Last month Ben Kinsley and Pat McDonald attended the last public hearing of the Vt. Public Utility Commission (formerly the Vermont Public Service Board) on the sale of Vermont Yankee (Entergy). After listening to all testimony, we felt that a show on the sale of Vermont Yankee and its impact on the Town of Vernon would be interesting to our viewers. Invited guests were Brad Ferland, Owner of Ferland Marketing; Michelle Pong, Town Administrator for Vernon; and Josh Unruh, Chair of the Vernon Selectboard.
Until the NorthStar sale was announced in November 2016, the decommissioning “plan” was to mothball the plant for up to 60 years while the decommissioning trust fund accrued in value to about $1.2 Billion. Only at that point would the plant be decommissioned and the site returned to a green field for potential redevelopment. The lost employment and revenue of a half-century of its most valuable industrial site was expected to be a terrible loss to the Town of Vernon, as well as to surrounding towns and the State of Vermont. Furthemore any unknown existing environmental problems might have gone unmitigated until discovered. In its contract NorthStar plans to use advanced, cutting-edge industry techniques that will return the site to redevelopment in 8 – 10 years and at less than half the cost. NorthStar has built a better decommissioning plan for all concerned.
The proposed sale to NorthStar needs approval from both federal (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) and state (Public Utilities Commission) regulators, both of whom are thoroughly investigating the financial and environmental impacts of the sale and are expected to rule on the sale by the end of the year. A major breakthrough in support of the sale occurred March 2 when four state agencies, the Town of Vernon, two Abenaki Indian Tribes, and longtime anti-nuclear group all signed a memorandum of understanding expressing support for the sale.
All members of the New England Coalition signed a memorandum of understanding expressing support for the sale. The settlement followed a dramatic increase in North Star’s financial and environmental concessions, as well as its agreement to conduct a cultural archeological study to determine the status of the site’s native American habitat. Only the Conservation Law Foundation is (at the time of videotaping the show) still opposed to the sale stating the lack of transparency and concern about financial strength.
Currently the Vermont Yankee Trust Fund for site decommissioning of the site is valued at $571 million now and continues to grow. NorthStar’s highly detailed budget, which is broken down into 900 individual sub-projects is $498 million. Hundreds of millions of dollars of added financing and insurance are further protection against any cost overruns. Gov. Scott sent a personal letter of support for the project saying (paraphrased) that as a contractor himself he recognizes a well-planned and well-funded proposal.
Decommissioning is expensive with some element of uncertainty, but we should consider the long-term benefits as well. An accelerated decommissioning means Vernon will have access to a restored greenfield site in as soon as 10 years with the potential to redevelop as another industrial center. A large-scale employer, good jobs and high tax revenues are likely to follow.
The Vernon representatives said that the Town’s Development Committee is hard at work on the redevelopment of the site. They have long decided that it would be an industrial site because they need to bring some good paying jobs and increase the revenue stream back to Vernon. They are excited that they are looking at 10 years period for redevelopment instead of the initial 60 years. There is approximately 112 acres with many acres running along the river to be redeveloped. Now that the sale is pending, the Town knows what office buildings will remain standing on the site which can be included in future plans. There is also a switch yard, power lines and access to backup power from a nearby hydro dam. NorthStar is following Vermont Yankees “good neighbor” policy and is working closely with the Town of Vernon. The Development Board is redoing Vernon’s Town Plan with as much input from residents as possible.
There is a lot more detailed information shared in the video, not all of which is included in the above summary. If you would like to see the entire show go to vote802.com. Any rebuttals or addition comments are welcome and can be expressed on the websites and Facebook pages of VFV and Campaign for Vermont.
The above piece was authored by Pat McDonald, Vote for Vermont, and Guy Page, Communications Director, Vt Energy Partnership.