NEW HAVEN -- The closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in late 2014, which was announced Tuesday by generation station's Louisiana-based owner, won't have an impact on ratepayers in Connecticut, state officials insist.
But both environmentalists and a pro-nuclear energy group say market conditions that helped bring about Entergy Corp.'s decision to shutdown the plant could continue to have an impact upon the industry as a whole and plants in the region. The 600-megawatt power plant is one of the largest in the region, but Entergy officials said the decision was made in part because the facility is no longer economically feasible to operate.
"We don't anticipate a problem," said Dwayne Gardner, a spokesman for Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. "With the level of the Vermont Yankee's generation capacity, we believe it is something that can be made up by other sources."
ISO-New England, the Massachusetts-based entity that runs the regional electric grid and its wholesale power market, once said the loss of Vermont Yankee could create power reliability problems around the region. But in a study done last year, ISO-NE officials did an about face, saying that having some previously planned transmission upgrades in place -- along with the completion of some new generation plants and the power demand-reduction via energy-efficiency -- had eliminated previous concerns the grid operator had.
But in a statement issued Tuesday by ISO-NE, officials there also cautioned that shutting down Vermont Yankee creates a problem for the entire region in that it reduces the diversity in the types of fuel used by power plants in New England and could drive up power prices
"The retirement of this large nuclear station will result in less fuel diversity and greater dependence on natural gas as a fuel for power generation," the grid operator said in a statement. "The ISO has identified New England's dependence on natural gas for power generation and the potential retirement of generators as key strategic risks, and is developing solutions to address these and other strategic challenges."
Nuclear power plants accounted for 31 percent of New England's electricity last year, according to ISO-NE compared to 52 percent from plants that run on natural gas. With increasing production of natural gas from the Marcellus shale in New York and Pennsylvania driving down wholesale electricity prices, nuclear power plant operator have found it difficult to compete.
Vermont Yankeee is the fourth major nuclear power plant to announce plans to shut down in recent months, a trend that Marvin Fertel. president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, blamed on market conditions.
"This is more proof that competitive markets must be designed appropriately to ensure reliable long-term electric capacity and to provide fair capacity payments to companies producing electricity in those markets," Fertel said in a statement. "Design flaws in wholesale markets such as New England continue to result in artificially low electricity and capacity prices. Failure to do so will jeopardize reliable electricity supplies and leave consumers vulnerable to steep or long-term electricity price swings."
NEI officials wouldn't speculate about the possibility similar closings at the region's other nuclear plant, including the Millstone nuclear power plant in Waterford. But a report released earlier this summer by the Institute for Energy and the Environment identified Millstone as one of the 38 nuclear plants around the country at greatest risk of shutdown, a claim that officials representing the plant's owner, Virginia-based Dominion Energy, denied.
. Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis, Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School called the Vermont Yankee closing "the latest -- but certainly not the last -- domino to fall for the failing U.S. nuclear power industry."
"What we are seeing today is nothing less than the rapid-fire downsizing of nuclear power in the United States," Cooper said in a statement. "It is important to recognize that the tough times the U.S. nuclear power industry faces today are only going to get worse.
Luther Turmelle is a reporter with the New Haven Register.