Entergy official: Despite plans to close Vt. Yankee, Plymouth Pilgrim nuclear plant still viable, needed
Entergy Wholesale Commodities president Bill Mohl speaks at a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, in Brattleboro, Vt., to announce the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station by end of 2014. The company will shut down the power plant in Vernon, Vt., by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Matthew Cavanaugh) Purchase photo reprints »
BOSTON — While anti-nuclear activists were heartened last week by news of the planned closing of the Vermont Yankee power plant and what it might portend for Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, the plant’s owner, Entergy, says the two facilities are in different situations.
“It’s really comparing apples and oranges,” said Entergy lobbyist Tom Joyce. “There’s really no impact on Pilgrim from Vermont.”
Both plants are owned by the Louisiana-based energy company and both opened about 40 years ago, though Pilgrim has a larger power output and operates under a different regulatory environment.
Less than a month before announcing plans to decommission the Vernon, Vt., plant along the Connecticut River, Entergy won a U.S. Appeals Court ruling allowing the plant to remain open despite the state government’s attempts to shut it down.
“I think it surprised everybody,” Joyce said of Entergy’s announcement Aug. 27 that it would decommission the plant next year and convert it to a storage space for spent fuel using the bulk of the $582 million set aside to pay for such a closure.
Mary Lampert, an activist who has attempted to force the closure of the nuclear plant located in Plymouth, said she was not surprised by the Vermont Yankee closing plan and predicted future closures of Pilgrim and Entergy facilities in New York.
Pilgrim has $680 million in trust for an eventual decommissioning, more than the roughly $575 million required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Joyce said.
The plant received a 20-year license renewal last year and is a vital producer for the electrical grid, according to Joyce, who could not say whether the plant would be around to seek another license renewal in 2032.
“Twenty years ago we had a lot of coal plants operating and the big idea then was coal gasification and clean coal. We were just getting away from oil plants,” Joyce said. “I have no idea what’s on the horizon.” Because the federal government has not selected a central repository for spent power plant nuclear fuel, the old rods are kept on site at decommissioned plants. The Yankee Rowe Nuclear Facility was permanently shut down in 1992 and the decommissioning was completed in 2007, according to the plant’s web site.
The activist group Cape Downwinders is calling for closure of the plant.
“The legacy that we’re going to be leasing our children is a 60-year-old nuclear waste dump,” state Sen. Dan Wolf said in a video of an anti-Pilgrim protest posted online. “That is not what we signed up for. It is not the legacy we want to leave for our children.”
Gov. Deval Patrick has put a focus on boosting alternative forms of energy production, increasing the state’s solar energy capacity from just over 3 megawatts when he took office to 281 megawatts, surpassing the goal of 250 megawatts by 2017.
Last Wednesday, Patrick questioned the need for Pilgrim, which has been the target of both environmental activists and the site of union picketing during contentious contract negotiations that included a lockout last year.
“It’s not clear to me that we need Pilgrim in order to meet all of our electrical needs. So we’re going to have to have the conversation about how we meet all those needs and whether this aging nuclear facility is a necessary part of that formula,” Patrick said of the plant along the shore of Cape Cod Bay.
“There still is a need for the system, for the grid to buy power whatever the cost may be, and it’s certainly competitive,” Joyce said. “The cost of solar, you know, it’s so highly subsidized by grants and by credits that are paid for, in large part by the distribution companies … people don’t see it, what the real cost is.”
According to Pilgrim’s website, the nuclear plant’s boiling water reactor generates 680 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 550,000 homes.
Both Patrick and Joyce have said there are efforts afoot to assist workers at the Vermont plant, just over the border from Northfield. Joyce said about 25 percent of the plant’s 630-employee workforce lives in Massachusetts.
Joyce argued Pilgrim has benefits beyond its power production, with about 700 permanent employees, a $50 million to $60 million annual payroll, a roughly $2.5 million contribution toward emergency planning, $8 million to $10 million in property taxes, and $350,000 to $400,000 in donations.