David Gram, a writer for the Associated Press, recently wrote an article describing how Vermont has managed to achieve a situation with lower electricity prices than those of her neighbors. You can find the article under the headline Big switch: Vt. now has some of region’s lowest power costs on the Boston.com web site.
Vermont did not join her neighbors in the “dash for gas”; instead two sources provide most of her electrical power – a long-term contract for power from Canada with Hydro-Quebec and Vermont Yankee, a 500 MWe Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) that came on line in February of 1973. That 32 year old power plant produced more than 70% of the electricity sold in Vermont in 2004, the last year with data available from the Energy Information Agency.
That year, the plant achieved a 100% capacity factor – meaning that it ran 24 hours per day for 365 days at 100% power. Imagine putting your foot to the floorboard as the ball drops in Times Square one year and still having it down when the ball drops the next year. Since nuclear plants are licensed for an arbitrary period of 40 years, Vermont Yankee’s operating license is scheduled to expire in 2012.
If I lived in Vermont, I would be actively working to encourage Entergy, the current owner of the plant, in its efforts to renew the plant license for another 20 years. According to the NRC license renewal status page, Entergy has indicated that it intends to file its application for that renewal this month – January 2006.
Here is another interesting statistic – Vermont’s electrical power industry ranks 51st (compared to the electrical power industries of 50 states plus the District of Columbia) in the total quantity of emissions of at least three major pollutants – Sulfur Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxide, and Carbon Dioxide. That is a race that most states would love to lose.