As site vice-president of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon, I am aware that our 600-plus highly professional, hard-working employees wish more Vermonters knew what they know: that Vermont Yankee manufactures an essential product - electricity - in a skilled, environmentally clean, and reliable manner. I see their commitment to training, the professional way that they conduct themselves daily, and the tremendous benefit their work has to the environment and economy - both locally and statewide.
So it was with great satisfaction that I watched Vermonter after Vermonter, from every corner of the state, ask the Vermont Public Service Board Wednesday, Nov. 7, at the Vernon Elementary School to grant a certificate of public good for Vermont Yankee to continue operation for another 20 years.
Looking at the packed gymnasium at Vernon Elementary School, I estimated that about 280 attended. Of these, nearly 200 wore large green stickers supporting Vermont Yankee and/or spoke in favor of VY’s continued operation. The 50 or so pro-Vermont Yankee speakers were distinguished by their civility, strong grasp of facts and figures, and willingness to travel far on a night for which a Nor’easter was predicted.
Supporters discussed a variety of benefits. For example, Dick Trudell from Grand Isle County up on the Canadian border reportedly traveled 360 miles round-trip - about six hours - and then spent three hours on a metal folding chair in a school gym, all for the chance to speak for two minutes to Vermont’s "energy court." Mr. Trudell told the PSB that Vermont Yankee is important for grid reliability.
Bruce Shields of Wolcott - a Lamoille County town on the fringes of the Northeast Kingdom - argued that Vermont’s wood products manufacturers and farmers have been paying more and more for electricity in recent years, and that closing Vermont Yankee would only make matters worse. The grandson of a dairy farmer, he noted that modern farms depend more than ever on electricity. Rate increases threaten their bottom line, because the agricultural market sets the price of milk. Farmers therefore cannot simply pass along the rate increase to the customer.
Reg Wilcox of Cambridge, a retired Army Reserve officer, praised Vermont Yankee for hiring large numbers of veterans. With our nation relying heavily on citizen soldiers of the Army Reserve and National Guard, having a job to come home to is essential to our national security and is also just the right thing to do, he noted.
Carl Pinkham of Northfield, a retired environmental studies professor, and Heather Sheppard, a Jeffersonville tourism industry employee, stressed the benefits of keeping a virtually carbon-free electricity manufacturer. A Burlington-area real estate owner described how high power rates reduce property values and raise rents. Scientists and engineers from Middlebury, Norwich and Wilder also spoke in favor of continued operation.
Space does not permit a full thank you for every pro-Vermont Yankee speaker, but at least one more deserves special mention: former Gov. Thomas Salmon, of Rockingham. He eloquently described how Vermont Yankee has from its beginning provided affordable, reliable electricity to Vermont and New England, and should be allowed to continue to do so for another 20 years.
The day after the hearing, many Vermont Yankee employees told me how much they appreciated the outpouring of well-informed support. On behalf of the good men and women operating Vermont Yankee, I would like to say "thank you" and "message received" from the dozens of Vermonters who made the trek to Vernon on Nov. 7 to show their support.
Chris Wamser is the site vice president of The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon.