Public Service Department Commissioner David O'Brien told an audience at the 90th Annual Meeting of Associated Industries of Vermont in Montpelier last week that Vermont Yankee is safe to operate, that Vermont manufacturers need low-cost power to effectively compete with overseas competition, and closing Vermont's only nuclear power plant would cause extensive transmission problems in the New England region.
O'Brien's comments echoed the concerns voiced by a panel of leading manufacturing and technology companies earlier in the event who, in discussing Vermont's key economic strengths and weaknesses, cited energy costs, along with tax burdens and other key issues, as a top concern in keeping Vermont manufacturing competitive nationally and globally. If determined to be safe and reliable by appropriate federal and state regulators, Vermont Yankee could represent one of the largest sources of affordable electricity available to the state in the years ahead.
AIV has advocated allowing the Public Service Board to determine whether or not to approve relicensing Vermont Yankee in the best interest of Vermonters, rather than having the decision tied up in the politics of the Legislature.
"Vermont Yankee is safe, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says so," O'Brien told the crowd of 150 manufacturers and other business leaders, as well as leading state officials and candidates.
"The plant scores highly in industry peer review, and its problems, although well publicized, do not pose health concerns," said O'Brien.
O'Brien further noted that "making rate payers pay 30 cents per kilowatt for their electricity is not the solution," a reference to the state's feed-in tariff that requires the state's utilities to buy electricity from solar generators at prices well above market. Vermont's energy future is not "either/or" nuclear or renewables, it's both, he said: "You take Vermont Yankee off line, the jobs will go away, and the carbon will go up. We have an advantage [over other northeastern states in carbon and cost], but only if we hold on to it." He observed that a truly diverse and environmentally sound energy portfolio includes renewables supported by base load nuclear and hydro. "That has been the essence of our energy policy over the past seven years".
Also, O'Brien recommended as a long term solution to carbon emissions that the United States needs to not just retain the viable nuclear units we have today but seriously pursue new nuclear generating units. He offered that non-carbon sources such as VY and of course hydro is the true means to become independent from foreign oil. Spent nuclear fuel is a concern with the failure of the federal government to honor their commitments on long term storage or to advance re-processing of the waste is a scandal, "but at least you know where byproduct of generation is and you can manage it. With fossil fuels, you don't," noting that spent fossil fuel toxic pollutants end up in the atmosphere and have other harmful effects.
The cost and reliability of electricity is one of the most important issues for manufacturers and other energy-intensive businesses.