Kill the Goose That Lays Golden Eggs

Once upon a time, a poor state named Vermont hosted a nuclear power plant called Vermont Yankee.

Vermont lacked the money to do many needed things. But it wanted to spend money on luxuries, like cleaning up a lake and generating electricity as expensively as possible.

The power plant, meanwhile, lacked the state’s permission to do needed things that would allow its owner, Entergy, to continue to generate inexpensive electricity on a small plot of land without creating any carbon or huge piles of toxic waste.

The state decided to make Entergy pay lots of money to clean up a lake on the opposite side of the state before it would grant permission to make the small, needed changes on the little plot of land.

Entergy, knowing that its operating costs were so low that it could sell electricity and still earn a reasonable profit, gave Vermont the money it wanted for luxuries.

This was the state’s first golden egg.

Vermont was pleased that it could clean up Lake Champlain without increasing taxes, and even more pleased by the increase in tourists who visited the cleaned up lake.

The state then asked for Entergy to lay another golden egg, this time in the form of annual taxes that would be used for renewable energy investment.

As electricity prices were still high and operating costs at Vermont Yankee still low, Entergy gave the state a second egg.

Vermont, however, was not satisfied. While it wanted the goose to go away, it wanted the golden eggs, too.

It made it harder and harder for Entergy to take proper care of the goose, but still demanded the golden eggs.

Finally, the state demanded that Entergy kill the goose and hand over all of the golden eggs.

The goose will be killed at the end of this year. In the most recent chapter of the fairy tale, Vermont demanded, and Entergy agreed, to one last set of golden eggs as the goose is murdered.

The golden eggs were quite a basketful:

  • $25 million in site restoration beyond what is required by Nuclear Regulatory Commission decommissioning
  • $10 million in economic development for Windham country (which would not be needed, if the plant stayed open)
  • $5.2 million in “clean energy development funds” Entergy also committed to some acceleration of the decommissioning beyond what is required by the NRC.

Specifically, the company committed to moving spent fuel into dry cask storage as soon as it is deemed reasonable. And to start decommissioning work as soon as there are sufficient funds in the decommissioning trust, as opposed to waiting the 60 years allowed by the NRC.

In my opinion, neither of these concessions are going to result in any change in plans by Entergy. Both options are reasonable business decisions on their own merit, but they allowed the state to crow that it extracted a schedule concession, in exchange for killing the goose.

Just like the fairy tale, Vermont will no longer receive golden eggs and, in fact, will lose even more eggs as the families and businesses around the plant will be forced to move away or close when the workers no longer receive their pay to do business there. Just like the fairy tale, the state will one day wake up and wish it still had that goose.

I keep hoping that everyone involved will come to their senses and realize that Vermont Yankee could continue to provide golden eggs to the state for many more years, if only Vermont would just treat it like the good business goose that it is.

I am also watching other nuclear plants in this country. We need to remind people to remember the fable of the Goose That Laid Golden Eggs and not kill these geese.

The clean, reliable, low cost electricity that comes from these plants by itself should be enough to demand that they be kept online.

Throw in the high quality employment and the boon to the local economy, the school system, and public services funded by the taxes, and it just doesn’t make sense to close them.

Let’s make sure that Vermont Yankee and Kewaunee are the only nuclear geese that get killed, shall we?

Working together we can find ways to keep costs competitive, generate carbon free electricity, and keep the geese laying golden eggs for everyone for decades to come.

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This article was originally published in Fuel Cycle Week #550, 1.3.14.  where Margaret is a regular columnist. To become a subscriber, go to fuelcycleweek.com or contact the publication at info@fuelcycleweek.com.