Talk about your October surprises: A blog post on the conservative website Vermont Tiger is alleging Democrat Peter Shumlin secretly favors relicensing the plant if it were sold to new owners and a power purchase agreement with Vermont utilities were in place.
Or so Shumlin allegedly said during a secret meeting with anonymous "businessmen" more than a month ago.
And this is news? An anonymously sourced blog post on a conservative website that consistently shills for Dubie is given credibility on at least two of the state's top TV stations by two of the better reporters? Really?
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy reading Vermont Tiger every day, even two or three times, for some insightful analysis and conservative perspective. But, given their Dubie drumbeat forgive me for being skeptical when they attempt to stray into the world of reportage.
True to fashion, however, Shumlin did little to kill the story. Instead, his nonanswers on WCAX and WPTZ in response to this anonymously sourced story only fueled the speculation that Shumlin might be OK with keeping Vermont Yankee open under certain circumstances.
Here's what he had to say on WCAX to reporter Kristin Carlson:
Carlson: "So, if you are elected governor, we won't be having a conversation at some point about you thinking Yankee should be relicensed with a new owner?"
Shumlin: "It will be highly unlikely."
Carlson: "So, highly unlikely, but that is not a yes or a no."
Shumlin: "You know I'm not trying to be evasive. What you have to understand about governors is, you have to lead and you have to deal with the facts we have before us. All the facts before me right now show me Vermont Yankee should be shut down in 2012."
Shumlin not trying to be evasive? Hmm. How uncharacteristic of him — or any politician.
On WPTZ, Stewart Ledbetter asked Shumlin if he would support VY's relicensure if the plant was under new ownership. "I can tell you that the chances of that happening are so remote that I don't deal with 'what ifs,' replied Shumlin. "It's time to put the plan to sleep and move on to more renewable-energy sources."
The Clintonesque phrasing gave Dubie's camp an opportunity to pounce — once again — on the idea that Shumlin says different things to different groups.
“Peter Shumlin’s hypocrisy is mind boggling,” said Dubie campaign manager Corry Bliss. “Once again, Peter Shumlin seems to believe he can play by his own set of rules, saying one thing to one group and the exact opposite to another. He is promising everyone he will close Vermont Yankee, but telling business leaders who want to keep the plant open that he would not shut it down.”
Shumlin may have been less than forthcoming to the TV stations — at least in the portions of his interviews that were aired — but he was unequivocal during a live interview on Vermont Public Radio Friday.
"I don't know how many times I can say as clearly as I can say: Vermont Yankee is an old, tired nuclear-power plant that must be shut down in 2012," Shumlin told "Vermont Edition" host Jane Lindholm. "It's not an ownership issue."
When asked specifically if he thought Vermont Yankee should be shut down no matter who owns it, Shumlin replied, "Absolutely. And, I just want to ask you why this question is coming up now."
If this alleged meeting happened in late September or early October, why is this "revelation" coming out just four days before the election? Could this be a precursor to Vermont Yankee announcing a potential sale or power deal with the state's utilities on Monday?
I dunno, I find it curious that these so-called businessmen were willing to talk to a pro-Dubie website anonymously but won't return reporters' phone calls.
(I wrote this post yesterday, and this morning Terri Hallenbeck over at the Free Press blog VtBuzz did talk to one of the folks in the meeting. He doesn't recall Shumlin wavering on VY.)
The meeting allegedly was held behind Sen. Dick Mazza's store in Colchester about a week after the recount. Mazza, who is now backing Shumlin because of Republican Brian Dubie's negative campaign tactics, was then neutral in the race.
Supposedly part of that meeting, along with Mazza, were David Coates, Glen Wright and several other prominent, Dubie-backing businessmen in Chittenden County. Neither Coates nor Wright have returned phone calls to Seven Days to offer their recollection of the meeting. Ditto Mazza.
Shumlin told Seven Days he doesn't even remember the question coming up at the meeting. "If it did come up, I probably said what I always say, which is that it's time to retire this old clunker. It's not about ownership, it's about an aging reactor. It's one of four water-cooled reactors that were built at the same time, and the other four have been dismantled."
The three closed reactors are Connecticut Yankee, Yankee Rowe and Maine Yankee.
In a race this close, every vote will count, so, could Shumlin lose some of his core antinuke support? Not likely.
So far, his environmentalist allies are sticking by Shumlin's version of events and don't believe he would double talk on an issue that has been central to his legislative agenda and campaign.
Why would he, wondered Todd Bailey, executive director of the Vermont League of Conservation Voters. "To what, convince 12 people to vote for him? This might be close, but not that close. I have to call into question any report where no one will go on the record, and the senator who was present says that, to his knowledge, the conversation did not even occur.
"In October, with Halloween just around the corner, there are tricks and there are political treats," added Bailey. " This one has to fall into the political-trick category, and Vermonters know better. Peter has been very clear on his position to retire Vermont Yankee as scheduled."
As to whether a sale or power purchase deal are in the works, Vermont's utilities and Entergy officials are both mum on the subject.
"As we said when we rejected their public offer of 6.1 cents earlier this year, we'll continue to talk as long as relicensing remains a possibility and there is any hope of a favorable deal for Vermont," said Steve Costello, spokesman for Central Vermont Public Service, the state's largest utility. "I can't predict when or if we'll be successful. Beyond that, we're bound by a confidentiality agreement."
Costello said that agreement binds CVPS and Green Mountain Power from divulging if the companies have even met with Entergy.
"In the meantime, of course, we've been looking at all kinds of alternatives and have signed numerous contracts for other power supplies to diversify our mix," Costello said.