VERNON — Several days after finalizing a settlement with state officials, Vermont Yankee's prospective buyer also has struck a deal with the nuclear plant's host town.
NorthStar Group Services' agreement with Vernon includes provisions for future tax payments, expense reimbursements, road repairs and river access if the New York-based company completes its acquisition of the idled plant.
"I believe it's a fair deal, and one that will help benefit our town in the long term," Vernon Selectboard Chairman Josh Unruh said Wednesday, a day after the board endorsed the agreement.
NorthStar Chief Executive Officer Scott State said he "appreciates the town of Vernon's support for this transaction that will enable NorthStar to safely and successfully decommission" Vermont Yankee.
"We have established a collaborative relationship and look forward to strengthening that relationship even further as we work to restore the site to conditions that will allow its return to productive economic use decades sooner than originally planned," State said.
Current Vermont Yankee owner Entergy stopped producing power in Vernon more than three years ago. The company now wants to sell the plant to NorthStar, which has pledged to clean up most of the site as soon as 2026.
The change of ownership requires approval from both the Vermont Public Utility Commission and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Those reviews are ongoing.
NorthStar and Entergy might have paved a clearer path toward state approval by signing a deal last week with several Vermont agencies and other interested parties. That memorandum of understanding includes additional financial assurances for decommissioning as well as new reporting requirements and revised site restoration standards.
Vernon's Planning and Economic Development Commission signed the state settlement. But Unruh said Vernon officials also decided to pursue their own deal so that the town's concerns didn't get lost in the shuffle. The result is a March 6 agreement that will take effect only if and when the NorthStar sale closes. The company's commitments to the town include:
- Extending and/or renegotiating a tax stabilization agreement Entergy and Vernon officials signed in 2016. That six-year deal set the plant's value for tax purposes at $78 million and also provided for annual payments in lieu of taxes on a declining scale. NorthStar will assume responsibility for that tax arrangement upon buying the plant, but Unruh said town officials are hoping to renegotiate a longer-term deal with the company. The agreement between NorthStar and Vernon says the next tax stabilization deal will be "at a comparable funding level."
- NorthStar will reimburse Vernon's legal and expert-witness expenses stemming from the town's participation in the Vermont Yankee sale process. NorthStar will pay up to $150,000 for bills the town submits with "supporting documentation." The town has hired an attorney and an expert to file testimony in connection with the state's review of the sale.
- NorthStar has agreed to "consider leaving in place or providing necessary access to" certain portions of the Vermont Yankee site that are "important to the town for redevelopment purposes." That could include office buildings, septic fields, wells, rail infrastructure, roads, parking, power line access and switchyard access. Unruh said town officials generally are interested in encouraging redevelopment at the Vermont Yankee property, though it's not yet clear what role the town might play in that effort.
- NorthStar also will work with the town to "facilitate access across its properties for possible public future riverfront access and recreation purposes." River access and enhanced recreation are two elements of a community planning process Vernon underwent in 2016.
- NorthStar has committed to repair or resurface any sections of Governor Hunt Road that are "damaged by heavy equipment or increased truck traffic" connected to decommissioning work.
Additionally, NorthStar is pledging to work with the town on future planning efforts; consider local businesses for use in decommissioning work; and preserve "mutually agreed-upon artifacts" that showcase the nuclear site's history.
Bob Spencer, the chairman of Vernon's Planning Commission, said NorthStar has been amenable to the town's requests throughout the sale process and settlement negotiations.
"We're all feeling like a lot was accomplished that's very good for the town," Spencer said.
Mike Faher can be contacted at email@example.com.