• Take the high road
     | January 18,2013

    In a recent article, “Smith: Vermont should lead the way on climate change,” House Speaker Shap Smith says the Green Mountain State must become an “exemplar of energy responsibility,” though the story acknowledges that “diminishing Vermont’s carbon footprint might not put a dent in emissions globally.”

    You quote Smith as saying: “We are going to have to make very, very difficult choices around issues that involve our climate and climate change, and how it’s going to impact not only our economy but the way we live and the way our state looks. ... We can’t shy away from it because other people are.”

    If Vermont is planning a take-no-prisoners approach in fighting climate change, I have a suggestion: Call off the dogs on Vermont Yankee. If our goal is to reduce Vermont’s carbon footprint, then job one is to allow our largest baseload, carbon-free energy producer to continue operating for the sake of air quality throughout all of New England.

    It is an irrefutable fact that removing the Vernon plant’s 620 megawatts from the regional power mix will force a corresponding power production increase from other generators, most of which burn natural gas. Therefore, closing Vermont Yankee makes our carbon footprint a lot larger. Advocates for renewable energy celebrate the construction of new solar and wind power, but their combined impact is a pittance in the race to meet our growing power demands. Furthermore, our transmission infrastructure would have to be expanded dramatically to support vast new renewable power sources.

    Also, the higher-than-necessary cost of electricity — an unintended but very real by-product of forcing ratepayers to pay many times the market rate for subsidized renewables — weakens the incentive for consumers to make the change to cleaner electricity.

    At present, the biggest obstacle in the way of electric-powered transportation isn’t technology, it’s consumer cost. Electric cars need plenty of overnight, reliable, carbon-free power, a descriptor for Vermont Yankee but not for solar or wind.

    The low-carbon nature of Vermont Yankee has been a contributor to Vermont’s air quality leadership for the past generation. Other arguments against the plant are often fueled by misinformation from anti-nuclear activists.

    For instance, life carbon emissions for nuclear power are on par with those of solar and wind, despite what some environmentalists claim. Also, despite the sensational rhetoric, storing spent fuel is safe and is managed with immovable, lead-lined casks that withstood the power of recent storms such as Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

    Ultimately, if Speaker Smith is truly serious about climate change, then he will acknowledge that a legacy of clean air in Vermont is thanks in large part to Vermont Yankee.

    Without it, he and his environmental supporters in Vermont will be moving the goal posts against the state’s own interests, and our carbon footprint will grow and not diminish.

    Harold L. Bailey lives in Hyde Park.

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