On December 24, 2014

Former governor to Vermont Yankee operators: “You done good”

By Thomas P. Salmon

In 1958, when I moved from Boston to Bellows Falls, Vermont was something of an economic and political backwater. The economy was stagnant and political loyalties were virtually unchanged since the Civil War. More people moved out than moved in. Not until 1963 did the human population exceed the bovine.

Construction on the Interstate Highway began in 1957. Many visitors followed the freeway north to the ski resorts, lakes and woodlands of “Vermont: The Beckoning Country,” so styled by Gov. Phil Hoff and his tourism expert, Al Moulton. Of course many loved what they saw and stayed. With them came fresh energy, ideas, and human and financial capital.

As our population and industrial base grew, so did our need for reliable, low-cost, smog-free electricity. In the mid-1960s the Legislature faced a hard choice: buy hydro power from Labrador, or build an instate nuclear power plant. I favored the former. The struggle was intense, the vote close. Vermont Yankee won. Did the “losers,” myself included, take our bats and balls and go home? No, we closed ranks behind Vermont Yankee. Politics, then, took second place to presenting a unified front for creating plentiful, low-cost, clean electricity.

As I write these words, the operators of Vermont Yankee have spent 42 years before the mast. If an informed Vermonter were to sum up in a sentence the performance of Vermont Yankee, he would say, “You done good”: 42 years of baseload power; environmentally benign; never hurt a soul.

Vermont Yankee provided, at a critical time in Vermont’s history, stable, steady and very cost-effective power. It’s been a good corporate citizen, with wages and benefits far beyond the norm, and always there to help the community whenever there was a genuine need.

Eight years ago, after serving as president of the University of Vermont and chair of Green Mountain Power, I began to notice the heat being turned up on Vermont Yankee. A rather fierce ideological battle from the hard left ensued. Some were Vermonters, but the vast majority lived in other states. The Vermont press was responding to their siren song. However, in Windham County, a hardy band of citizens said, “We want to be heard on these issues” and so the non-profit Vermont Energy Partnership was founded to advocate on behalf of public policies that facilitate the affordable, safe, reliable, clean power, including support for a well-operated Vermont Yankee plant. It was a great honor and privilege to participate in this effort.

At the end of this month, Vermont Yankee will cease to operate, but it will remain an important member of our community for many years still to come. I salute the plant’s many dedicated professionals and outstanding neighbors who will now retire or seek work elsewhere. In the meantime, there is still important work to be done for the future of Windham County and to solve energy issues in our state. Vermont Yankee has agreed to provide assistance for rebuilding the post-shutdown economy and renewable energy, contingent upon certain regulatory approvals from the state. I look forward to working with Vermont Yankee and the community to continue solving these issues together.

Thomas P. Salmon of Rockingham served as governor for the State of Vermont, 1973-1977.

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