Vt. utility to buy power from NH's Seabrook

By John Curran
Associated Press / May 24, 2011

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt.—Unwilling to gamble on Vermont Yankee, Green Mountain Power Corp. is looking instead to a nuclear plant in neighboring New Hampshire for power.

The company has reached a 23-year power purchase deal to get electricity from Seabrook nuclear plant in Seabrook, N.H., officials said Tuesday.

Still subject to Vermont regulators' approval, the deal was cheered by customers IBM and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters but jeered by an environmental advocacy group that called nuclear-generated electricity "dirty and unreliable power."

If approved by state regulators, the fixed-price contract would start in 2012 at a price of 4.66 cents per kilowatt hour for 15 megawatts. Beginning in 2015, it would be for 60 megawatts of power, decreasing to 40 megawatts by the end of the deal.

The 1,245-megawatt Seabrook nuclear plant, which has been in operation since 1990, is owned by NextEra Energy Resources LLC, of Juno Beach, Fla.

Green Mountain Power looked east because of uncertainty about the future of Vermont Yankee, which the state is pushing to close when its state license expires next March.

The Vernon power plant's owners recently won a 20-year license extension from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but the state -- which passed a law in 2006 giving lawmakers the power to turn thumbs-down on a renewal -- wants it shuttered.

Last month, owner Entergy Corp. filed a civil suit seeking to block the state from closing Vermont Yankee, contending that only federal regulators have that authority.

"This power contract isn't about Vermont Yankee," said Mary Powell, president of Green Mountain Power. "As we all know, Vermont Yankee is trying to work its way through their challenges, from a legal and regulatory perspective. If they manage their way through that, we've always seen that it would be our desire to have conversations with them.

"But right now, they aren't viable for long-term power contracts," Powell said.

The agreement, combined with a recently approved power pact with Hydro Quebec and plans to build a wind project in Lowell, helps Green Mountain Power make good on its promise of providing reliable, low-cost and low-carbon power, she said.

Representatives of two of the company's biggest customers -- IBM in Essex Junction and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, in Waterbury -- welcome the power deal, saying the cost and low-carbon footprint of nuclear power were appealing.

"From our perspective, we've always asked for three things," said Janette Bombardier, senior location executive for IBM. "Power quality, which is we don't see any variation in the voltage coming across the line. Reliable -- it has to be there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, `cause that's how we work. And we need to be competitive. We make products that we compete with Asia on, so cost is incredibly important."

IBM spends $34 million a year on power, so a couple of cents' difference in the rate really matters, she said.

Liz Miller, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, said it looked like a good deal for the state's electric customers.

"GMP has struck a deal for a price that looks good for its own customers and for the customers of other Vermont utilities that decide to participate," Miller said. "Keeping costs down for Vermonters is great for the state's economic development."

Others weren't as enthused.

"We'd prefer to see our state's utilities moving away from all forms of dirty and unreliable power, including nuclear energy," said James Moore, clean energy program director for Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

Powell said GMP would file its proposal with the state Public Service Board next month.