The day was August 27; the day after our 40th wedding anniversary. It was 7:30 a.m. I was lying in bed trying to look at the spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean only to be foiled by a fog bank that limited visibility to about 100 feet. The rain was pounding on the old Fisherman's Club of Cuttyhunk Island; one of the most remote, quaint and historic places in America.
My wife and I had honeymooned with her parents on the Country Boy (a wooden, flat-bottomed, Cat Boat handmade by Captain Franklin T. "Bucky" Barlow). I know, not many people would consider honeymooning with their in-laws. Suffice to say we're a close family.
My bride is sleeping peacefully when my cell phone silently alerts me that I have a message, which simply reads, "VY is closing." I was shocked.
I will confess that when I was hired by a citizens group, Vt. Citizens Action Network, to come out of retirement (the first time) from lobbying to work to close this power plant that I was skeptical of our chances for success. However, since 2007 when I first became involved in this issue, as time has gone on it has looked more likely that the plant would eventually close.
The harmonic convergence of lower energy prices for the foreseeable future and massive maintenance costs finally turned on the light in Entergy's boardroom. The only question is why now? It's not like Entergy couldn't see this coming a while ago. Why go through with the lawsuits and dealing with a governor who got elected, to a large degree, because of his support for closing the plant?
I doubt we'll ever know. The debate as to why Entergy decided to close its Vermont Yankee plant will rage on for many months, if not years. Presumably, Entergy would never want to acquiesce to the fact that they poisoned their own well here in Vermont by misleading (some might say lying) to our Public Service Board about whether or not they had underground pipes that could leak like those at the Oyster Creek plant. They said they did not have underground pipes and on the opening week of the 2010 legislative session we learned that those pipes that didn't exist were now leaking. That might be defined as their Homer Simpson moment. It was the beginning of the end for VY.
Yes, Entergy fought hard after our Vermont Senate voted overwhelmingly 26-4 to not allow the plant to continue to operate. They sued Vermont over laws that they had previously supported and benefitted from financially. They beat us in court.
Their last hurdle was going to be the PSB; the same PSB that they had lied to in the past. The PSB looks at facts and strives to remain impartial, and although I don't always agree with them, I do think that they meet the challenge.
So, as we have known for 40 years, this plant is finally going to close. The planning that should have been done at least a decade ago, but never happened, must now begin in earnest and not without significant time pressures. Denial has now placed us under considerable pressure. Too bad, because we've had more than ample notice.
The two camps are responding predictably. The winners are rejoicing and the losers are lamenting. There is much finger-pointing and credit-taking going on around Vermont. I was surprised to read an article in Forbes On-line Magazine by Dr. James Conca, a man who holds himself out to be a scientist. The inflammatory title of his column is "Who Told Vermont to be Stupid."
As an eighth generational Ve r m o n t e r I don't take kindly to hearing my state referred to as stupid. Dr. Conca can't understand why Vermont would not want to do business with a corporation that misled us, or when under scrutiny by the state and federal regulators allowed its plant to collapse. Maybe he doesn't know that Entergy had to move its fences because they were exceeding radiation levels, or that had three significant leaks in three days in the opening of a legislative session. He could have forgotten Entergy tried to create a Limited Liability company originally known, ironically, as "SpinCo" then changed to Enexus, for the purpose of avoiding liability for cleaning up their old plants, and on and on.
Dr. Conca says that we were stupid to give up clean, safe and cheap energy. Vermonters have come to learn that this plant is not clean. It is not cheap and it's questionable as to whether it is safe. Paid columnists working for a corporate money magazine might very well look at Vermont and call us stupid. Rather like the way the arrogant British looked at us 250 years ago.
Vermont may be a lot of things but stupid is not one of them. If nothing else we know right from wrong. We know Entergy did us wrong and now it's over. The plant is finally closing and now maybe I can go back to enjoying the sound of the rain falling.
Banner columnnist Bob Stannard is a retired lobbyist. He is an author and musician.