Employee-owned Vermont Yankee detailed analysis and proposal

Members of the
Vermont House and Senate
Committees on Natural Resources and Energy

Cc: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 300

FYI: Governor Peter Shumlin
Attorney General William Sorrell
Vermont Public Service Board

With reference to my more widely distributed “Employee-owned Vermont Yankee funds decommissioning & river stewardship,” here is a more detailed analysis and proposal for your further consideration as you please.

The State of Vermont asserts power to close Vermont Yankee, which is manifested only if it is exercised. That the states cannot interfere with interstate commerce, likely including generation and transmission of electricity via the New England grid, seems to be settled law. The Supreme Court of Vermont has clearly stated its criterion for allowing or disallowing legislative encroachment on executive powers. The Supreme Court of the United States (and perhaps of Vermont) likely will decide these issues in due course.

Entergy, however, has forfeited Vermonters’ trust and respect, which anti-nuclear lobbyists naturally are exploiting to realize their clients’ agendas.

The fundamental question remains: What is best for Vermonters?

  • Vigilant operation of Vermont Yankee is best for Vermonters.
  • Timely demolition and “green field” cleanup of Vermont Yankee when the federally extended operating license expires in 2032 is best for Vermonters.
  • Exemplary stewardship of the Connecticut River is best for Vermonters.
  • Removal of all nuclear waste from Vermont is best for Vermonters.
  • Reliable, affordable electricity is best for Vermonters, especially employers and during peak demand.

Employee-owned Vermont Yankee

Long-time employees say that Vermont Yankee was well run before Entergy bought it, because they were a team focusing on vigilant operation, as they would again if given the opportunity.

Vermont Yankee has a consistent, 39-year history of operating revenue and expenses generating and selling electricity profitably in interstate commerce via the New England grid, providing excellent grounds for projecting them 21 years hence until the federally extended operating license expires.

Employee-ownership of Yankee likely would happen in the customary manner and be financed conventionally with 20-year revenue bonds paid off from operating revenue.

The market will determine the bond interest rate, which in turn would determine a purchase price at which operating revenue covers operating expenses, debt repayment and paying up the decommissioning trust fund.

Employee-owned Vermont Yankee funds decommissioning

Relying on investment income from the current balance of the decommissioning trust fund to fund demolition and cleanup of Vermont Yankee someday is a race between cumulative rates of investment appreciation and cost inflation.

While theoretically possible, paying up the decommissioning trust fund in this manner is likely to be practically impossible.

Instead, regular contributions should pay up the decommissioning trust fund while investment appreciation compensates for cost inflation.

Profits from employee-owned Vermont Yankee’s continued operation until 2032 can pay these regular contributions.

Employee-owned Vermont Yankee funds river stewardship

Environmentalists protest the ecological impacts of pumping cooling water from and returning it to the Connecticut River. The “river” is not a real river, but a stair-step series of hydroelectric reservoirs having unnaturally weak currents and high water temperatures. Nevertheless, there is no reason to make matters worse.

Intake suction can be minimized if necessary by widening the river-water intake (narrower currents flow faster; wider currents flow slower). Native aquatic life can be nurtured and returned to the river. Cooling greenhouses can combine thermal and solar energies to grow local flowers, fruits and vegetables year-round while exchanging atmospheric carbon dioxide for oxygen.

Environmentalists who favor nuclear power as a limiter of global warming could work with Vermonters to organize and judge a design competition for the demonstration hatchery, nursery and greenhouses. Design criteria could include minimizing land use and energy wastage. Vermont would demonstrate exemplary stewardship of a working river, possibly obtaining financial grants supplementing Vermont Yankee’s funding.

Removal of all nuclear waste from Vermont

The United States used to recycle nuclear fuel. Fearing proliferation of nuclear weapons, President Carter issued in 1977 an executive order to stop recycling. This executive order has been rescinded, but recycling has not resumed. Instead, we store nuclear fuel forever at the sites of operating, closed and demolished nuclear power plants. Doing nothing to face and solve this problem has not gotten rid of it.

Meanwhile, France and Japan are recycling nuclear fuel successfully without nuclear proliferation. Vermont should take the lead in championing our doing the same.

Reliable, affordable electricity

Electricity is a fundamental economic input for every employer. It must be both reliable and affordable, which will be the sine qua nons of Vermont’s energy future.

Advocates of closing Vermont Yankee state correctly that there is ample surplus electric generating capacity on the New England grid — at typical levels of electric demand.

They overlook that this is not true during peak electric demand throughout New England, when Vermont imports 75 to 90 percent of its electricity, including from Vermont Yankee on the state line.

Existing interconnections with Hydro-Québec have no spare capacity to replace Vermont Yankee’s output before March 2012. Designing, permitting, acquiring rights-of-way, building transmission lines and building converter stations will take several years.

Vermont’s energy future can be innovative, even revolutionary. Requisite technologies are new and evolving rapidly as scientists and engineers ascend the inevitable learning curves perfecting both their knowledge and its application.

For example, existing solar panels inefficiently convert a limited range of hues (wavelengths) of sunlight into electricity. Prototype multi-layer solar panels more efficiently convert more hues of sunlight into more electricity.

If Vermonters commit ourselves too soon to evolving energy technologies, we will be stuck with them or the costs of discarding and replacing them with perfected versions.

Twenty years from now, when Vermont Yankee is closing for good, we will have tried and proven reliable and affordable alternatives.

Thank you for your consideration.

Howard Fairman
Vernon, Vermont, USA

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Vermont Uncommon Taters

A deeply rooted native Vermonter, I ask what was unasked, say what was unsaid and show what was unseen about Vermont’s present and future for you to explore, consider and draw your own conclusions.