Shumlin’s unlikely olive branch
Just over a year from now Vermont Yankee will go offline, putting an end to 42 years of safe, reliable, competitively-priced base-load electricity delivered to the New England power market. The anti-nuclear forces that have ceaselessly agitated against Vermont Yankee for decades have jubilantly declared victory. And in truth, they are entitled to congratulate themselves for the plant’s final closure, since it was they who created the poisonous anti-nuclear atmosphere in Montpelier that contributed in some measure to Entergy’s decision to shutter the plant.
In his remarks about Entergy’s announcement, Gov. Peter Shumlin went out of his way to say that he would “use this opportunity to build better relations with Entergy.” Anyone who has watched the Shumlin mode of operation should take this olive branch with a boulder of salt.
Peter Shumlin founded his political career on opposition to Vermont Yankee and accelerated it when Vermont’s utilities sold the plant to what he calls “Entergy Louisiana” in 2002. He ardently supported, though he did not initiate, the extortion of $28 million from Entergy in return for allowing an unexceptional increase of the plant’s power output in 2003.
He supported the continued extortion of Entergy to extract another $28 million in 2005 in return for allowing Entergy to store spent fuel rods in concrete casks at Entergy’s expense on its own property.
He strongly supported the two judicially overturned acts of the Legislature that put 180 politicians — the great majority of them anti-nuclear Shumlin supporters — in charge of whether Entergy could be allowed to continue operation of the plant beyond its scheduled closing date of March 22, 2012.
When Entergy applied for Public Service Board authority to extend the plant’s operation, Shumlin notoriously tried to extort it again to sell power to Vermont utilities at below market prices. This is not rumor. This was found to be fact by the U.S. District Court in its 2012 ruling against the state.
He rarely if ever passed up the opportunity to advise us that “Entergy can’t be trusted” — when it was the Legislature, not Entergy, that broke the 2002 memorandum of understanding. And, of course, he strongly supported Attorney General William Sorrell’s costly but futile efforts to persuade a court to allow the Legislature to have total control — with no appeal — over Vermont Yankee’s future.
With this long, outspoken, and unbroken record of opposition to the nuclear plant and its corporate owner, can we expect Peter Shumlin to now seek “better relations” with Entergy? It’s far more likely that he, his regulators and lawyers, and his legislative friends will spend the rest of his time in the governor’s office extorting every last dime out of Entergy to fund their own pet projects, and when that is pushed as far as it can go, forcing Entergy to spend as much as possible through more of the “cumulative regulation” that Entergy says contributed to its decision to close the plant.
In return for agreeing to allow Entergy to operate one more year, look for Shumlin’s Public Service Department to side with the anti-nuclear advocates to insist that the site be “greenfielded” by digging down 40 feet to remove ordinary (nonradioactive) concrete foundations, instead of just covering them over with a few feet of dirt. This pointless digging, trucking and burying would require millions more in decommissioning dollars and possibly, along with other cost-inflating demands, force Energy to contribute tens of millions of dollars more into the decommissioning fund.
Look for the department to push for Entergy to begin decommissioning immediately, instead of the more sensible practice of “SAFSTORing” (safe-storing) the plant for 20 years, when it will be a lot easier and safer to dismantle. (Shumlin has emphatically but wrongly denied that the state ever agreed to allow Entergy to choose to SAFSTOR.)
The only reason for such a foolish demand is to pander to the anti-nukies’ desire to return the defiled Vernon site to the way it was when the Abenakis roamed it, so that aging demonstrators can assemble each year to celebrate the triumph of their glorious crusade. (Let’s hope they aren’t unnerved by the concrete spent fuel cask farm, which will remain until the federal government provides a permanent storage facility.)
There are many more issues that will be raised in the coming year, not the least of which is Shumlin’s extraordinary claim that “decommissioning is a job creator.” That is the governor’s desperate effort to convert into some kind of “jobs program” his now-successful decades-long campaign to shut down Vermont Yankee, lay off most of its 630 well-paid employees, and kiss off their income tax payments. Stay tuned.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).