Alternative power costs questioned by utilities

08/27/09 8:53AM By Ross Sneyd
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AP/Toby Talbot

(Host) Advocates say the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant can be replaced with cheaper alternatives, primarily renewables and conservation.

But the utility industry questions some of the conclusions, especially about the cost.

VPR's Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) The title that the Vermont Public Interest Research Group gave to its study pretty much tells it all: "Repowering Vermont: Replacing Vermont Yankee for a Clean Energy Future."

VPIRG wants Yankee to close down when its license expires in 2012, even though the plant supplies a full third of Vermont's power.

VPIRG's James Moore says the plant can and should close because renewable power can replace it for less money.

(Moore) "In fact the cost of developing new renewable energy in Vermont over the next 20 years would be half of what continued reliance on Vermont Yankee would cost Vermont ratepayers."

(Sneyd) Moore says VPIRG hired Green Energy Economics to analyze the costs and he's certain that Vermont would be better off giving up on nuclear power.

Instead, VPIRG wants Vermont to rely more heavily on wind, solar, hydro, wood, and methane gas from farms and landfills to power its electric generators.

(Moore) "And all of this without producing another pound of nuclear waste and without asking our children to clean up our mess and pay our bills."

(Sneyd) Vermont utilities say they share VPIRG's goal of moving the state toward cleaner fuels that don't pollute the environment.

But Dorothy Schnure of Green Mountain Power says the economic assumptions in the VPIRG report are outdated.

(Schnure) "Certainly some of the data they use, the market data they use, is very old. The market has changed since then and the renewable prices they use aren't accurate, either."

(Sneyd) Schnure says GMP has been working with developers of wind and other renewable projects and the costs are coming in higher than VPIRG suggests.

Schnure says the utilities need to continue relying on Yankee both for the electricity it produces - and the way that power is generated - without releasing carbon pollution.

(Schnure) "We think that's important. Looking at both costs and carbon is really important to our customers."

(Sneyd) This is a debate that's likely to continue for a long time. The Public Service Board is considering Vermont Yankee's application for a 20-year license extension. And then the Legislature will weigh in, probably next year.

For VPR News, I'm Ross Sneyd.

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