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.
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.
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