MONTPELIER -- Gov. Peter Shumlin and Republican challenger Randy Brock differed sharply on energy and other issues in a debate Wednesday evening, with Brock saying he would support construction of a new nuclear plant in Vernon and Shumlin saying he thought ridge-top wind turbines were "aesthetically pleasing."
In a 90-minute exchange of views broadcast on Vermont Public Radio, the Democrat Shumlin and Brock, a state senator from Franklin County, also described big differences on health care, same-sex marriage, and whether they say Vermont as a good or bad place to do business.
They agreed on at least one topic: Both said they support a proposal by the U.S. Air Force to base F-35 fighter planes with the Vermont Air National Guard at the Burlington International Airport, and argued that concerns among some local residents about noise lowering property values were overblown.
On energy, Brock said he thought Vermont should look into inviting a nuclear company to build a new power plant in Vernon, home to the 41-year-old Vermont Yankee reactor, which Shumlin has been pushing to close.
"At least let's examine the possibility of a new state-of-the-art plant of the same type that's in wide use in France, for example, and that does reprocess spent nuclear fuel, rather than store it on a river bank," he said.
Vermont Yankee currently stores highly radioactive spent fuel in a storage pool and in steel and concrete casks
Shumlin took a dim view of the idea, saying it would require removal of the existing reactor, a 15-year process including a five-year period to cool down and 10 years to dismantle it. "I do not believe we will ever see a new nuclear plant in Vermont," Shumlin said.
Brock criticized Shumlin and his administration for defending against a lawsuit by Vermont Yankee owner Entergy Corp., which is fighting the state's efforts to close Vermont Yankee, saying the state had spent millions in legal costs with little to show for it.
Shumlin replied that, "In the end, justice will prevail and Vermont ... will be given the right by the court to hold Vermont Yankee to their promise" that the plant would shut down after 40 years of operations. March 21 was the end of Vermont Yankee's initial 40-year license period; it won federal approval in 2011 to operate for another 20 years. The plant's supporters maintain that there never was any promise that it would shut down rather than seek a license extension.
The two also took opposite approaches on wind energy, with Shumlin speaking in support, providing the host community is willing, and Brock saying neighboring towns where residents can see ridge-top wind towers should have a say over a project as well.
Shumlin said local veto power should be limited to the town in which the towers are located. "If they say no, I say no. If they say yes, I say let's go," the governor said.
On social issues, Brock said he voted against same-sex marriage as a state senator but would do nothing to repeal it as governor. Both men support legal access to abortions, an issue that did not come up in the debate.
On Vermont's business climate, Shumlin criticized Brock for "preaching doom and gloom," saying state leaders should emphasize the state's positive attributes as a place to grow a business.
Brock said Vermont's tax and regulatory structures need to be made more inviting for entrepreneurs.