Entergy nukes Vermont Yankee, outlook for Pilgrim murky

After years of heated battles with Vermont environmentalists and lawmakers, Entergy, the New Orleans-based power plant operator, announced the closing of its Vermont Yankee nuclear facility.

Rep. Paul Mark, from the tiny Berkshire County town of Peru, believes that residents of the Massachusetts border towns near the plant will be pleased with closure. Located less than 10 miles from Massachusetts border town of Northfield, the nuclear facility has been a perpetual worry for Bay State residents who live in the evacuation zone.

Rep. Denise Andrews, an Orange Democrat, expressed concerns about job losses. The plant employs 630 workers; about 30 percent of those people live in Massachusetts. But a Bay State resident who works at the plant told the Greenfield Recorder that nuclear power plant employees are in high demand and though people may have to relocate, they can pretty much “name their price.” The small town of Vernon, the site of the plant, won’t be so lucky.  One resident predicted the area would become a “ghost town” as workers depart.

The company’s run-ins with Vermont kept attorneys for the nuclear power operator busy, ultimately landing the company in federal court over the Green Mountain state’s attempts to shutter the plant. The company won that battle, but lost the war. Entergy officials offered a simple rationale for the closure: Vermont Yankee was no longer profitable.

The age of the plant played a role in the decision. Vermont Yankee began operating in 1972, and the company had invested $400 million in the plant’s upkeep since 2002.

But Entergy cited competition from cheaper natural gas, specifically natural gas extracted from shale formations, as the major factor. Shale gas didn’t even exist as a viable energy alternative in the US at the turn of this century. Today New York and Pennsylvania are spearheading shale gas production, which will quadruple in the next 30 years, according to Rice University’s Baker Institute.

The company also blamed an “artificially low” regional price structure that does not adequately compensate nuclear power generators. Entergy’s lament about the regional electricity market was a pointed jab at ISO New England, the entity that oversees the region’s power supply and runs the wholesale electricity market.

ISO New England offered little in tea and sympathy. The organization admitted that shuttering Vermont Yankee deepens New England’s dependence on natural gas (and creates problems if disruptions to natural gas supplies occur). But ISO New England maintains that recent studies show that the regional power grid can be “operated reliably without Yankee.”  “While lower prices are beneficial for consumers, resource owners must base their business decisions on whether to continue to compete based on their specific circumstances,” ISO New England  said in a statement.

US Sen. Ed Markey did not shed any tears for Entergy either. “While the nuclear industry is blaming today’s closure on competitive electricity markets, they should be looking into the mirror with the rest of the energy industry,” he said in a statement. “Closing Vermont Yankee reflects the growing realization in New England and around the nation that it is time to move towards a safer, more affordable clean energy future of wind, solar, geothermal, along with well-regulated, domestic natural gas. While nuclear energy was once advertised as being too cheap to meter, it is increasingly clear that it is actually too expensive to matter.”

The ramifications for the Entergy-run Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station are less clear.  Mary Lampert of Pilgrim Watch, a local group that monitors the Plymouth power plant, believes that Vermont Yankee’s closure is the beginning of the end for Pilgrim, especially after a recent circuit breaker trip caused a plant shutdown.

She argues that Entergy can’t afford Pilgrim’s upkeep and that shutdowns reflect company’s financial strains. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing how Entergy’s finances are affecting safety standards at the plant as the result of a petition filed by Pilgrim Watch and three other groups. Federal regulators are also planning to examine Pilgrim nuclear power plant’s shutdown records

Company officials disagree that there are any money issues. “Although Pilgrim’s market environment is the same as Vermont Yankee’s, Pilgrim’s higher power output provides greater economies of scale, they said in FAQs about Vermont Yankee’s closure.

The Vermont nuclear plant will begin the decommissioning process of removing fuel rods and decontaminating radioactive materials at the site by the end of 2014, a job that could take up to 60 years.

                                                                                                                                                              –GABRIELLE GURLEY

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Globe’s Meghan Irons details the remarkably idle days of Boston firefighters at some stations in a city that’s seen a 90 percent drop in major fires since 1975.

Alfred Grazioso, the former Lottery chief of staff who was indicted but reached an agreement in the corruption case of former state treasurer Timothy Cahill, has been hired as Quincy’s director of operations by Mayor Thomas Koch.

The Sun Chronicle raises concerns about maintenance and security at a shuttered Norfolk hospital.

Boston’s historic Old South Meetinghouse is getting an $800,000 facelift.

CASINOS

Boston strikes a casino mitigation deal with Suffolk Downs that will pay the city at least $32 million per year. Mayor Tom Menino pushes hard for an East Boston-only vote on the pact, and indicates that the vote won’t piggyback off November’s mayoral election. The deal also includes $33 million in upfront payments to East Boston, and $20 million in annual payments to a neighborhood trust — an arrangement Globe editorial writer Dante Ramos calls an “unusually naked” attempt to buy neighborhood votes.

Ramos also likens the neighborhood mitigation fund to the scandal-ridden South Boston Betterment Trust that Menino used to secure backing for the South Boston convention center. Eastie restaurant owners tell the Herald they’re wary of the deal. John Nucci predicts that mayoral hopefuls Bill Walczak and Dan Conley will pick up support for criticizing the substance and mechanics of the casino pact.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

States are bracing for a second round of sequester cuts, Governing reports.

The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber worries that President Obama is going to get played (again) by Republicans in the next round of debt-ceiling negotiations.

ELECTIONS

With just weeks left before the Lawrence mayoral preliminary, state officials sue Mayor William Lantigua for allegedly accepting illegal cash and donations as far back as 2009, CommonWealth reports. Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office denies the lawsuit was politically timed, the Eagle-Tribune reports. A Herald editorial says the lawsuit should be the clearest indication yet to Lawrence voters that Lantigua “thinks the law simply doesn’t apply to him.”

WBUR profiles Boston mayoral candidate Michael Ross, who is campaigning as the innovation candidate.

Charlie Baker sounds more and more like candidate Baker every day.

A candidate for Weymouth Town Council proudly proclaims on his website and on the campaign trail that he is a communist.

Lynn City Council candidate Ariana Murrell-Rosario asks a judge to have six names removed from the city’s preliminary election ballot for failing to have their nomination papers notarized properly, the Item reports.

Blind item! Which disgraced former congressman turned disgraced current mayoral hopeful is paying people $15 per hour to cheer and march at his campaign events?

CHARITY

The MacArthur Foundation will increase the stipend for their “genius grants” from $500,000 to $625,000 over the five-year period of the no-strings attached award.

EDUCATION

A state assessment of the troubled Salem schools says the systems are in place for improvement but the gains are not yet reflected in student performance, the Salem News reports.

HEALTH CARE

The White House has tapped former President Bill Clinton to carry the gonfalon of Obamacare. Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain conceded the immigration reform bill he supports could bar immigrant workers from the health care mandate and absolve employers of the penalty if they don’t offer insurance to those employees.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Boston officials are pushing for construction of more “ultra energy-efficient” homes.

With some innovative solutions and hard work, Edmonton, Alberta, is on schedule to recycle 90 percent of its waste, Governing reports.

Scientists confirm the existence of a new, as-yet unnamed element, NPR reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A lawyer for GateHouse Media and other outlets filed a brief in federal court saying gaps in the docket in the case against accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev show there are documents that may be secretly impounded that the public has a right to see.

MEDIA

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Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

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