Committee Looks At Economic Impact Of Vermont Yankee Closure

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(Host)  Last year’s state Senate vote to deny Entergy Vermont Yankee a 20-year license extension means the Vernon plant is scheduled to close next year.

But planning for that closure is just beginning locally. The Senate Economic Development Committee met in Brattleboro on Wednesday to discuss the economic impact of losing Vermont Yankee, and what can be done to soften it.

VPR’s Susan Keese was there.

(Keese) Vermont Yankee is among the largest employers in Windham County, with about 650 workers, though only about half of them live in Vermont.

Its high paying jobs account for 5 percent of the local wage base, with a payroll of around $60 million dollars.

Many of the people who spoke at the hearing emphasized the plant’s large contributions to local charities and volunteer efforts. Others talked about what will happen as workers lose health insurance.

Brattleboro Town Manager Barbara Sondag says the full impact of the plant’s closure is still unknown.

(Sondag) "That’s why were looking for experts to come, that’s why we’re trying to find out what’s happened in other places.  Most of the studies that have been done with this particular area show that there’s a large multiplier effect for loss of employment and show that there’s a large impact for not only jobs but property values."

(Keese) Sondag says the county has been losing jobs and seen declining wages as it is. She says the loss of Vermont Yankee will make the current problems more than twice as hard to deal with.

Even those who support the closing acknowledge that it won’t be easy. Windham County Senator Peter Galbraith is on the Economic Development Committee, and he’s been pushing for state and local officials to get involved in planning.

(Galbraith) "I stress that while the issue of Vermont Yankee has itself been very divisive… we have something in common in wishing to make sure that its departure is not going to be damaging to our economy."

(Keese) Essex-Orleans Senator Vincent Illuzzi chaired the hearing. He asked the speakers at the hearing for suggestions on how the state can help the region ‘transition to the post Vermont Yankee Era."

John Mullin of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst wrote the final report on the closing of the Rowe Yankee Plant in nearby  Massachusetts.

He advised pressuring the plant to begin decommissioning immediately, rather than waiting 60 years as Entergy has suggested. He says the decommissioning process can provide high-paying jobs for up to a decade.

(Mullin) "If decommissioning goes over a long period of time, then the absolute number of jobs lost will be far fewer."

(Keese) Mullin also advised Vermont to do a better job at leveraging federal money to help states in economic crises. He says Vermont lags behind other states in making use of the money.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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