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McQuiston: Energy Myths

Apparently the Mythbuster boys are putting away their cheese cannon for good. That’s the cable TV show that debunks urban legends and other rumors that maybe we hoped were true. So in the spirit of solidarity, let me de-bunk a couple of local myths regarding electricity.

The first is that Vermont Yankee closed because its owner, Entergy, doesn’t like us. There are two versions of this enduring myth: the state ran Entergy out of town - and Entergy snubbed Vermont as payback for being annoying.

No doubt Entergy doesn’t like our Governor, Legislature, Attorney General or state regulators. They’ve all made Entergy’s business life in running Vermont Yankee more difficult. And many in the state simply wanted Vermont Yankee to go away regardless of the economic implications.

But Entergy ceased operations at Vermont Yankee in December 2014 on its own, even though the NRC ruled it could keep operating.

Truth is: Entergy’s shareholders would have revolted if Entergy shuttered the plant for anything other than strictly business reasons. Entergy is a publicly traded company with $12 plus billion in revenues and more than 13,000 employees. Forty-three-year-old Vermont Yankee was a 605 megawatt output baseload power plant that hardly ever took a day off.

Like its brethren of that generation, it was a relatively small nuclear plant – one of the oldest still operating in the US. Yet in 2013, it was refueled despite losing money even back then. But finally, Entergy gave up and decided to close money-losing Vermont Yankee.

Then Entergy decided to close the last operating nuclear plant in Massachusetts, the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, because of “significant projected cash flow deficits.”

Now Entergy has decided to shutter the FitzPatrick nuclear plant in Oswego, New York – even though, unlike in Vermont, state officials were urging Entergy to keep it open. But the economics just didn’t work – partly because all three of these nuclear plants employed about 600 workers each while in operation. Entergy’s natural gas plant in Rhode Island, similar in size to Vermont Yankee, employs 30.

Myth 2 is that Vermont has the highest electric rates in the country - because Vermont Yankee closed.

Truth is: closing nuke plants impacts electricity prices everywhere, not just here.

And we don’t have the highest average electric prices in the US or even in New England. We have the second lowest in New England - only Maine is lower.

Vermont is 10th highest in the nation, so not great, but still lower than all our neighbors.

Tim McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business Magazine.
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