The Vermont Yankee Lie

Well, I guess I’ve got to get my elephant gun, because an irrepressible little Republican gnat is buzzing in my ear again.

The metaphorical “gnat” in this case is a favored lie among Vermont Republicans: that Democrats are to blame for the closing of Vermont Yankee, thus robbing our state of putatively “clean” energy (as long as you can ensure thousands of centuries of safe storage, heh) and hundreds of good-paying jobs.

The latest shibboleth-repeater is one Scot Shumski, member of the Burlington School Board and spectacularly unsuccessful candidate for the House in 2014. (For those keeping score at home, he got whomped by Dem Jean O’Sullivan by a nearly 3-1 margin.) He took to the Twitterverse on a hot Monday afternoon:

I Tweeted a reply pointing out the facts of the situation: it was Entergy’s decision, based primarily on low energy prices: VY was no longer economically feasible.

To which Shumski replied:

The exchange went on from there, but it’s best explained in more than 120 characters at a time.

The idea that mega-corporation Entergy was the “tail” and Vermont was the “dog” is laughable. If Vermont was a dog, it was a yappy little Chihuahua barking at the heels of a Great Dane.

Sure, Governor Shumlin and most Democrats wanted to close the plant. They had legitimate concerns about the managerial record of Entergy, including its deeply disturbing attempt to spin off VY and other reactors (and their collective liabilities) into an asset-free shell corporation, and its consistent underfunding of the legally-mandated decommissioning fund. And the safety issues, and that cooling tower collapse, and the Strontium-90 in the water, and the questionable plan for long-term storage of nuclear waste. For those reasons and more, Entergy was a less reliable partner for Vermont than Vermont was for Entergy. (If it had managed the plant better, perhaps VY wouldn’t have been operating on such a thin razor’s edge.)

Instead of surrendering, Entergy had taken the matter to the federal courts. It had invested quite a bit of money into the fight. Would it have done so, if it was quaking in fear of the likes of Peter Shumlin and Bill Sorrell? As I Tweeted above, Entergy had every reason to believe it would win, given the track records of the courts, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and its high-priced legal team.

But hey, if you don’t believe me, let’s go to Entergy’s press release announcing the closure. It cited three factors, none of which mentioned the State of Vermont at all.

— A natural gas market that has undergone a transformational shift in supply due to the impacts of shale gas, resulting in sustained low natural gas prices and wholesale energy prices.

— A high cost structure for this single unit plant. Since 2002, the company has invested more than $400 million in the safe and reliable operation of the facility. In addition, the financial impact of cumulative regulation is especially challenging to a small plant in these market conditions.

— Wholesale market design flaws that continue to result in artificially low energy and capacity prices in the region, and do not provide adequate compensation to merchant nuclear plants for the fuel diversity benefits they provide.

In short, the popular Republican allegation, repeated today by Mr. Shumski, that the Democrats “forced” Vermont Yankee to close, is completely without foundation. It’s a politically convenient lie, so I doubt the GOP will abandon it. But it’s a lie nonetheless.

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