Locals back NorthStar plan to decommission Vermont Yankee at NDCAP meeting

Brad Ferland

I attended the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP) meeting on Thursday, May 25 in Brattleboro. During and after the meeting, I was too pre-occupied with preparation, speaking, and driving three hours home to St. Albans to process much about the meeting. Looking back, though, I see the meeting as extremely valuable. 

The NDCAP should be commended for inviting the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NorthStar and Entergy to hear Vermonters’ concerns and support for NorthStar’s plan to decommission Vermont Yankee, and answer questions directly. This was a rare opportunity for Vermonters to learn from and speak directly to federal decision-makers. Present were legislators, town officials, representatives from the environmental and industrial development arms of state government, not-for-profit organizations, and – most importantly – many citizens who care deeply about their town, region and state. The exchange was honest, in-depth and informed. Again, thank s to the Chair Kate O’Connor and the NDCAP for convening this highly informative forum. 

As I told the NRC during the public comment section, the opportunity to have Vermont Yankee acquired by NorthStar is great news for Vermont. Instead of waiting 60 years, Vernon and Windham County could have a prime industrial site ready for redevelopment in less than 10 years. And in the meantime, the project would deliver robust economic activity throughout the area’s economy. This project is a true game-changer for an area that suffers from high unemployment and significant under-employment. 

Even among the longtime critics of Vermont Yankee, there was general concurrence that NorthStar’s goal of finishing by 2026 and releasing the site for redevelopment is a good thing. With regard to NorthStar’s financial strength, and some other issues, here are my “two cents” worth: 

Cutting-edge industry leaders such as NorthStar became leaders by figuring out ways to work smarter than the competition. Forcing NorthStar to share its trade secrets  with everyone, would put its entire business model at risk and  need only be shared with the members of the PSB. Even our state utilities such as Green Mountain Power are not required by the PSB to disclose the cost of power in their power purchase agreements with Hydro Quebec, for example, to everyone. 

Only clean materials such as concrete will remain onsite. Filling excavated holes with clean material is a long-standing accepted practice because it eliminates hundreds of round-trips of heavy trucks on local roads, addresses a need for the decommissioning plan and is cost-effective.

NorthStar would start work with an estimated cushion of $73 million over the total cost of the project, and also has contractor bonding, insurance and additional financial guarantees to protect against unexpected added costs. The NRC will scrutinize the work as it progresses and can, if necessary, require the site owner to shore up the decommissioning fund. As they made quite clear at the NDCAP meeting, the owner of VY is on the hook for decommissioning, no one else.

In short, I’m confident that the NRC and the Vermont Public Service Board can answer all of these questions adequately and approve the plan while addressing realistic concerns. That’s good for Windham County and Vermont, because the alternative is to do no decommissioning work for almost 60 years, to the detriment of the local and state economy. 

The author is a St. Albans resident and president of the Vermont Energy Partnership ( www.vtep.org ), 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.

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