BRATTLEBORO — NorthStar Holding Co. should be footing the bill for the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, rather than the state's ratepayers, a strong majority of the panel said Monday.
In an advisory vote, the panel voted 11-4 in favor of the shift. The panel will start a conversation with NorthStar — the owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon — to assume the costs of the panel.
June Tierney, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said her state agency had been paying for the costs of the panel, which includes hiring experts to evaluate the decommissioning job NorthStar is doing, as well as organizing and planning the panel's meetings.
"Your business is driving costs," Tierney said to NorthStar. "It's not fair to the ratepayers. ... It's time the company assumes that cost."
Voting against shifting the expense to NorthStar were NorthStar's two representatives on the panel, Corey Daniels and David Pearson, and Chairman Josh Unruh of Vernon and member Bob Leach of Brattleboro, who were both appointed to the panel by Gov. Phil Scott.
But every other panel member voted for the shift, although the details still have to be worked out.
Christopher Campany, panel member and executive director of the Windham Regional Commission, said he long had supported NorthStar footing the bill for the panel.
At other nuclear power plants, the owner of the plant has paid for the panel.
Tierney had requested the change during a discussion of proposed changes to the legislation that created the panel.
State Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Windham-Bennington, who is a member of the panel appointed by the Legislature, and state Rep. Sara Coffey, D-Windham 1, who was appointed by House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, had submitted draft legislation that updated the enabling legislation that created the panel, which included updating the membership, giving the town of Vernon additional representation.
They told the panel that when it came to any additional changes, timing is everything and that some deadlines had already passed. "There's always a way to get it done," said Sibilia.
Sibilia, who is a member of the House Energy and Technology Committee, said the bill could be amended at a later date, but she urged her fellow panel members to come up with a specific plan and costs.
Tierney said after the meeting that she didn't know how much the panel costs, but that she would be compiling that information.
NorthStar President Scott State, who was at the meeting, said his company was not about to give anybody or anything a blank check toward the costs of running the panel.
But he said after the meeting that he was willing to discuss the recommendation, but he questioned why the issue wasn't raised in 2018, when state regulators were evaluating NorthStar's bid to buy Vermont Yankee and decommission it.
State said that current projections show the plant's decommissioning trust fund will have a $20 million balance once the work is completed in about eight years.
According to a discussion earlier in the meeting, any leftover funds will be split 55-45 percent with Green Mountain Power Corp., one of the original owners of Vermont Yankee, with NorthStar getting the remaining 45 percent. State said that split was about $11 million and $9 million.
"I'd like to support something reasonable," State said, that involves "some fundamental fairness."
Tierney, in a follow-up discussion, said the issue wasn't discussed before the sale was completed because it was state law, and was not allowed to be part of the memorandum discussions.
The panel decided to hold a special meeting on Feb. 3 to nail down the details of what it wants from NorthStar, which would ultimately be added to the Sibilia-Coffey legislation.
Contact Susan Smallheer at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.