Nuclear power plant tax draws opposition

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas and the owners of Vermont’s only nuclear power plant are both opposing a tax on the plant to pay for new climate change initiatives.

The tax is part of a Senate plan to fund new energy conservation programs. It’s now the subject of a fierce lobbying effort at the Statehouse.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Senate leaders say the idea behind the Vermont Yankee tax is simple. The plant stores high-level radioactive waste near the Connecticut River. Some of that waste comes from new power sales that generate solid profits for the company. So the company should pay a tax on the waste or the profits.

Senate President Peter Shumlin says the money, about $37 million over five years, is needed to expand energy conservation programs statewide.

(Shumlin) “The gross profits that are accruing to Entergy right now in the range of $20 to $30 million a year were entirely unanticipated by them when they bought the plant. This is a fair way to fund an energy efficiency utility that will reduce Vermonters dependence on oil.”

(Dillon) Entergy is scrambling to kill the tax. The company has an ally in Governor Jim Douglas. The governor at his weekly news conference said the proposal is another example of Democrats proposing a new tax.

(Douglas) “And I certainly want Vermonters to conserve, and I’ve supported initiatives to encourage them do so. But I think there’s a lot more work to be done before embracing some new tax and new bureaucracy.”

(Dillon) But Shumlin says the Public Service Board would oversee the expansion of the efficiency utility, and then send it back to the administration and legislature. He says the new efficiency programs would not go into effect until 2009.

(Shumlin) “So the argument that a bureaucracy is being created here for which we’re not going to get a chance to review is just false. It’s a red herring. It’s a way to try and minimize a really important investment in Vermont’s future.”

(Dillon) Entergy officials were busy lobbying lawmakers against the plan. Chris Dutton, the president of Green Mountain Power, joined them in opposition.

Dutton said his company is now negotiating with Yankee for a new power contract after 2012. Dutton says the tax proposal adds an unexpected wrinkle to the negotiations.

(Dutton) “So nothing is free. If a business has a tax, it’s got to collect the cost associated with that tax from its customers, one way or the other, sooner or later, it has to.”

(Dillon) But proponents of the climate change bill and the Vermont Yankee tax held their own lobbying blitz in the Statehouse. James Moore is an energy specialist with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

(Moore) “The bill is designed to foster new jobs here in Vermont. It’s going to Vermont contractors, Vermont architects, Vermont engineers and technicians who are going to be designing the buildings of our future that will use less energy and cost less to operate.”

(Dillon) The advocates point to a state study that says Vermonters could save almost $500 million over 10 years, if their homes and business were made more energy efficient.

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

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