Democrats say uprate proceeds should go to energy needs

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(Host) The Legislature will play a key role in how the state spends a $20 million payment from the new owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. The Douglas administration wants to use the money to clean up Lake Champlain and other projects. But top lawmakers want the money to be targeted at economic development, and they want to bring down the cost of electricity.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) For months the Douglas administration was skeptical about Vermont Yankee’s plans to boost its power output by 20 percent. But the administration decided to back the controversial plan after Entergy, the company that owns Vermont Yankee, pledged to pay $20 million over nine years. About $8 million would go to a clean water initiative, including control of toxic algae blooms in Lake Champlain.

But lawmakers have other ideas. And targeting the money to clean up polluted waters is not a top priority.

(Susan Bartlett) “I don’t happen, at this point in time, to think that that makes much sense at all.”

(Dillon) Lamoille Democratic Senator Susan Bartlett chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. She says the Yankee money should be directed toward energy-related issues, such as programs to lower the cost of electricity.

(Bartlett) “This is coming around power. It’s not coming around pollution, cleaning up the lake, trying to meet clean water standards. And there are more than sufficient needs in the area of energy that would be of long term benefit, to helping with, I’m sure, the cost of energy, and the reliability of energy that’s provided to Vermonters. So I think this money should be tied to those types of changes in Vermont.”

(Dillon) Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch, a Windsor County Democrat, has joined forces on the issue with Republican House Speaker Walter Freed. Welch has serious questions about the Yankee power upgrade plan. But he says if the Public Service Board approves it, the payment should go to help nearby communities in southeastern Vermont.

(Welch) “The Legislature should really be overseeing the appropriation process. That shouldn’t be a private negotiation between the utility and the administration. And number two, we do believe this is an opportunity, if there’s more money, to do what is long overdue: economic development initiatives in the Connecticut River side of the state.”

(Dillon) Governor Douglas says he believes that cleaning up Lake Champlain and other waterways helps the state as a whole. He points out that Entergy-Vermont Yankee supplies one-third of the electricity for the entire state. So he says the benefit from the company’s payment should be used statewide as well.

(Douglas) “I think the plan we put together is important. Lake Champlain and the other waterways have been impaired for far too long. The algae blooms are so severe, they’re impairing our boating, fishing, and swimming and tourism industries. We’ve got to get serious about this multi-hundred million dollar clean up. And that’s why I think the plan we negotiated is the right one.”

(Dillon) The Vermont Yankee payment is contingent on Entergy winning approval from state and federal regulators for the power increase plan.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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