“Unaccustomed as I am to public discourse,” began former Gov. Thomas Salmon Monday before the Montpelier Rotary.
It’s a long-running, humorous catch phrase for the talkative former governor, who then launched into a discourse on the Vermont intersection of politics and voltage, a subject where he has considerable expertise, having been on the boards of leading electrical utilities for a quarter-century.
Everyone knows the problem, Salmon said. The contracts for supply of two-thirds of Vermont’s electricity – one third from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, one third from Hydro-Quebec – expire in the next decade or so. There will still be electricity to buy, of course, but the spot market price now is between two to three times the cost of the electricity supplied under those long-term contracts.
Salmon, a Democrat who was on the board of Green Mountain Power and the Vermont Electric Power Co. after leaving office, said the state must push for the re-licensing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant and work towards a new long-term contract with Hydro-Quebec.
“We have got this supply gap and we need to do something about it,” Salmon said.
While renewable power supplies like wind and solar and conservation measures are important they will not make up for the loss of the bulk of the state’s power supply, he said. In part that is because they are not always-on “baseload” power supplies, and also because of issues such as Vermont residents’ objections to wind towers.
Wind power is “fraught with perils”, he said. “It is not an easy solution.”
“We have got to do all we can in our power to enhance conservation,” Salmon said. “We are not going to get 600 megawatts from conservation.”
James Moore, an energy advocate with the renewable energy advocacy Vermont Public Interest Research Group, disagreed with Salmon’s assessment of the need for Vermont Yankee.
“A number of studies have recently shown that Vermont’s economic future would be stronger without reliance on Vermont Yankee,” Moore said. “The Vermont Council on Rural Development recently outlined how, relying on in-state renewable resources will generate more than enough electricity as well as 6,000 Vermont-based jobs. Then we are not relying on an aging, dirty facility.”
However the closure of Vermont Yankee when its current operating license expires “would not serve the long-term interests of the people of Vermont,” Salmon said. The state should “put a strong shoulder behind the renewal of Vermont Yankee.”
And the state should seek a new contract with Hydro-Quebec, which operates a massive series of hydro-electric dams.
“That involves, principally, our governor,” said Salmon, now 75.
It is not the first time electric power supply has been a major issue for the state. Salmon recalled when then-Gov. Phil Hoff tried to bring large amounts of Canadian electricity to the state, an attempt which failed by the narrowest of margins in the Statehouse and led to the construction of Vermont Yankee.
Gov. Richard Snelling eventually negotiated the first contracts with Hydro-Quebec years later.
It is probably not the last political battle over energy the state will see, he suggested.
“The road to a good reliable electric energy future is strewn with thorns,” Salmon said.
The former governor praised the Vermont Department of Public Service for beginning a series of five public workshops to talk about the state’s economic future. The series of hearings are part of the “public engagement process” to steer the state’s energy planning, established by the department and the Legislature.
The hearings will be held on Oct. 3 at St. Johnsbury Elementary School, Oct. 17 at South Burlington High School on Oct. 18 at the Montpelier Elks Club in Montpelier, Oct. 29 at the Dean Technical Center in Springfield and Oct. 30 at the Rutland Intermediate School.
By Louis Porter
Vermont Press Bureau
2 October 2007
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