VERNON — For many, the jury's still out on whether a New York company can or should decommission Vermont Yankee.
But Vernon's elected leaders have made up their minds.
The town's Selectboard recently voted unanimously to urge the state Public Service Board to approve the former nuclear plant's sale to NorthStar Group Services. Officials also sent a letter to the state to formalize the support of the plant's host town.
Town officials wrote that they are “confident in the company's ability to complete the decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee site and their willingness to work with the community to ensure the best interests of Vernon and Vermont are satisfied.”
NorthStar and Entergy, the plant's current owner, have filed an application with the Public Service Board requesting approval for NorthStar's acquisition of Vermont Yankee. The sale also is subject to review by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
NorthStar has promised to decommission and restore most of the site by 2030, and possibly as early as 2026. Entergy had been planning a long period of dormancy that could have pushed decommissioning completion all the way to 2075.
A confident decision
While no one objects to the concept of an earlier cleanup, there are questions about the experience, expertise, and finances of NorthStar and its proposed project partners.
But Vernon Selectboard harbors no such doubts after talking with NorthStar and researching past decommissioning projects.
“We've gotten to hear the plans from both [companies], from Entergy and NorthStar,” Selectboard Chairman Josh Unruh said in an interview. “I think, in general, we've been happy with those things that we've heard as individual Selectboard members.”
Unruh said he has appreciated being able to talk directly with NorthStar Chief Executive Officer Scott State, and he said he has expressed the importance of redeveloping the Vermont Yankee site.
That sentiment is underscored in the Vernon Selectboard's letter: “As a community faced with the challenge of moving forward in the wake of Vermont Yankee's closure, residents are optimistic that reuse of the property will be beneficial,” board members wrote.
The letter mentions the work of the town's Planning and Economic Development Commission, which has been looking for projects that might “re-energize” Vernon.
Unruh said town officials also have talked with NorthStar about eventually acquiring some Entergy property. In particular, the town has expressed interest in the historic Governor Hunt House, which is situated outside the plant's main gate.
The discussion has centered on “how important it is to the history of the town, and how we hope that could somehow become part of Vernon as a town through this decommissioning process,” Unruh said.
Unruh's opinion of NorthStar is clear: “They want to be a partner with the town as much as Entergy has been, it seems.”
Vernon has maintained a strong relationship with Entergy even as the company has run into vehement opposition from other quarters. Some believe a long-running battle with anti-nuclear activists and state officials hastened Vermont Yankee's shutdown, though Entergy has cited economic factors.
The drastic difference in the town's interaction with plant owners is “because Vernon has pursued that relationship to the fullest extent,” Unruh said. “These folks are our neighbors ... and in turn, those folks have done what they can to help the town of Vernon.”
It doesn't hurt that Vernon's leadership generally has been unabashedly pro-nuclear.
Former Selectboard Chairwoman and state legislator Patty O'Donnell is an outspoken Entergy ally. And Unruh recently traveled to Ohio to tell Vernon's story and to testify in support of a state bill that would grant “zero emission credits” to nuclear plants.
“If we could build a new nuclear plant and bring our families and friends back to Vernon, we would do it in a heartbeat,” he said, according to a written summary of his testimony. “In turn, we would be able to bring back clean, reliable energy and ensure stability to our economy and our power grid.”
Unruh said he doesn't have much patience for critics of NorthStar's plans in Vernon.
“It's difficult for me to hear the internet scientists of the world ... who think they know what the process is,” he said. “That's why I trust the NRC ... and the Public Service Board to make sure this sale is the right thing for Vermont and the right thing for Vernon.”