Entergy, the corporation that owns the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, plans to cut its labor force.
State officials say they have not been notified how many jobs could be lost in Vermont. But the lay-offs could play a role in Yankee’s request before utility regulators that it be allowed to
Entergy has launched a company-wide effort to cut costs and increase efficiencies. Company officials did not agree to an interview. But in a written statement, Entergy said: “We do expect workforce reductions to be one result of this initiative.”
Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan says she’s not been notified of a possible reduction in force. She said Entergy would have to tell the state if 25 or more workers were let go.
“So at this point, I’m not aware that anybody has actually been separated,” she said. “There may be some notices being prepared but we don’t know that information. So the rule requires notification to the department actually after the separations occur.”
The Public Service Board recently held hearings on Entergy’s request for a new state permit, called a certificate of public good. The permit would allow Yankee to run until 2032.
A key part of Entergy’s case is that the plant – which employs about 650 people – is good for the state’s economy.
Geoff Commons, the state’s lead lawyer in the case, said he does not recall Yankee witnesses testifying about any pending job cuts. He said the job numbers at Yankee could affect Entergy’s case.
“It would appear to have an impact on the magnitude of the economic benefit that they’re claiming. How significant that would be, whether it would flip it from positive to negative or something like that, seems pretty speculative at this point,” he said. “It does seem like it would be relevant.”
Commons said the Public Service Board could re-open the hearings to consider Yankee’s latest employment numbers.
The nuclear industry in general is facing an increasingly tough time financially in part because of competition from natural gas-fired power plants.
Ray Shadis is a technical expert with the New England Coalition which has pushed to close Vermont Yankee. He said the pending job cuts are a sign that Entergy is in financial trouble.
“In our view, this is an act of desperation. Throughout the proceedings at the Vermont Public Service Board all of the parties constantly nibbled around the edge of the big question, which is: ‘So what’s your plan? You want to run this plant, you’re losing money, are you asking permission to go ahead and lose money for another 20 years? Or do you have a plan for digging out?’”
Shadis said Yankee will soon require substantial investment to comply with federal safety upgrades required as a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. He said those costs will add to the financial pressure already facing Entergy.