Editor’s note: This commentary is by Guy Page, of Berlin, who is the communications director of the Vermont Energy Partnership, a power policy coalition.
The advantage to Vermonters of the sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar can be summed up this way: sooner rather than later.
As early as 2021, NorthStar would begin a decade’s worth of decommissioning. By comparison, the original decommissioning plan as prescribed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission would begin no sooner than about 20 years from now, and more likely around 2072.
This advanced schedule means that sooner rather than later, NorthStar’s plan can stimulate broad-based employment and prosperity for retail, food and lodging, housing, and health care sectors, as well as government spending on schools, roads, public safety and other vital services in Windham County and throughout the state. Total estimated economic impact: $781 million [Brattle Group study, 12/15/2016].
During regular operations, Vermont Yankee employed over 600 professionals in good-paying jobs. For a five-year period, NorthStar decommissioning will add approximately 1,000 jobs (onsite jobs and secondary spending combined) per year to the local and state economies.
Notably, the funding for decommissioning won’t come from local or state taxpayers, but from the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Trust Fund, with more than $550 million in asset value. Properly managed with the oversight of the NRC as it has been to date, it will fund the entire decommissioning project, and the funds will begin to be unlocked much sooner with NorthStar.
The NorthStar sale also would mean that sooner rather than later, low-level radioactive waste will be safely shipped out of state.
Decommissioning is NorthStar’s core competency as an ongoing business. It has helped decommission more than 300 related projects, including four nuclear power plants in New England. NorthStar has also conducted NRC-approved decommissionings from start to finish for several nuclear reactors at universities and other institutions.
Before it can begin the work, NorthStar must pass the scrutiny of both the Vermont Public Service Board and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The PSB has already opened a docket on the case, and has invited public input through the submission of comments online or through public testimony at two anticipated public meetings this year.
The NorthStar sale also would mean that sooner rather than later, low-level radioactive waste will be safely shipped out of state. NorthStar’s plan to move this material out of state pre-processing – known in the industry as “rip and ship” – will get low-level waste out of Vermont promptly. This removal by no later than 2030 compared to up to 60 years is most welcome. Also, NorthStar proposes to build an eight MW solar farm onsite as soon as 2026, according to the Brattle Group study.
The NorthStar sale would also mean that Vernon, the rest of Windham County, and the state of Vermont can benefit from the presence of a new employer on the Vermont Yankee site. This employer – possibly an energy producer or computer data center, for example – will mean, high-quality employment, with the resulting private and public sector economic benefits.
Perhaps even more important for Windham County and Vermont, a strong, good-paying employer can help create an attractive atmosphere to attract more jobs. Economic development experts say the big problem with Vermont is that not enough high-demand managers, engineers and IT professionals want to live here — at least, not outside of Chittenden County.
Our cultural, educational, medical and other “quality of life” resources pale in comparison to many other states. This reality may hurt our Green Mountain pride, but many people prefer the lifestyle in places such as Chapel Hill or Austin.
A large, blue-chip employer is a quality-of-life cornucopia: from it will come better schools, more arts, and more attractive neighborhoods. If we want Windham County and Vermont to draw highly skilled young Vermonters or transplants, we must cultivate employers who will provide economic opportunity for us, our children and our grandchildren.
Here is a winning scenario for Vermont — the sale of VY to Northstar and a speedy transition to start decommissioning the site. Let’s embrace the opportunity to advance the timeline for the plant’s decommissioning. It will provide much greater benefits much sooner, and that’s a good thing for Vermont.