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40 Years is Enough - Let Town Meetings Weigh in on Vermont's Energy Future


By Dan DeWalt

“Shall the voters of the town of ___________request the Vermont legislature to:

1. Recognize that the 2% of our New England region's power grid supply that is
provided by Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant can be replaced with a
combination of local, renewable electricity and efficiency measures, along with the
purchase of hydro generated electricity, and excess power already in the New
England electricity market;

2. Given the viable alternatives and the risks posed by continued operation, ensure
that Vermont Yankee will cease operation in March 2012, after having completed its
40 year design life by not granting approval for operation of the plant after that date
and by not determining that further operation will promote the general welfare;

3. Hold the Entergy Corporation, which purchased Vermont Yankee in 2002,
responsible to fully fund the plant's clean-up and decommissioning when the reactor
closes, as the corporation pledged to do when it purchased Vermont Yankee."

In 2012, Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant will have reached its natural end. It was presented and licensed as a 40 year plant and is now stumbling through its 37th year, leaving collapsed cooling towers, control room fires, and interstate trucking of loose radiation in its wake. We could be actively developing the next generation of power supply for ourselves, but so far,the Douglas administration has successfully prevented Vermont from developing the viable alternatives needed to replace VY at the end of its life.

Vermont is truly at a crossroads. Are we going to allow ourselves to continue to be at the mercy of corporate interests who would control the nation's energy policies? Or are we going to take the power that has always been invested in us, and use it to formulate policies that act for the good of the commonweal?

It was in part because of citizen involvement that the Vermont legislature gave itself the power to effectively give VY's extension application a thumbs up or down. Now we need to make sure that as many Vermonters as possible have a chance to weigh the options and come to an informed opinion.

Vermonters can guide our representatives to make the choices that lead us to locally produced, clean energy production and, most importantly convince them to position Vermont as a leader in changing energy use and actually maximizing efficiency efforts.

Our greatest return on energy investment today is through Efficiency Vermont, but Governor Douglas vetoed a bill to increase funding, and the legislature not been sufficiently goosed to successfully pass an override. We had a chance to purchase Connecticut River dams and guarantee clean power for our state, but once again, the Governor outplayed dam proponents and the power is now owned by a Canadian corporation. We can no longer allow the long term interests of our citizens to take a back seat to maintaining the profits and power structure of the status quo.

Vermont Yankee currently supplies only two percent of the power in the New England regional grid that supplies Vermont. This grid routinely operates with an excess power capacity of 25%. Citing these facts does not try to deny that VY generates a significant amount of electricity, it just puts the plant's contribution to our regional energy needs in perspective.

While replacing VY power is no small task, a combination of clean energy production, using smaller scale hydro, wind and solar installations, coupled with serious conservation and efficiency efforts, could get the job done without the risks and unforeseen costs of nuclear generated power. Skeptics say that these measures will never be adequate, but if these new technologies were given even a portion of the subsidies now enjoyed by the nuclear, coal and oil industries, we would very quickly see a new mix in our energy portfolios.

But it is not only government priorities that must change. Vermonters have voted NIMBY more than once, banning wind farm development from their town or ridge-lines. But if we need electricity, it has to come from somewhere. Should we have the right to protect ourselves from the sight of a technology which provides power without harming us or our neighbors, while enjoying the power generated from another section of the state, with its elevated child cancer rates, and uncertain future of living in the shadow of a crumbling nuclear plant?

This is not just a question of shutting down an aging and decrepit nuclear reactor. This is a question about whether Vermonters are willing to demand that our elected representatives also make the hard choices to be responsible for our own power usage and generation. Bill McKibben has written on this subject, and I'll leave the last words to him:

“Montpelier has done a bad job of dealing with Vermont's
energy future, and it makes great sense for the people
of the state to take the question up at town meeting...
On the one hand, Vermont Yankee is an increasingly bad
joke--it can't be a good sign when large pieces of a
nuclear power plant repeatedly fall off. On the other
hand, if we shut it down without insisting on big new
supplies of renewable power, then we transfer the risk
we now bear to someone else: those who live atop the
coal seams of Appalachia, or on the tide line in Bangladesh.
The state legislature, and especially the governor's office,
have failed to address that paradox, and so now it is time
for the people of the state, gathered on the first Tuesday
in March, to take direct action on both counts. Local energy
is not only possible, it will be the mark of our maturity.”

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