A flawed look at Maine’s energy security

Dear Editor:

During the six years I spent as an investigative reporter for two major Downeast newspapers, I devoted hundreds of hours researching and writing about Maine’s energy issues, a moving target indeed. As a result, I found The Ellsworth American’s editorial titled “Let’s work to increase Maine’s energy security” (Feb. 1, 2018) flawed in many ways. It’s a short-sighted, wishful-thinking analysis replete with half-truths, outright errors of fact (remember “facts”?) and revisionist history.

For example, this editorial contends that Maine’s last and only nuclear generation facility — the Maine Yankee nuclear plant in Wiscasset — was “closed early, while generating electricity at 2 cents per kilowatt hour, because of anti-nuke concerns.” This assertion is absolutely false and ignores the political and economic reasons why Maine Yankee was mothballed and later demolished.

Phased into use in 1972 and temporarily taken out of service for scheduled repairs in 1997, Maine Yankee was licensed to operate through 2012. Owned by Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., that Bangor-based public utility and others throughout the state were required by the Maine Electrical Utility Restructuring Act of 1997 to get out of the business of generating the electricity they distributed.

Signed into law by then-governor Angus King, it was predicated on the half-baked notion that increased “free market” competition would reduce electricity costs. Eighteen years later, that still has never happened. In fact, electric rates for residential, commercial and industrial customers skyrocketed, making a bad situation worse and leaving Mainers with some of the highest electricity rates in the country, a trend that has continued with double-digit rate increases in almost every year since the law took effect on Jan. 1, 2000.

The U.S. Navy and France have both shown for years now that small-scale nuclear generation, which emits no greenhouse gases, is viable. The Navy reliably and safely powers many of its ships with nuclear energy, and France uses its safe and efficient network of nuclear generation facilities both to supply low-cost energy to its citizens and to export nuclear energy to European neighbors, including Germany, where nuclear power is banned.

While Maine now has no nuclear generating facilities, utility companies here continue to incorporate nuclear sources in New Brunswick and New Hampshire into the fuel mix now used to generate the electricity Mainers consume. Decommissioning Maine Yankee was — and remains — a huge mistake that was not in any way prompted by “anti-nuke concerns.” Instead, its closure was required by a law flawed by trickle-down voodoo economics theories supported by Governor Angus King and others in Augusta, theories that haven’t worked anywhere that they have been tried. Certainly not here in Maine.

Tom Walsh