At 1:04 p.m. Monday, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant shut down for good, and the power system in New England didn’t even blink.
Power plants elsewhere in New England cranked up to replace the electricity from the 600-megawatt nuclear station in Southern Vermont.
Also, transmission lines in the area had been upgraded to move power around better, and energy efficiency has improved.
Marcia Blomberg, a spokeswoman for the operator of the regional power system, ISO New England, said that it had studied the area powered by Vermont Yankee in 2012 and concluded it could withstand the loss of the power plant.
Vermont Yankee’s nuclear reactor has been in “coastdown” mode for several months, and the electricity it supplied to the regional grid had gradually decreased. On Monday morning, it was operating at 74 percent capacity before it was shut down to zero over the course of several hours.
“It’s a bittersweet day,” said Marty Cohn, a spokesman for Entergy Corp., which owns Vermont Yankee. “Everyone on the plant is focused on the job at hand, but they know that this is the last time, that this plant will not be returning.”
The power plant had been on shaky ground since 2010, when lawmakers in Vermont tried to close it down. Although Vermont Yankee was licensed by the federal government to operate until 2032, Entergy announced in 2013 that it would close the plant for financial reasons.
Barrett Green, an Entergy executive who is leading the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee, said that major changes in energy markets made the plant’s continued operation too costly. Although New England’s reliance on limited supplies of natural gas for electricity production has led to spiking electricity prices this winter, Green said the company was not making its plans based on short-term market movements.
“We look at the long run,” Green said. “The price of natural gas, because of the shale developments, has fundamentally changed the outlook for the energy infrastructure of the US. The movement toward carbon constraints has not been as effective or as fast as we had expected.”
In 2013, New England’s five nuclear reactors provided about a third of the region’s electricity; at full capacity Vermont Yankee alone could power about half a million homes.
With Vermont Yankee out of the picture, the four remaining operating nuclear reactors in New England are Millstone 2 and 3 in Waterford, Conn., Pilgrim Station in Plymouth, and Seabrook Station in Seabrook, N.H.
Local residents were divided on the Vermont plant, which at the peak employed about 600 people from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. About half of the plant’s workers will have been laid off or relocated by January 2015, and a long-term plan calls for a smaller staff to secure and temporarily dispose of the plant’s radioactive fuel.
Blomberg added that power plants in the region could supply a total of 32,000 megawatts of electricity.
Winter tends to be a lower-demand period for electricity in New England, with the peak period in the summer. Demand for power on Monday, for example, was estimated to be around 18,000 megawatts.
Still, Blomberg warned that the New England power system is in no position to lose more plants.
“Going forward, we are concerned about the impact of [losing] non-natural-gas-fired generation in the region,” she said.