By Brad Ferland
Vermont has an excellent opportunity for new economic development, thanks to NorthStar’s plan to decommission Vermont Yankee. Historically, Vermonters have worked hard to preserve our natural resources, and the cost of doing business here is reflected in those values. To succeed in a global economy, it is also imperative that our process for business development is fair, reasonable and timely.
Over the past several months, the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel has provided an excellent forum for community leaders and citizens to voice concerns about the NorthStar process. However, in all the meetings dedicated to the topic, there hasn’t been one voice opposed to an accelerated decommissioning.
Even prior to the plant’s shutdown in 2014, a small, vocal group of anti-nuclear opponents called for a quick decommissioning to return the site to green field conditions within a shorter timeframe. This is exactly what NorthStar proposes: begin decommissioning once the NRC and PUC grant approval, with a completion date as soon as 2030. The alternative is keeping the site in SAFSTOR for another 60 years, which would lead to economic and environmental stagnation.
NorthStar’s plan gives Vernon the opportunity to turn a “minus” – a dormant nuclear power plant – into an exciting plus. In the early 20th century, a forward-thinking Brattleboro business community employed cutting-edge hydro-electric turbine technology to build the Vernon Dam, which provided electricity for many decades and is still licensed today. In the 1960’s, Vernon and Windham County stepped up again to host Vermont Yankee, a generator of low-cost, emissions-free electricity that at one point contributed a third of Vermont’s power with plenty left over for the rest of New England. Vermont’s future-minded acceptance of Vermont Yankee provided cleaner air in the smoggy 1970’s, and carbon-free power in the era of climate change.
To continue its historic legacy as a regional power-producer, the Town of Vernon has already announced its intention to utilize the site for another cutting-edge industry, such as a micro-grid or solar facility, should the plan be approved. If we have the chance now to replace and rebuild industry here in Windham County, why slam the door on NorthStar and wait another 60 years?
NorthStar’s credentials proves that they are more than prepared to take on Vermont Yankee. The company has successfully completed thousands of projects across the country – many of them more complicated than Vermont Yankee. I am confident that the PUC and NRC’s review of the company will result in a well-deserved certificate of public good.
Unfortunately, our state has a well-earned reputation for being unfriendly to business, and if the review process is too long and costly, we could ultimately see NorthStar withdraw its bid for this project. While the review process is necessary and good for Vermont, it’s important that it’s not drawn out by unnecessary roadblocks, lest Vernon lose out on a brighter economic and environmental future.
Early decommissioning offers many benefits to Windham County, both immediate and down the road. Our local stores, hotels and restaurants can expect a business boom from hundreds of NorthStar workers as onsite demolition begins. Also, under the proposed plan, a new employer could be established on the Vermont Yankee site within the next ten years, bringing jobs, tax dollars and charitable giving to the region. That’s an example of the kind of economic development that Vermont needs.
NorthStar’s purchase of Vermont Yankee is just one economic development project in Vermont, but it’s a significant one. Vermonters throughout the state will be watching to see how this process plays out. We should all work towards making it an opportunity and not a regret.
Brad Ferland, of St. Albans, is president of the Vermont Energy Partnership, a coalition of businesses, labor organizations, individuals and economic development organizations committed to policies of safe, clean, affordable and reliable power in Vermont. Entergy is a VTEP member.