Windham County Area Considers Post-Yankee Economic Future

Sep 19, 2013

Studies predict that the announced closing of the Entergy Corporation's Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant will have enormous economic consequences.  How serious those consequences will be depends on decisions that will be made in the coming year. 

In Brattleboro this week, a panel of experts considered ways to keep the region’s interests in the discussion when decisions are being made.

The discussion was sponsored by the Commons, a Brattleboro Weekly. It drew more than 100 people, some of whom had spent years trying to shut the nuclear plant down.

Vernon representative Mike Hebert told the crowd that it’s time to move beyond those differences and think about the region’s needs.

“And that would require that all parties sit down,” Hebert said. “Whether you’re pro-Entergy or opposed to Entergy, we need to sit down, have a real dialog and represent our concerns to Entergy as a group. And I do believe that’s possible.”

Hebert said Vernon has already begun working with Entergy on tax stabilization and other issues related to the closing.

Panelist Pat Moulton Powden, of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, said her group has also talked with plant officials.

Moulton Powden said Yankee’s closing will only worsen the region’s existing problems: low wages, low productivity and a dwindling population.

But she said the good news is that organizations like the BDCC have been bringing communities together to confront the problems.

“We have a lot of work ahead,” Powden said. “We need to continue to think regionally and keep in mind this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

A major concern is the potential loss of about six hundred of the region’s highest-paid workers, along with their families. Studies show that loss would ripple and multiply through the region’s economy.

Entergy’s strategy for dismantling the plant could help determine how a big that loss will be. The company has a choice of decommissioning the plant immediately, or putting it in SAFSTOR. That process would delay dismantling for up to 60 years.

Windham Regional Commission Director Chris Campany said about half the plant’s workforce could be employed in Vernon for up to a decade if the plant is decommissioned right away.

“But of course,” he added, “What Yankee has said they’re going to do from the outset is SAFSTOR.”

The Windham Commission hopes to convince the Vermont Public Service Board that decommissioning, not SAFSTOR would be best for the region.  Entergy has filed an amended application with the board to operate until December 2014. Campany says the board could issue a permit with conditions specifying how  and when decommissioning will take place.

But Hebert, the Vernon representative, said he’d rather work directly with Entergy.

“At the announcement of the coming shut down, the representatives for VY were very positive in talking about they wanted to leave on a high note and do things the right way,” Hebert said.

Hebert said he believes the company will be a willing partner in talks about the wider region’s concerns.