Editor’s note: This commentary is by Brad Ferland, who is the president of the Vermont Energy Partnership. He lives in St. Albans.
When the State of Vermont holds a major public hearing about Vermont Yankee and almost no one attends, what does it mean?
I was asking myself this question as I waited, virtually alone, to testify at a well-announced public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 14, in the Vermont Interactive Television studio in Williston. The subject of Vermont Yankee usually draws a big, passionate crowd, with both supporters and opponents eager to express their views. Yet on this night, most of the state’s 13 interactive TV studios were empty. I was the only person to testify in the only studio located in populous Chittenden County. For lack of testimony, the meeting ended an hour and a half earlier than scheduled.
The Vermont Public Service Board had called the meeting to solicit comment from all Vermonters about Vermont Yankee’s request to operate through the end of 2014. A PSB decision on whether to grant a certificate of public good, a requirement for the plant to continue to operate in 2014, is expected by March 31.
A lot is riding on that decision. In the recent years through 2012, Vermont Yankee provided about a third of all electricity consumed in Vermont, and still had plenty to sell to the rest of New England. Since opening in the early 1970s, Vermont Yankee has made about three-quarters of the total power produced in Vermont. Last August, plant owner Entergy announced that (due mostly to the very low market cost of electricity), the plant would close in 2014.
Entergy needs PSB approval because the plant’s workers need to know they will have their jobs until sometime near the end of this year, giving them time to find new work, homes and schools.
On Dec. 23, the State of Vermont and Entergy announced a master settlement of most of their differences. The agreement says Entergy will close the plant, proceed with safe, responsible decommissioning, and will pay $10 million for economic redevelopment of Windham County and $5.2 million into a state fund for renewable power. Both sides will drop the many expensive legal disputes now in federal courts.
The agreement also specifically requires Public Service Board approval to operate Vermont Yankee through 2014. So if approval is denied, the settlement falls apart and has to be entirely renegotiated or litigated. Supporters of the settlement include Gov. Peter Shumlin, Attorney General William Sorrell, and many legislative leaders.
The financial aid is a continuation of Vermont Yankee’s longstanding practice of supporting the Windham County economy and the state’s renewable power future. The plant has long been the cornerstone of the local economy and virtually the sole funder of the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund. Entergy needs PSB approval because the plant’s workers need to know they will have their jobs until sometime near the end of this year, giving them time to find new work, homes and schools. In short, PSB approval is highly desirable for Vermont Yankee workers, for the area’s economic recovery, and for the state’s renewable power future.
I appeared at the hearing to tell the Public Service Board essentially what I have been saying since co-founding the Vermont Energy Partnership seven years ago: an operational Vermont Yankee helps the economy, ratepayers, taxpayers, and environment of our beloved state. Indeed, even without a settlement agreement, Vermont Yankee’s continued operation is in the state’s best interest.
And now finally I return to the question: Why didn’t more people attend? Perhaps it is because, as Attorney General Sorrell said at the Dec. 23 master settlement announcement, it is time for peace. Most Vermonters, at long last, have found common ground on Vermont Yankee. Under the settlement, the plant will close; the expensive federal lawsuits are history; economic and environmental needs are addressed. It’s a good deal for everyone and the PSB should swiftly approve the certificate of public good.