Guy Page: NorthStar plan for VY 'consistent with the long-term public good'
Is the sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar — to quote the PUC mission statement — "consistent with the long-term public good of the state"?
Prior to a November 2016 announcement of the proposed sale, site owner Entergy had planned to mothball the plant until the 2070s or until the principal and interest in the decommissioning trust fund had grown to about $1.2 billion. Either way, eventual restoration and reuse of a prime industrial site seemed a lifetime away.
Under NorthStar, a leading industrial site decommissioning company, Vermont Yankee can be decommissioned in as little as 10 years at half the price. But this anticipated sale requires approval from the PUC and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission before decommissioning can begin.
What happens in Vermont Yankee host town Vernon has a ripple effect, for good or ill, across Vermont. The stronger the local economy, the more revenue goes into state coffers, and less funding is required from state services. The PUC's approval of NorthStar's plan will kick off a decade of local economic activity onsite and in local businesses, supporting the steady stream of workers to and from the site.
But the greatest long-term benefit will be the redevelopment of the site by a new large-scale manufacturer, data center or energy generator, or other large, tax-paying employer. Recognizing this unique opportunity to reshape their town's future, Vernon town planners see a future employer as the key to a new town center of education, industry, and commerce.
If the site remains mothballed for another 50 years, Vernon and Windham County will continue to experience economic stagnation. Despite the spending of millions of dollars of Vermont Yankee settlement money to support economic development, total wages in Windham County fell 5 percent in 2016. According to the U.S. Census, 12.7 percent of Windham County residents live in poverty, compared to the statewide rate of 11.9 percent, and the population above the age of 16 years old has declined 3.1 percent.
NorthStar's plan comes with environmental benefits as well. The removal of all contaminated materials at the site reduces to almost nil the possibility of affecting adjacent land or the nearby Connecticut River. Following decommissioning, Vernon will have access to a greenfield site with a proscribed level of radiation so low that a farmer could live there 24/7/365 and eat the food he or she grows with no environmental risks. Only the spent fuel, stored in steel dry casks on a concrete pad and protected by rigorous security, will remain until the U.S. government finally implements a long-promised plan to remove it.
Ever since the proposed sale was announced in 2016, concern has been raised by some observers about the financial security of the plan. Earlier this month, these concerns were addressed with the news announcement of an agreement that would satisfy the State of Vermont with even more financial assurances that NorthStar would be able to complete the project in the event of higher-than-expected costs.
Guy Page, a Berlin resident, is communications director for the Vermont Energy Partnership, a coalition of individuals and labor, commercial, industry, and regional development organizations committed to policies providing clean, safe, affordable and reliable power. Vermont Yankee is a VTEP member. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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