House, Senate leaders critical of Yankee settlement

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(Host) Two key lawmakers have criticized a deal that may allow the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to boost its power output by twenty percent.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) Entergy, the company that owns the state’s only nuclear plant, promised a lot of money to win the state’s support for the power increase plan. Two million dollars would go to a fuel assistance fund for low income Vermonters. Entergy has pledged $7.1 million to help clean up Lake Champlain and other waterways; another $200,000 would go to promote new business development; and the company has promised to pay up to $4.5 million to cover the cost of shutdowns that may result from the power increase.

Governor Jim Douglas defends the Yankee deal as good for the state overall.

(Douglas) “I believe that nothing is more important to the future of our state than three areas that are included in the settlement that we’ve reached with Entergy. First of all, the purity of our water, and it’s not just Lake Champlain, it’s all the waterways of Vermont. Secondly, economic development, the creation of new jobs in our state, to expand the opportunities to create new jobs especially for young people, and a portion of it would go for economic development efforts. And thirdly, to help Vermonters of low income pay their energy costs during the winter.”

(Dillon) But an unusual coalition of powerful legislators oppose the Entergy deal. House Speaker Walter Freed, a Republican, and Democratic Senator Peter Welch, both say that if the nuclear safety issues are addressed, the Entergy money should be directed to southeastern Vermont, where the Yankee plant is located. Freed says the money could be targeted to help the financially depressed industrial towns along the Connecticut River.

(Freed) “We could do industrial enterprise zones, of some type from White River Junction to Vernon, making use of a lot of vacant factory buildings to subsidize or provide at that point low cost power. In this area that could make Vermont much more competitive and much more attractive to bring manufacturing, to bring value added jobs back across the river or to retain them here in that region.”

(Dillon) Welch – who’s from Windsor County -warns that the Legislature will try to re-direct the Entergy money if the Douglas administration doesn’t change course.

(Welch) “The administration has made a unilateral decision without any consultation with legislators or any folks in the area. And the speaker and I are concerned about that and will use the legislative process to try to use that money in a way that benefits the region that has hosted Vermont Yankee.”

(Dillon) The Yankee proposal is also under fire from nuclear power critics, who say it’s unsafe to try to squeeze more power out of a 30 year old reactor.

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

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