Vermont Yankee Closing: Advocacy and Activism Kept Pressure on Aging Plant

Sandy Levine | @CLFLevine

Conservation Law Foundation warmly welcomed the news that Vermont Yankee will soon close. The closure is long overdue for this tired old plant, following a history of leaks, false testimony, broken promises and poor management.

For over ten years, CLF has been actively showing that Vermont Yankee is not a good deal for Vermont. The state has been saddled with this poorly managed, uneconomic dinosaur for far too long, enduring environmental damage and the persistent threats to public health and safety that come with operating a nuclear power plant well beyond its planned life.

vermont-yankee

Image Credit: Tim Newcomb

With no place to put the waste that will remain dangerous for thousands of years, no power contract that would provide reliable and low cost power to Vermonters, and rapidly escalating costs to shut down and clean up the site—and little money available to make that happen—the numbers just never added up. The plant has been a pig in a poke for some time. The schemes from the plant’s wily owners to eke out a profit and keep the plant running, finally failed.

Vermont Yankee’s closure is good news for Vermont and the region’s economy and energy future. It heralds a transition away from older and polluting power supplies. Old technology, whether nuclear or coal-fired, cannot compete with newer, more efficient resources, renewable energy and energy efficiency. As New England undergoes a massive technology transition that hastens the demise of old polluting power plants throughout the region, we can begin investing in cleaner supplies that will meet our energy needs and create good, green jobs, instead of propping up polluting old plants and paying too much for their power.

Throughout the past decade, CLF added a strong oar pulling to move away from Vermont Yankee. We explained to state regulators, courts, legislatures, federal agencies and blue ribbon commissions the problems with water pollution, management and poor economics of the plant operation. Our advocacy built on a history of holding states and power plant owners responsible for acting in the best interest of ratepayers.

In the 1980s, we led a successful campaign to prevent a second reactor from being built at the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant in New Hampshire because the economics didn’t make sense. In 2000, we helped avert a fire sale of Vermont Yankee that was a bad deal for Vermont ratepayers. And in 2006, CLF showed how cleaner energy efficiency could help meet our power needs and reduce the need for massive transmission that would prop up older plants.

Throughout New England, whether it’s these old nukes, or old coal-fired power plants, we and our allies—the people who have paid and continue to pay with their health, their wallets and their children’s futures to keep them running—are shaking the region from simply accepting business as usual. The demise of Vermont Yankee—and the Salem Harbor and Somerset Station coal plants—was the result a changing energy landscape brought about by  advocates like CLF, who held  plant owners to account year after year, and  built legal, political and popular support for a better deal for New Englanders. Who knows how much more life their owners may have tried to wring out of these old plants at our expense if CLF and others had not been there to keep the pressure on for them to move aside?

Economics and advocacy are closely intertwined. Regardless of which straw finally broke Yankee’s back, the end of these old, polluting power plants is clearing the way to a cleaner energy future in our region. Thanks to the persistence and dedication of many, that is now within our reach.

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