45 towns to vote on Vermont Yankee’s future

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(Host) On Tuesday, at least 45 towns will consider the future of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

The Town Meeting resolution urges the legislature to vote against Yankee’s request to operate after its license expires in 2012.

As VPR’s John Dillon reports, the votes may show what some towns think about the state’s energy future:

(Dillon) Backers hope the votes on Tuesday will put pressure on lawmakers and influence the legislative debate.

Dan DeWalt of Newfane helped organize the petition drive to get the vote before Town Meetings around the state.

(DeWalt) “Citizens who have an opinion on this subject can contact their legislators and lobby them directly. Or if you have a Town Meeting Day vote, it’s another way to get a sense of the town. I think it’s going to help the legislators stand up to what seems like an almost inevitable last-minute attempt by Yankee to sweeten the deal.”

(Dillon) The Yankee plant first went on line in 1972. Its license expires in three years, and it wants approval to operate until 2032.  Vermont is the only state in the country that also allows the Legislature to vote on license extension.

The town meeting resolution urges lawmakers to vote no. And it asks the legislature to require the plant’s owners to make sure it has enough money set aside to dismantle the plant in 2012.

In the Statehouse, lawmakers have devoted weeks of work to Yankee and electric power issues in general.

(Klein) “My job is to make sure that their votes are based upon sound, good, thoroughly researched and well-documented information. So that’s the job inside the building.”

(Dillon) East Montpelier Democrat Tony Klein chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

Klein says the Town Meeting resolution may not have not have much influence inside the Statehouse.

(Klein) “I don’t think it helps. I don’t think it hurts to have these resolutions. It at least lets folks know what the mood of the state may be on the information. Do I think a legislator is going to vote one way or another just based on that? I don’t think so.”

(Dillon) The backers of the resolution have asked Vermont Yankee officials to attend debates and forums before Town meeting, but the company has declined.

Rob Williams is a Yankee spokesman.

(Williams) “Given that we have limited resources, we’re not in a position to really participate well in the Town Meeting forum. But we have put in quite a lot of effort at the legislature to ensure that those legislators have the information they need to make a well-reasoned decision.”

(Dillon) The Legislature is now on a two-week break. And James Moore with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group says the state’s energy future will be a hot topic with voters, even if the issue isn’t debated at their particular town meeting.

(Moore) “Regardless of whether there’s a vote, they’re going to be talking to their constituents about this. And they also have to take into account the more kind of technical information that they’re being given here, in Montpelier, in the Statehouse. And it will be a mixture of those things that determines … how they ultimately vote Vermont‘s energy future with or without Vermont Yankee.”

(Dillon) The resolution also raises the issue of replacement power. It says that Vermont can meet its energy needs from renewable sources and from power sold in the New England market.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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