PITTSFIELD -- Massachusetts lawmakers on Tuesday applauded the decision to close the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant in 2014 but expressed concern over the loss of good-paying jobs at the Vernon, Vt., facility.
"There is no question that this was a very delicate decision because of the jobs," said state Rep. Denise Andrews, D-Orange, whose district is near the southeast corner of Vermont and is home to some of the Yankee plant employees. The plant is located along the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vt., about 15 miles due north of Greenfield and bordering Massachusetts north of Northfield.
"I think this is a very important decision for this area," Andrews said. "It is extremely positive in regard to safety and our environment. My hope is that Entergy [plant owner Entergy Corp.] does a responsible job in the decommissioning and closing."
Entergy, based in Louisiana, announced Tuesday that the decision was "driven by sustained low power prices, high cost structure and wholesale electricity market design flaws for Vermont Yankee plant."
In recent years, there has been an increased focus on the age of the plant, which opened in 1972, and Vermont's Legislature and Gov. Peter Shumlin have unsuccessfully attempted to block renewal of the plant's license to operate, citing a series of operational problems. Those efforts by the state were overturned after Entergy appealed to federal court.
State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said he believes "the people in those towns [near the Vermont border] will be happy with this."
Mark said his constituents in Greenfield, Bernardston, Northfield and Colrain have expressed frustration that they've never had a say in siting or licensing of the plant, but were within evacuation range of the facility were there to be a release of radiation.
"It came as a surprise to me," Mark said, as the decision followed a federal court ruling that allowed renewal of the plant's license, over the objections of the government in Vermont.
Andrews said she hopes Entergy "will be a responsible company and do the right thing for its dedicated employees." She said that would include funding retraining and retirement options for workers.
The company employs about 630 people, a staffing level that will gradually be reduced as the plant moves through the stages of decommissioning.
State Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, chairman of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said, "This is good news for the Western Mass. and southern Vermont region. That doesn't mean it will be easy to replace the energy the plant produces."
Downing, whose district runs along Vermont's border with Massachusetts, said the change can be made with more reliance on clean, renewable energy and on energy efficiency.
"That challenge is easier that the challenge of dealing with nuclear energy," he said. "It think we are ready to take that challenge on."
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., issued a statement, saying, "Closing Vermont Yankee reflects the growing realization in New England and around the nation that it is time to move toward a safer, more affordable clean energy future of wind, solar, geothermal, along with well-regulated, domestic natural gas. While nuclear energy was once advertised as being too cheap to meter, it is increasingly clear that it is actually too expensive to matter."
Markey said the decision by Entergy marks the fifth planned closure of a nuclear reactor announced in the past year, in Wisconsin, Florida, and California.
Entergy acquired the plant from Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. in 2002. In March 2011, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed the station's operating license for an additional 20 years, until 2032.