VERNON -- Members of two state House committees specializing in economic development and energy will travel here later this month to host a community discussion about the impacts of Vermont Yankee's pending closure.
The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development and the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy are scheduled to convene joint meetings at 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Oct. 28 at Vernon Elementary School. The sessions are a chance not only for state lawmakers to hear local concerns, but also for local officials and residents to gather and discuss those concerns, said state Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon.
"I think the state has a lot of opportunity to assist," Hebert said. "But we've got to figure out what we want assistance with."
Entergy Corp. announced in August that the controversial nuclear power plant would shut down by the end of 2014, saying the facility is "no longer financially viable." The shutdown has huge economic implications for Vernon and the region including layoffs, population loss and tax-revenue reductions.
State officials have had bitter legal battles with Entergy over Yankee's future. But Hebert said those disputes should not be a factor in fashioning a response to the planned shutdown.
"It's irrelevant that it's a nuclear plant," he said. "It's a loss of major employment and revenue."
Hebert is a member of the Natural Resources Committee and said he "got the ball rolling" for a committee meeting in Vernon in the days following Entergy's announcement. He credited the Natural Resources chairman, Montpelier-based Democrat Tony Klein, for making it happen.
Also looking forward to the session is Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal and chairman of the Commerce Committee.
"It's important for us to come to the community so that we hear from those who are there," Botzow said Tuesday from his Bennington County home.
The 1:30 p.m. session will be geared toward local officials from towns including Vernon, Guilford and Brattleboro. That session is open to the public, but Hebert said residents who want to testify should attend the 5 p.m. session for the general public.
Hebert said his Natural Resources Committee will play a key role in the post-Yankee transition given the committee's focus on energy and redevelopment of industrial "brownfields."
"And Commerce, obviously, is economic development," Hebert said.
As the power plant shuts down, the state could provide economic help including tax stabilization, training for the unemployed and additional money for development, Hebert said.
Botzow agreed with that assessment.
"We also need to make sure that we get good alignment between what the state offers and what the needs are in the area," he said. "It could be training for some people. For other people, it could be, what are the entrepreneurship opportunities?"
For Yankee employees who might want to strike out on their own, "the tax incentives may already be there for somebody to start a business," Botzow said.
Botzow added that committee members will "want to hear from Entergy (representatives) themselves to see what they're thinking in terms of the transition."
Hebert expects the Yankee closure to be a big topic during the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.
"If we can look at pieces of legislation that would soften the blow and the impact on Vernon and, quite honestly, the entire region, we should do that," Hebert said.
"This legislative session would be the time to do it, and it's fast-approaching," he added.
For now, though, Hebert views the Oct. 28 meetings in Vernon as "a dialog-opener."
Botzow said the success of those sessions will depend on the quality of that dialog.
"Success, for me, is getting everybody on the same page, and then identifying the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead," Botzow said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.