Just a few weeks ago, Entergy, the owners of Vermont Yankee, announced that they will shut down operations at the plant at the end of 2014. This is welcome news to many throughout Vermont, neighboring Massachusetts and New Hampshire. But is it also an announcement that brings trepidation with it, knowing that VY’s demise will have negative consequences as a result. 600+ well-paying jobs will be lost as a result of the shutdown. Economic activity will surely feel an effect from the closure, particularly in Windham County and nearby counties in Mass. and NH. But instead of slapping each other on the back (the anti-nuke group), or commiserating on the loss of the plant (the pro-nuke group), I’d like to offer a proposal that could not only placate both of these groups, but also show the rest of our great country a way out of the economic and environmental mess that we’re in.
Here in Vermont we have Interstate 91 weaving its way the entire length of the State, in the neighborhood of 200 miles. Along with the highway are perhaps thousands of acres of median. As it’s been since its inception, these fallow acres are merely employed as a safety barrier between lanes going in opposite directions. Why not employ these empty acres as a solar array and windmill power plant? Each section of median power plant could have substations or necessary storage facilities at the highways crossings of local town roads where it could tie into the grid. Many hundreds of jobs would be created to design and build the power plant, which would likely take years to construct. All these workers’ added income would drive sales of goods in many sectors of the economy, from restaurants to groceries to durable goods sales and even real estate.
Once completed, there will certainly be a number of permanent maintenance jobs that would be required to keep things running smoothly. I have no idea how much power could be generated by such an entity, but certainly it could generate a few hundred megawatts, perhaps a thousand or more. If that were the case, it’d make any trepidation about shutting VY quickly subside. Vermont would attract established companies looking for ways to clean up their carbon footprints. Start-up companies would flock to our great state too, for the same reason. Our colleges and universities would benefit by green energy research and development. Our air and water would be positively affected. The transportation sector would likely see opportunities in Vermont to also tap our green energy.
But it wouldn’t have to end there. There are hundreds of thousands of Interstate miles throughout the U.S. Should this project be successful, it could pave the way for like projects all across the country along all those many, many miles of highways. Such projects could start an economic renaissance not seen since these very same highways were built by Pres. Eisenhower after WWII through the mid 70’s. Those post-WWII years were a time of economic expansion that has never been rivaled; this project, I believe, could rival that boom time. Not only would we being greening up our economy, we’d also be taking responsibility for our Industrial Revolution forebears who built our great economy, but also polluted our environment. What better way to show our children and grandchildren that we’ve learned from our mistakes than by cleaning up the very mess we’ve made?