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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Forbes Calls Vermonters "Stupid" For Closing Vermont Yankee

Posted By on Tue, Sep 3, 2013 at 9:54 AM

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This week's winner of the "Ignoranus Award" — what the Washington Post Style Invitational once defined as "someone who is both stupid and an asshole" — goes to James Conca for his Sept. 1, 2013 Forbes piece titled, "Who Told Vermont To Be Stupid?" In it, Conca writes that:

"The Great State of Vermont threw away cheap clean energy this week out of ignorance and fear. Vermont chose to be stupid, and will hurt the environment as a sidebar."

After paying lip service to the "official reasons" Entergy cited for closing the 41-year-old plant, Conga declared that "we all know the real reason. Nasty politics and ignorance. The latter is forgivable and rectifiable with a little homework. The former is not."

Ugh. There's nothing more infuriating than someone smugly calling you stupid and lazy for not doing your homework — who was too lazy to do his own. Here are some quotes from the author who claims to "cover the underlying drivers of energy, technology and society." It appears he could use some extra time in study hall: 

"Earlier this week, Entergy Corporation announced plans to close and decommission its Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, Vermont. The power station was producing over 70 percent of the state’s power, carbon-free."

I'll leave it to others to explain why nuclear power isn't exactly "carbon-free." But while three-quarters of all the power generated in Vermont in 2011 came from its sole nuke plant, Vermonters weren't consuming any of it. Vermont utilities haven't bought a single electron from Vermont Yankee since their contracts expired three years ago. In other words, VY is a merchant plant, selling its juice on the open market for the going rate.

"This situation resulted directly from many years of very effective and concerted lobbying to bias elected officials in Vermont against nuclear energy."

I'm sorry, what? Anti-nuke lobbyists killed Yankee in Vermont? Sorry, Jimbo, but since its arrival in Vermont in 2002, the plant's owner, Entergy, has consistently been one of the state's biggest spenders on lobbyists and dropped serious cash trying to convince federal regulators to join its lawsuit against the state. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out.

All that anti-nuke lobbying so "biased" Vermont officials against nuclear power that in November 2011, the Vermont Public Service Board approved a 23-year deal between Green Mountain Power, the state's largest utility, and NextEra Energy Resources to buy as much as 60 megawatts from the New Hampshire-based Seabrook nuke plant through 2034. That deal went through with nary a peep from the Legislature or our nuke-hating lefty guv.

Conca goes to complain that:

"What we pay for electricity has little to do with what it costs to produce it. The real costs of producing electricity such as construction, fuel, O&M, decommissioning, have little to do with what its price on the wholesale market. The price has more to do with financing, tax credits, subsidies, mandates, power purchase agreements, weekly power bidding, and other non-technical drivers. These determine the price in a virtual orgy of artifice and short-term profit arrangements, spiced up with a bit of political shenanigans."

Blaming that "virtual orgy of artifice and short-term profit arrangements" on Vermonters is akin to blaming mortgage holders for the 2008 housing market collapse instead of the true culprits — the Wall Street hoodlums who repackaged dogshit loans to unemployed ex-cons as five-star investment opportunities.

GMP President and CEO Mary Powell once remarked that even after her company merged with Central Vermont Public Service to become the state's largest utility, it would never rank among the top 50 biggest electric utilities nationwide. In other words, when it comes to influencing the regional energy market, Vermont isn't just a small fish; it's krill.

 "Most Vermonters were led blindly into throwing away the cheapest, cleanest energy available."

Cheapest AND cleanest? Wow, there's some uplifting news for the people of Japan who live within a half-day's drive of Fukushima Daiichi, especially in light of yesterday's bad news about toxic water leaking from the plant. If nuclear power were so "cheap" and "clean," both in the short- and long-term, please point to a U.S. nuclear plant that's been decommissioned in the last 20 years — without going over budget.

"Vermont Yankee is already mostly paid for, it had 20 years left, and mothballing it won’t save any money for the State, or reduce the risks that much either. The best thing to do with a nuclear power plant is to run it. Mothballing an active reactor ahead of its time is a wicked expensive waste."

Jimbo, you get an extra-credit point for your New England-y use of the word "wicked" and another for acknowledging that there are still risks associated with nuclear power. In the case of VY, Bill Mohl, Entergy's wholesale commodities president, was crystal clear on this point: "Vermont Yankee is no longer financially viable." Not, "That governor of yours with the big shnoz kept taunting us with the nickname, 'Entergy Louisiana' until we couldn't take it anymore."

If the fellas from Entergy sitting around the conference table in New Orleans thought they could squeeze another few million dollars out of VY over the next 20 years, you can bet a cubic acre of cesium-soaked soil they would have done so. And no finger waggers under the Golden Dome would have convinced them otherwise.

Ultimately, it wasn't Vermont's patchouli-soaked lawmakers, its Birkenstock-wearing attorney general or its sun-worshipping utility executives who drove the final nail into VY's coffin. It was the cool, calculating, invisible hand of the marketplace.

You'd think someone who writes for the nation's leading business rag would have done the math.

 

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About The Author

Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Bio:
Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.

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