On Aug. 27, 2013, Entergy announced it was not ordering fuel for Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, and it would close at the end of 2014. The plant went off-line permanently on Dec. 29, 2014.
Now, in August 2015, it is two years since the announcement, and seven months since the plant shut down. What are the consequences, so far?
The environment and the grid
Opponents of Vermont Yankee were fond of saying that Vermont Yankee had to be shut down “so we could build renewables.” Others, more quietly, extolled the virtues of natural gas. The natural gas proponents were pretty subdued (“it’s a bridge fuel to renewables and we don’t need much of it because we’re a small state” etc.). Natural gas advocates had to be subdued. Vermont has active opposition to new gas pipelines. Vermont is the home of Bill McKibben, one of the main founders of 350.org, a climate policy group. He leads anti-fossil fuel protests all over the country.
So, did Vermont get renewables?
Not really, Vermont has big plans for renewables, but the renewables aren’t available yet. And Vermont Yankee is shut down, right now. Vermont basically did three things: Bought more from the grid (largely fossil fuels including natural gas); tried to buy more from HydroQuebec (but it would take new transmission lines to carry the power), and is buying more from Seabrook Nuclear Station in neighboring New Hampshire.
When the local utilities asked the Public Service Board for permission to buy more from Seabrook, it caused some uproar. Guy Page of Vermont Energy Partnership wrote a short report on Vermont utility plans. As he said: this report hit a nerve. Many articles raised the important question: How green is Vermont, really?
The Seabrook purchase
Let’s look a little closer at that Seabrook purchase. Vermont utilities buying from Seabrook is great for Seabrook: the plant gets a good, long-term power purchase agreement. But it doesn’t change Seabrook’s actual electricity output. The Seabrook purchase is basically a piece of paper. Vermont Yankee no longer makes electricity. Where is the actual replacement electricity going to come from?
The simple answer is natural gas. In other states (not Vermont!) natural gas plants are being built to make up for the closing of Vermont Yankee and coal plants.
The latest announcement is for a 900 mega-watt natural gas plant, to be built in Rhode Island. The headline in a utility trade newsletter describes the situation: Newly planned 900 MW gas plant will help meet grid operator capacity concerns.
So, as we saw in California with the closing of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the environmental result of closing a nuclear plant is increased carbon emissions. (In its study on Columbia Generating Station, IHS CERA found that Columbia prevents 3.6 million metric tons in annual carbon emissions. Columbia will keep doing that year after year for another 30 years. That’s not an insignificant contribution to cleaner air.)
Well, that’s about pollution and the grid and so forth. What about the people of Vermont Yankee and the area?
The people and the economy
When pressing for Vermont Yankee to be closed, Gov. Shumlin described the possibility of closing the plant as giving a “billion dollar bonanza” to Vermont. What on earth was he thinking? There’s no billion-dollar bonanza. There’s a drop-off in employment, a killing of the local towns, and general misery.
Let’s look at the VY timeline. Entergy kept the plant at full employment until about a month after shutdown. In late 2014, there were 550 employees (down from over 600 earlier in the year). In January, a month after the plant went off-line, 234 people were laid off. This left 316 people at the plant. At that time, the end of January, all fuel was in the spent fuel pools (or on the existing fuel pads).
When the plant closure was announced, Entergy also announced that most of the 316 people remaining in 2015 would be laid off in April 2016. At the end of April, staffing will drop to 127 people. At that point there will be almost no activity except security and some monitoring.
Sometime around 2020, there will be another burst of activity at the plant as the fuel in the fuel pool is transferred to dry casks. (I suspect that little of this activity will be done by people who used to work at the plant. Contractors usually do this type of crane work.) Then the plant will be in SAFSTOR for many years before finally being dismantled. (Read more here).
I wasn’t alone in this. Lots of people knew that there was no “jobs bonanza.” In 2010, there were economic reports done by the legislature and by IBEW (the main Vermont Yankee union). The blog posts above link to these reports. The reports showed that over 1000 jobs would be lost near the plant: (plant jobs and multiplier-effect jobs). Not that it mattered to plant opponents.
The plant closed, and people paid attention
As the plant closed, people actually began to pay attention to the lack of jobs and the depressing effect of the closure on the local economy. A tri-state group did a study of the effects of the closure on the Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts area in which plant staff mostly live. They released the report as a news dump on Christmas Eve last year. This report has been described as “stark.” True enough.
This report showed that the plant closure would lead to the loss of over 1000 jobs in the region. Well, a very predictable report. Many people did economic analyses in 2010 and predicted this outcome. Sheer misery. The anti-nuclear energy ideologues perpetuate a myth that there are more jobs in decommissioning than actually running the plant. Another point on which they are catastrophically wrong.
Entergy tries to help
Entergy has been amazingly pro-active in trying to help the community.
First off, they made a deal with the state of Vermont to give $2 million a year for economic development, for five years, $10 million total. The state has received $4 million to date, but only disbursed about $800,000. The state keeps revamping its guidelines for receiving grants from this money. Gov. Shumlin has the final say on how the Entergy money is disbursed.
Nothing helps enough
Let’s be blunt. Entergy is very public-spirited, but its resources for Vermont are limited. It can’t put back the over $60 million dollar payroll that ended when the plant shut down.
Vermont Yankee is not generating any revenue. By the NRC rules for decommissioning funds, these funds cannot be used to pay taxes or for charity. Such funds are only for physical decommissioning of the plant. In other words, whatever Entergy pays to help the Vermont area comes directly out of Entergy’s ability to help support operating plants.
Vermont Yankee is closed, and that area of the country is forever the worse for it. More carbon dioxide in the air, fewer jobs in the area. Perhaps Seabrook and the new natural gas plant are winners, but it isn’t a very nice victory.
I am going to end this with a quote from an anonymous comment on my blog: it’s from a VY employee who got a new job quickly and supposedly had a “soft landing.” I think his comment sums up part of the human side of the story.
Yes, I relocated. No it was not easy. Selling a house, buying another one, moving, finding a new house with the right schools. Moving away from grown kids. Moving away from grandkids. My wife had to leave a job that she loved. The lying antis don’t care about any of this so long as they get their way…
Vermont deserves everything that is going to happen when the southeast corner of the state collapses from the economic impact.
(Posted by Meredith Angwin)