NorthStar to fund panel, legislation or not

Demolition begins on the east cooling towers at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, in Vernon, Vt., on Thursday, July 11, 2019. The plant was shut down on Dec. 29, 2014.

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VERNON — NorthStar Vermont Yankee LLC said Monday that it won't wait for pending legislation before it starts funding the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel.

Scott State, chief executive officer for NorthStar, told the panel that rather than wait for the bill now pending in the Vermont Senate to be approved, the company will simply donate the funds.

State, appearing before the panel as it met via videoconferencing, said NorthStar had decided "to be a good corporate citizen" and would make the contribution, last pegged at $35,000.

He said the company would make the contribution to the state on July 1, "as if the bill had passed."

"We do want to have a positive relationship in Vermont," State said.

The money would be used for experts, public education and meeting logistics.

The state Department of Public Service, which pushed for the change, said the state has spent $42,000 on meeting logistics alone since 2014, and it regularly spends $61,000 on state employee time on panel issues.

The NorthStar contribution is expected to come from the Vermont Yankee decommissioning trust fund, which NorthStar gained control of when it bought the shut-down reactor in January 2019. The fund is currently at about $420 million.

State Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Windham-Bennington District, who is a member of the panel, said the bill, which amends the original legislation that created the panel, had passed the Vermont House and had been assigned to a Senate committee.

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But since the coronavirus pandemic had paused most legislation not having anything to do with the pandemic, she said she didn't know when the bill would be voted on. She predicted it would ultimately be approved.

"It probably will pass, sometime this year," said Sibilia, adding that she doubted it would be dealt with before July 1.

"I appreciate NorthStar coming forward in this manner," said Sibilia, who among other panel members had pushed for NorthStar to start contributing to the costs of the panel. She said that will allow the hiring of experts to help educate the panel on key issues.

June Tierney, the commissioner of the Department of Public Service, who had pushed hard for the NorthStar contribution, said she "much appreciated the gesture from the company," but the state accepting the funds might be a bit complicated.

She said such a donation might face what she called "legal hurdles," but she hastened to assure State that Vermont welcomes the money.

"If we can, we will," she said. "If we can't, we'll remember NorthStar made the gesture."

Rep. Sara Coffey, D-Windham 1, who is also a member of the panel and worked with Sibilia on the legislation, also thanked NorthStar for "stepping forward ... and giving this commitment."

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