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March 22nd, 2012

Vermont Yankee Closure Could Effect Energy Prices

by Andrew Price, President & COO

Wednesday, March 21st, marked the 40th anniversary of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. The state of Vermont has appealed a federal court decision that would allow the state’s only nuclear plant to continue generating power on Thursday, March 22nd, after the expiration of its initial 40 year operating license. Vermont Yankee, located in the town of Vernon Vermont, shares a design with the infamous Fukushima nuclear reactors of Japan that experienced a meltdown in March 2011.  The General Electric Mark 1 model Boiling Water Reactor design was discontinued around the time Vermont Yankee came online in 1972.

Vermont is unique in the US, as a state statute requires a certificate of public good from the Public Service Board prior to relicensing, an approval that has been blocked by the state legislature. Other nuclear power plants in the US that seek relicensing are subject only to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a 20 year renewal of Vermont Yankee’s operating license – until 2032 - on March 21st 2011. Although the approval came just 10 days after the earthquake that lead to the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, Entergy had been working toward relicensing since its application to the NRC in 2006.

The most recent appeal is the latest move in a long running dispute over the future of the plant. The Vermont legislature has been looking to shut down the plant over safety concerns, voting in 2010 to block consideration of an extension by the Public Service Board. After receiving the new license from the NRC, Entergy, the owner of the power plant, sued Vermont’s attorney general, governor and members of its public service board in April of 2011, claiming that the state did not have the authority to regulate its license extension. A federal court sided with Entergy in January 2012 and ruled that the plant could stay open past the end of its initial 40 year license which expired on Wednesday of this week. Vermont has appealed the court’s decision, indicating the fight is not over.

Vermont Yankee generates 620 MW at full power and can provide about 1/3 of the electricity used in the state.  A closure could increase power prices in New England and put many of the plant’s 600 employees out of work. Opponents of the plant argue that it cannot continue to be operated safely.  Vermont Yankee is expected to remain online while the legal battle over the future of nuclear energy in Vermont continues.


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