Vermont Yankee tax battle intensifies

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(Host) The battle at the Statehouse over a plan to tax the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant to help pay for new energy efficiency programs is intensifying.

A coalition of Vermont’s largest employers opposes the tax because they say it sends a negative message to state’s business community and threatens future power contracts with Vermont Yankee.

Backers of the tax say there’s no foundation to these arguments.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Senate President Peter Shumlin wants to impose a windfall profits tax on Entergy, the company that owns Vermont Yankee, because he says the plant has recorded huge unexpected profits in recent years. Shumlin says the tax is fair because rising oil prices have allowed Entergy to sell its power at much higher prices on the spot market.

Under the bill, Vermont Yankee would pay roughly $34 million over the next 5 years.

Chris Dutton is the CEO of Green Mountain Power. He says the tax sends a terrible message about Vermont’s business climate:

(Dutton) “If you see that Entergy is taxed in this way the thought I would believe immediately occurs to you – Well am I next? Am I the next target of this kind of taxation?”

(Kinzel) IBM also opposes the plan. Spokesperson John O’Kane says the availability of reasonably priced power is critical to the state’s future business growth:

(O’Kane) “Without dependable large scale baseload power as it’s called, it’s always on, it’s always reliable, it’s reasonably priced. Without that you cannot have reliable manufacturing in this state. It becomes that simple. So we have got to look very carefully at the consequences of this.”

(Kinzel) The business leaders said the energy efficiency programs have a lot of merit and they suggested that the Legislature take several million dollars from the state’s clean energy fund to initially finance the global warming initiative.

Senator Shumlin is holding firm on this issue. He says the Clean Energy Fund is needed to finance other important renewable energy projects and he says the time has come to take a strong stand on global warming.

(Shumlin) “Global warming and the destruction of this plant is the single greatest challenge that our kids and grand kids are going to face. And we have lots of people in the status quo who don’t want to make change. They want to stay with our addiction to oil. They don’t want to see Vermont lead the way for the rest of the country to show some of the ways that we can stop that addiction to oil and they want to keep everything just the way it is.”

(Kinzel) Shumlin rejects the idea that the Vermont Yankee tax sends a negative message to the state’s business community.

(Shumlin) “The only businesses that should be worried about this tax in terms of sending a message are any businesses who are planning to site high level nuclear wastes in Vermont. Those businesses should worry.”

(Kinzel) The legislation could be up for action on the Senate floor later this week.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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