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McQuiston: Yankee and the Future

02/04/10 7:55AM By Timothy McQuiston
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(HOST) Commentator Tim McQuiston says that with all the recent headlines about Tritium and undisclosed underground pipes, this has been a difficult month for anyone who supported extending the contract of Vermont Yankee.

(MCQUISTON)  For most of its nearly 40-year life, Vermonters have had a love/hate relationship with Vermont Yankee. Even before the latest events, there was serious resistance to a proposed extension of its operating license for 20 years beyond its scheduled decommissioning in March 2012.

Plant officials have in many ways been their own worst enemies. In December, Entergy made public a new power purchase contract proposal that would go hand-in-hand with the re-licensing. The proposal was a full year late in coming. And Yankee could not have low-balled the offer any lower. The proposed terms would cut the power available to Vermont in half, increase the price by half, and eliminate the revenue sharing piece that is an important feature of the current contract.  Also, the proposed contract would not be between Vermont utilities and Entergy Vermont Yankee, but rather between the utilities and a proposed Entergy spin-off called Enexus - which, if it received the many regulatory approvals, would be a whole new company.
 
I've long argued that the plant should be allowed to keep operating as long as it is safe and the terms are agreeable, but the current proposal is unacceptable both to the utilities and to me.
 
Still, the biggest problem is not the low-ball contract offer, nor the desire to spin-off the plant into a new company, or even radioactive isotopes leaking from the plant. It's that at least a few Yankee officials provided inaccurate information to regulators and legislators last spring - under oath. Documents confirm that some Vermont Yankee officials knew there were underground pipe systems carrying radioactive material as long ago as November 2007.

Governor Douglas, previously their staunchest ally, has pulled the plug on his support. While he has left the door open to possibly supporting the re-licensing under the right conditions, he said that he will no longer push the Legislature to vote on the re-licensing. He's also called for a change in management. And he's stated that the first step must be to find and fix the tritium leak.
 
Senator Leahy was blunt in his recent remarks about Yankee, saying: "I don't find the company credible."

Some observers suggest that the governor just wants to put off the Legislature's vote until the new general assembly is seated next year. Good luck with that. Even if legislators don't vote until the next session, Douglas will no longer be governor and the Legislature, even with changes, will not suddenly be pro-Yankee.

But maybe what strikes me most is the knowledge that a 20-year extension with Vermont Yankee was never really going to be a long-term solution to Vermont's power needs. We need new energy sources that are a better fit for a modern world. Wind and solar will become increasingly important, but they cannot be the only solution. Without the 630-megawatt Vermont Yankee plant, base-load power needs will have to be met by smaller, local natural gas facilities, as well as conservation. Twenty years would have given us more time to develop these solutions.
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