Our opinion: The way forward
The announcement by Entergy that it will be closing Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in late 2014 was indeed a bombshell.
Entergy's machinations in federal and state court and before the Vermont Public Service Board seemed to indicate it was serious about keeping the plant running until 2032, but on Tuesday morning, Entergy officials revealed an analysis of Yankee's operation concluded it was no longer financially viable.
That analysis was initiated several months ago, and Entergy's board of directors made its final decision on Sunday night, but energy and financial analysts had previously concluded it was Yankee's effect on Entergy's bottom line which was negative.
Most notable was UBS' Julien Dumoulin-Smith, who concluded in January of this year that the plant's continued operation just didn't make financial sense.
"This plant almost had no chance given how low natural gas prices have gone," he told the Reformer on Tuesday.
In January, Dumoulin-Smith said Entergy's merchant fleet of nuclear reactors -- those that sell electricity directly to the market without state utility agreements -- "don't seem to generate much of anything by way of cash."
He said both Vermont Yankee and Fitzpatrick in New York were "at risk of retirement ...."
Just two months before Dumoulin-Smith's public prognostication, Entergy admitted in an SEC filing that the fair market value of Yankee had dropped to $162 million (from more than $517 million), or $18 million less than it paid for the plant in 2002.
Of course, you can go back as far as Entergy's failed attempt to spin off Yankee and its sister merchant plants into Enexus, a subsidiary whose main asset would have been a whole lot of debt. That should have been a red flag right there that Yankee's days were numbered, despite Entergy's lawsuits and protestations to the contrary.
Now we are left worrying what's going to happen to Windham County when its largest employer ceases operation. Yes, it's employees comprise just 2 percent of the county's workforce, but they also make up 5 percent of the county's wages, which have a ripple effect in the community.
While many of them will stick around to help shutter the plant and get it ready for decommissioning, most of them will either retire or leave the area for similar jobs elsewhere.
And the economic impact might be mitigated if the site goes into immediate decommissioning, rather than left in mothballs for up to 60 years to begin the process. It would behoove the state and the tri-state region to get the site completely cleaned up as quickly as possible and returned to some sort of commercial use within the next decade.
Whether that can happen is now up to Entergy, which announced Tuesday that it was establishing a decommissioning task force to determine the next best step forward. One would think that this question would already have been resolved on the corporate level when it was in the process of preparing its relicensing application for presentation to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but according to federal regulations, Entergy has up to two years following shutdown to detail its plan for decommissioning.
But while we can point the finger of blame at Entergy for its failure to prepare for this eventuality, we should also be pointing the finger back at ourselves for not demanding for the past 40 years that we be prepared for the plant's closure.
When Yankee was fired up back in 1972, we all knew its lifespan was limited, whether that was 40 or 60 years, and we should have insisted money be set aside every year to assist the region in recovering for its eventual closure.
Instead, we are left (to paraphrase Charlie Daniels) with our heads on fire and our behinds catching ...
... and we only have ourselves to blame.
We are now left in the unenviable position of wondering how a county already hit hard by economic woes can survive, thrive and compete in the 21st century.
While it's easy to be cynical about our prospects, some in our community believe the plant's closure signals the end of an issue that has torn our community in half.
Stephan Morse, who chaired the Post VY Task Force on behalf of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, said it's due time for everyone to put aside their differences and get to work on how best to overcome the plant's closure and the county's continuing woes.
"It occurs to me there may be a real opportunity for Windham County. We've been a divisive community for years but now that's behind us may be a great time for the community to come together and work for economic recover. With this issue resolved and with a serious economic crisis facing us, it's in our best interests to work together to solve this."
It's time for everyone on all sides of this issue to bury the hatchet and let bygones be bygones. While it's easy to carry a grudge, it's much harder to swallow the vitriol that has been aired over the past 40 years, but it's the right thing to do and now is the time to do it.
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