Nestel :

    Nuclear power poisons the air, water and food chain.
    From the first shovel that goes into the ground to mine uranium to the nuclear waste that our children are inheriting, nuclear power is killing us.
    There are alternative and efficiencies that can, and must take the place of suicidal energies like nuclear power and fossil fuels.
    Money isn’t everything. Having a planet we can breathe in, food we can eat and water we can drink should be the goal.
    If Germany can do it, so can, so MUST we.

    Hattie Nestel

  11. Julie Levy :

    Hmmm….”to ensure the provision of high quality public utility services in Vermont at minimum reasonable costs, consistent with the long-term public good of the state.”

    1. high quality service implies corporate responsibility – attempting to spin us off? not paying into the decommissioning fund? bringing extra fuel on site despite a closing date that is under discussion? losing track of how the plant is constructed? Corporation bashing may be fashionable, but I don’t hear complaints about those which are responsible to the public, only those that abuse their power in the name of stockholder profits.

    2. minimum reasonable costs – not minimum costs. I believe Vermonters have spoken against Entergy power through their representatives. I am reasonably sure that our state’s majority of pragmatic, reasonable Vermonters were included in that tally.

    3. consistent with the long-term public good of the state – let us not associate safety with long-term good, but certainly we could be more secure financially if the plant is decommission in 2012 while Entergy is a viable corporate entity, does not have multiple ageing plants to decommission, and can focus on the best and most secure way to carry forward the storage questions and clean-up that will arise. Would the auditor prefer that we pass on to the next generation of Vermonters the problems and potential decommissioning costs should Entergy default on its responsibilities?

  12. vic hudson :

    Ms. Nestel’s comment is about safety — proving again that those who want VY shut down are concerned about safety. That shows Judge Murtha’s decision was correct. Like it or not, under current law only the NRC can regulate nuclear safety. Don’t like it? Change the law, and stop attacking the judge who just did his job correctly.

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