BRATTLEBORO—Windham County could benefit from millions in economic-development and site-restoration funds, according to an agreement reached by the state and Entergy over the fate of its Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor.
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) announced last week by Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin included funding for a county bracing for the economic impact of the plant’s closing in 2014.
The MOU also proposes an end to the litigation between the company and the state.
Fulfillment of the MOU is contingent on the plant receiving a Certificate of Public Good (CPG), an active proceeding of the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB), a contingency that has drawn fire from at least one local anti-nuclear watchdog group.
A ‘vote of confidence’ in economic-development process
Included in the agreement, if approved, is $10 million for economic development in Windham County.
“We’re excited. There’s no question,” said Patricia Moulton Powden, executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC).
The Entergy funds will flow to the county through the Agency of Commerce & Community Development in $2 million increments over five years, she said.
Before taking the reins at BDCC, Moulton Powden served as the workforce development coordinator with the agency.
She is also part of the Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategy (SeVEDS), a six-year process to address the lagging Windham County economy and develop a path to economic prosperity.
The SeVEDS process resulted in a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), released in early December. The CEDS serves as a roadmap for economic development projects in the region.
The economic development monies from Entergy will funnel through goals and priorities laid out in the CEDS document, said Moulton Powden.
Half of the $5.2 million slated for the state’s clean-energy fund will also fund eligible clean-energy projects in Windham County, said Moulton Powden.
Additional funds for site restoration to turn the land occupied by the nuclear plant into a green field will be available as part of the plant’s decommissioning.
Top priority for BDCC and SeVEDS is “capacity building,” she said.
The BDCC and SeVEDS are jointly looking to hire three new positions: a marketing director for the Southern Vermont Sustainable Marketing Strategy project, a property redevelopment director, and a project manager coordinating the development of what SeVEDS is calling the region’s “innovation ecosystem.”
“People capacity is the primary priority at this point,” Moulton Powden said of the new hires. “[BDCC and SeVEDS need] some people in the door” to manage the CEDS projects, she said.
Developing jobs and creating new opportunities for former VY employees also tops the list, Moulton Powden said.
Representatives from SeVEDS testified before a joint House committee hearing on Oct. 28, requesting $2.3 million for Windham County economic development activities, including funding for the three new positions.
The BDCC and SeVEDS teams have communicated with the state about the region’s economic needs, she said. The teams have not communicated with Entergy directly.
Moulton Powden said she has been told that having a CEDS in place tipped the money scales in the county’s favor.
“Frankly, [Entergy’s $10 million] is a vote of confidence that we’re heading in the right direction,” she said.
The creation of the CEDS and the inclusion of the $10 million in the agreement between Entergy and the state stand as products of the long SeVEDS process, she said. Although no one can predict how the private sector will continue to invest in the region, Moulton Powden said that economic development continues to step forward.
“The planning in and of itself is an accomplishment,” she said. “We’re not standing still.”
“[This agreement] speaks volumes about Entergy recognizing its responsibility and willingness to support regional economic development,” she added.
Moulton Powden takes Entergy’s pledge for a shorter decommissioning timeline as a sign the community “is not kicking the can down the road for two generations.”
State Rep. Michael Hebert (R-Vernon) praised the agreement.
“I was very optimistic and fully expected Entergy to hold up its end of the bargain,” he said.
Hebert sits on the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP). He said he proposed at a fall VSNAP meeting that the board allow DPS Commissioner Christopher Recchia latitude when negotiating with Entergy.
Previous board directives for Recchia drew too many lines in the sand, he said. “You don’t slap somebody in the face and then say, ‘Let’s talk,’” said Hebert. “You talk first.”
Meanwhile, some Vernon residents remain anxious about the changes ahead.
“They’re nervous,” Hebert said. “People don’t know what will happen in a year and a half, and no one has answers [for them].”
‘Critical decisions in Entergy’s hands’
Not all parties have welcomed the MOU with open arms.
“Hell’s bells,” said Raymond Shadis, the technical advisor for the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution (NEC), which has opposed the plant for over 40 years.
Fresh from a conference call with all the parties in Entergy’s CPG docket before the PSB, Shadis said the MOU “raises a huge amount of issues.”
“What we have is an agreement that leaves a lot of the critical decisions in Entergy’s hands,” he said.
Entergy and the state have dropped an anvil into the center of a five-year legal proceeding, said Shadis. The PSB must figure out how to meet the dual requirements of an evidentiary process into Entergy’s March 2014 deadline for the MOU.
Which brings Shadis to his next hangup with the MOU: the whole thing is contingent on Entergy getting its CPG.
Of the “all-or-nothing attitude,” Shadis said, “I call it rude.”
The DPS is asking for comment from interveners this week on how best to proceed with the docket, said Shadis, who hopes the state agency will retain jurisdiction over the plant’s post-operation activities and the decommissioning process.
Entergy has thrown money at the problem, said Shadis, adding that the company did the same thing during the hearings for its request to boost the plant’s generation capacity by approximately 20 percent.
The 2006 “uprate” effort was successful. “At the time we called it, ‘the price is right’,” said Shadis.
“[Entergy] is so sharp a dealer that you really, really, really have to examine the fine print,” he continued.
Still, Shadis said he sees positive movement.
The state had very few “high cards” to negotiate with, he said, calling the very existence of negotiation and a MOU encouraging.
Entergy has bought into the idea of keeping the process and conversations open, said a heartened Shadis.
“There’s a lot of moral strength in the motion of [the state and Entergy both] listening,” he said.