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Voices / Viewpoint

One lone group challenges VY sale

Where rest of Vermont sees opportunity, the Conservation Law Foundation sees only problems. If the CLF gets its way, the result would be disastrous for the region.

Guy Page is the communications director for the Vermont Energy Partnership, an energy-policy coalition comprised of more than 90-plus Windham County and Vermont individuals, labor organizations, development associations, and businesses, including Vermont Yankee. He is also a member of the coordinating committee of the ISO-New England Consumer Liaison Group, providing electricity consumer education about New England power transmission and generation.

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Over the past several weeks, the proposal of the sale of Vermont Yankee has gained momentum through the passage of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and the overwhelming support demonstrated for the project voiced at the April 12 Vermont Public Utility Commission meeting in Brattleboro.

While almost every other interested party sees the sale as an environmentally sound, well-funded, community-supported path forward to decommissioning the state’s only nuclear power plant, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) sees only problems.

It’s a decidedly minority opinion.

On March 2, four state agencies, the town of Vernon, the Windham Regional Commission, two Abenaki tribes, and the New England Coalition, a longtime anti-nuclear organization, all backed the sale.

In addition, plant owner Entergy and buyer NorthStar agreed to higher environmental commitments and tens of millions of additional financing and insurance dollars.

The lone holdout among the negotiators was CLF, a New England-based advocate of renewable, distributed power generation and transmission.

* * *

CLF isn’t just a disgruntled citizens’ group with a website. As an intervenor in the upcoming Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) judicial hearings of the proposed sale, CLF may introduce and rebut testimony and question witnesses. However, CLF’s knowledge of NorthStar’s plan is limited, due to its choice not to sign a non-disclosure statement protecting certain contract information. If CLF was truly concerned about transparency, it shouldn’t have soaped its side of the window.

CLF’s hand-wringing about a lack of financing and insurance seems overdone, almost ludicrous, given NorthStar’s added financial assurances. In the March 2 agreement, NorthStar added $15 million in financial support, established a $30 million escrow fund, a $25 million subcontractor guarantee, and a $30 million pollution liability insurance policy in addition to what was already considered to be a well-financed plan.

Furthermore, seller Entergy took an unprecedented step of good faith by providing what amounts to an insurance policy to take effect in the unlikely event that NorthStar financing is insufficient.

CLF has made it apparent that it will try its lawyerly best to sow doubt about a financially strong, transparent plan. The nine signers of the MOU and its many other supporters in Windham County and statewide, on the other hand, have delivered strong, unequivocal statements in support of the sale before the PUC.

Now, we can only hope the PUC makes the right choice for our economic future by ruling in NorthStar’s favor.

* * *

The alternative would be disastrous. Entergy and NorthStar leaders have both stated that additional financial burdens could force a withdrawal from the settlement and jeopardize project viability.

If that happens, the town of Vernon would be saddled with an “as-is” defunct nuclear power plant for a half century, rather than a prime industrial centerpiece available for redevelopment in as soon as 10 years.

For the sake of Vernon and Windham County’s economic future, let’s let the sale go through.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #458 (Wednesday, May 9, 2018). This story appeared on page E3.

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