VERNON — The town's Planning Commission gave a Powerpoint presentation Tuesday night about the possible construction of a 600-megawatt gas-fired electric generating plant at the site of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
The project is estimated to cost between $675 and $825 million and could be in operation as early as 2019, if approved. Of course, getting the green light for the project is a ways down the road since the Vernon Planning Commission has said the next step would be a community buy-in where they would hold some type of referendum.
"It would help to lower and stabilize regional electricity rates, help address the New England grid situation and in terms of Vermont's plan to move more toward renewable energy, it helps to balance that out," said Planning Commission member, Martin Langeveld.
Langeveld also said the plant would generate about 400 to 600 jobs for the 18- to 24-month construction project. The commission also believes it would offer about 25 to 30 jobs during operation.
During the question and answers period members of the audience were skeptical whether those construction jobs would import workers and if the operating jobs would seek employees from out of state. Commission members explained that higher-level jobs may require workers from out of state if needed.
Vermont Yankee was a one-unit 620 megawatt nuclear power plant that at one time supplied 33 percent of Vermont's electric supply. In the 1980s and early '90s, Yankee was almost 90 percent of the grand list in Vernon; since then that has been gradually declining and now hovers around 43 percent of the grand list.
"Obviously that percentage will continue to decline since the plant is no longer generating any electricity," said Langeveld.
Since the plant stopped producing power in December 2014, residents have be asking what will replace Yankee?
"Our understanding, and this is sort of anecdotal, is that the assumption in town has been that a gas-generated plant would be a possibility for that site and that the property should remain an industrial location and be ear marked for energy generation," said Langeveld.
The proposed gas-fired electric generating plant would require about 40 acres during construction, a footprint about twice the size of the Vernon Elementary School property. There would be a 50- to 60-foot tall power block building and a 200- to 215-foot stack, which is the same height of the existing Yankee stack. And the grid connection would remain with the existing VELCO switch yard and substation.
The plant also would tie into the $3.3 billion Kinder Morgan's Northeast Direct Pipeline project. The pipeline, from Pennsylvania to Dracut, Mass., is expected to expand New England's supply of natural gas and electric generating power. The route runs through western Massachusetts, through Northfield, Winchester, N.H., and then through southern New Hampshire over utility rights of way. The project has not yet received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but Kinder Morgan is projecting that the pipeline could be in service by late 2018. In addition, there would be a pipeline connection via a seven-mile spur.
"A gas plant in contrast to Vermont Yankee would draw water from the river, and maybe not even that, it could draw from wells, but it would return very little, if any, elevated temperature water back into the river," said Langeveld.
Paying for the project would involve two stages — the development stage, which involves high-risk private investment (venture capital type), and a construction stage, which includes bond and equity funding via private equity investors. The Planning Commission noted that there would be no public funding or cost to the town of Vernon, state of Vermont or Vermont customers.
The Planning Commission discussed some of the environmental impacts, but did not touch upon any potential health effects related to the plant. Vernon resident and member of the audience, David Webb, asked the Planning Commission, "So you guys have not researched the wonderful health benefits of a fossil fuel plant at all?"
"We have not researched that," said Planning Commission Chairman Robert Spencer.
Webb responded with a list of what he calls health concerns that he found from his own research. Most of the health risks he mentioned included respiratory affects caused by carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, methane gas and particulate matter.
"You better believe it's going to affect some kids, it will," said Webb. "Every plant in the United States has affected the kids. It's awful and I hope this town really thinks about this."
During the hour-long question and answer session, some members of the audience applauded certain individuals who voiced their opinions. The differing opinions were clear and it seemed as though the room was split on whether the proposal was a good idea for the town.
The next steps for the project involve a community buy-in, approval by FERC, feasibility and design work, secured capacity nomination from Kinder Morgan on NED pipeline, Federal Clean Air Act permit, state approval and then construction.