Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Vermont Yankee: State Claims "Economic" Argument for Closing Plant

A few days ago, I described the three court hearings about Vermont Yankee that will occur this week. Three Vermont Yankee Hearings: The Week of Living Lawyerly. The first hearing, in the Federal Court of Appeals, happened yesterday.

In this three-minute clip, Fox News describes the court hearing in New York yesterday. FOX44 - Burlington / Plattsburgh News, Weather

Economics? The State Has Financial Interests? Huh?

In this hearing, the State made a case that it wasn't interested in nuclear safety, no, not at all.  It was interested in money!  Specifically, it had financial interests.

First, it feared that decommissioning of the plant might cost the state money. It is not clear to me what this has to do with when the plant is decommissioned, but still. It's their argument, not mine.

Second, the state claimed that the existence of the nuclear plant would slow down the growth of renewables.  Entergy Lawyer Kathleen Sullivan answered that one. She pointed out that state utilities are buying less than 3% of their power from Entergy. Therefore the existence or non-existence of the plant makes no difference to Vermont power contracts. Vermont utilities will continue to make purchase agreements with renewable or non-renewable power sources, as they do right now.

You can hear the audio of the entire court case, embedded at the bottom of this blog. It's about 40 minutes long.

The State's Argument is Backwards

Economics is the pro-Vermont Yankee argument. At the same time that the legislature was speaking about safety, I spoke to Rotaries and other clubs and groups and schools.  I always explained how Vermont Yankee provided jobs, taxes, economic benefits to the region, and low-cost power that enabled other jobs.

The state is arguing that Vermont Yankee should be closed for economic reasons. That is simply incomprehensible.  I would talk to groups about economics, but the opponents would talk about safety.  As a matter of fact, this was a problem for me.  The opponent's safety arguments were bogus, but they were emotionally compelling.  Talking about economics had far less emotional content.

The Tritium, the Waste Dump, the Fish, and the S-word

I find this whole thing so topsy-turvey!  I sat in those hearings, when the legislators said "We can't use the s-word (safety) but we can use the r-word (reliability)" and then proceeded to discuss safety.  That is what I heard.  I was there.

Opponents (including Governor Shumlin) gave press conferences about strontium attacking the teeth of children. They spoke of how it was a no-brainer to close the aged, leaking plant.  They spoke of the "radioactive waste dump" on the banks of the Connecticut. Shumlin stated that you shouldn't eat the fish in the river--even as the head of the Department of Health publicly disagreed with him.  It was "we really care about safety" all the way with the opponents.

The opponents never effectively countered the economics argument.  They just ignored it.  Now the state claims an economic argument for closing the plant?

Here's a blog post about economics from two years, ago, with links to reports  Economics and Vermont Yankee. The grid price of electricity is temporarily lower now, but the other economic benefits remain exactly as stated.

State's Argument Does Not Work

Any way you cut it, economics is a pro-Vermont Yankee argument. Even the opponent lawyer had to go into elaborate "what-if" scenarios  to try to make an economic argument for the state. IF Entergy goes bankrupt AND the NRC fails to regulate the decommissioning funds etc.

 Expensive lawyers (hired with my tax dollars) can't give the state a credible economic reason to close Vermont Yankee.

References, including an Audio of the Hearing

There are many news stories on this hearing. Most of the viewers conclude that the State did far better this time by hiring an outside attorney.  Cheryl Hanna said she didn't know how the ruling would go, but the state did better this time. WCAX also has a good three-minue video clip.

Cheryl Hanna of Vermont Law School just posted an analysis: the law is still probably on Entergy's side, but the State made a far better case this time.

 The Vermont Digger article by Andrew Stein is complete, and includes a recording of the actual testimony.

Here's the embedding of the recording from the Digger article: about 40 minutes.

Update: I embedded the Vermont Digger audio above, but it is not appearing on some computers. I don't know why it doesn't appear.  If you do not have the audio on your computer, you can hear it at Vermont Digger.


Joffan said...

Hmm. And how often did the legislators discuss the economics of Vermont Yankee during their deliberations, in terms that match what the State's counsel was claiming in the hearing?

And how exactly does this advocate get away with the nonsense about the decommissioning costs? Enetergy could fold tomorrow and the decommissioning funds are still in place.

Meredith Angwin said...


The deliberations in the Vermont Senate, committees, etc had nothing to do with economics. Why do I say that so strongly? Peter Shumlin was president Pro Tempore of the Senate at that time, and he scheduled (forced) the vote on Vermont Yankee. The legislature had funded an economic report on Vermont Yankee, and the report was due to be delivered about two weeks later. Shumlin had them vote before the report was ready. The legislature did not wait for the economics report. They voted about the plant when Shumlin said: "vote".

Several legislators resented being rushed this way, and said so.

After the economics report came out, the legislature did not discuss it at any length, at least, not that I heard or read about. After all, why should they discuss the economics? They had already voted to close the plant down.

If the legislature can't wait two weeks for their own economic report before voting to close down the plant, they don't care about the economics. Actions (votes by the legislature with no review of a funded report on economics) speak louder than words (two years later by the state lawyers).