Nuclear panel to shift some costs to NorthStar

An abandoned sign lays on top of a pile of scrap aluminum outside of the main reactor building of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, in Vernon, Vt., on Thursday, July 11, 2019.

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BRATTLEBORO — Members of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel gave conceptual approval Monday to changes in its enabling legislation that would transfer some of the costs of the panel to the owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear site.

On a unanimous vote, with the two representatives from NorthStar Vermont Yankee LLC abstaining, the panel set the NorthStar contribution at $35,000. Final language will be worked out between NorthStar's corporate attorney, the Department of Public Service and Vermont Legislative counsel.

The money will be used to pay for experts, public education and meeting logistics.

June Tierney, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, pushed for the change last month, and it was adopted on Monday after research from two state representatives on the panel, Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, and Sara Coffey, D-Guilford.

Tierney said she wanted NorthStar to pay for the "logistical" costs of the panel, which have totaled $41,872 since 2014, when the panel first started meeting. She also outlined other expenses, such as her labor time and that of State Nuclear Engineer Tony Leshinskie, as well as the department's public advocate, staff attorney and executive assistant. Those costs totaled $270,000 over six years, or about $61,000 a year for all the state time.

Greg DiCarlo, NorthStar's corporate counsel, told the gathering at the Brattleboro Area Middle School Monday that NorthStar had no objection to the changes, but he said he would have to take it back to NorthStar's board for final approval.

"I think it's a potentially workable solution," he said.

Tierney said she wasn't going to make a formal request that her employees' time be covered. She also outlined the costs of other state officials' time preparing for the nuclear decommissioning panel's meetings.

Tierney said her department, which is largely funded by the utilities it helps regulate, was in the red when she became commissioner, so much so that she had to cut her staff by five positions. Sibilia and Coffey said there was significant time needed to draft legislative language and incorporate it into a bill that could be considered by all the necessary House and Senate committees. Sibilia, a member of the House Energy and Technology Committee and the lead sponsor of the legislative amendment, and Coffey at one point suggested a memorandum of understanding between NorthStar and the Department of Public Service to address the costs, rather than seek legislative changes.

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But Tierney said her department did not have the authority to enter into an MOU with NorthStar over costs, and she urged that the remedy is legislation.

Tierney, in a followup interview on Wednesday, said that a statutory amendment would go forward that would call for NorthStar to start directly contributing to the costs of the panel.

Christopher Campany, the executive director of the Windham Regional Commission, and a member of the panel, said Wednesday the panel had approved in concept what Tierney proposed. Campany pointed out that the source of NorthStar's contribution would be the Vermont Yankee decommissioning trust fund.

Clay Turnbull, a trustee and staff member of the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, pointed out that NorthStar estimates it will clear $20 million from the decommissioning trust fund once Yankee is demolished and cleaned up, and it is charging millions of dollars for its administration. Turnbull said other decommissioning citizen panels, such as the one on the Maine Yankee nuclear plant, had a budget in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, with panel members and the public sent to conferences and other nuclear sites to educate the public about all nuclear issues.

In Vermont, he said, the panel is only talking about a fraction of that.

"The company could be making more of an effort," Turnbull said, at "educating the public."

Josh Unruh of Vernon, the chairman of the panel, couldn't be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Contact Susan Smallheer at or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.