Related Events

 

 

Date TBD The Vermont Public Service Board's informational session and public hearing on the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar Group Services at Vernon Elementary School has been postponed due to the snowstorm.

 

Archived News and Events

 

 

This page contains archived news and events related to the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant decommissioning and its socio-economic impacts on the tri-county region. 

 

January 2016

      1/27/16: Few Economic Offsets for Vermont Yankee's Pullback

December 2015

      12/11/15: Dec. 15th Regional Issues Series: Broadband                Connectivity and Economic Development

     12/7/15: Dec. 9th Webinar about Nuclear Plant                            Decommissioning and Community Engagement

October 2015

10/18/15: Local Economies take a hit when Nuclear Plants Close

September 2015

9/24/2015: VY Closure: Big Impacts are Slow to Show

August 2015

8/25/2015: The Closing of a Power Plant Affects Three Regions

8/3/2015: Entergy gift of $350,000 to go toward economic development

July 2015

7/13/2015: The Economic Sides of the VY Plant Closing Will Air on Local TV

7/9/2015: A By-product of the VY Closing: The Institute for Nuclear Host Communities

June 2015

6/2/15: When the Charitable Contributions Wind Down

May 2015

5/5/15:  Meeting of the Tri-Region Economic Development Stakeholders

April 2015

4/30/15: Vermont Yankee Coordination Meeting

4/5/15: It's Time to Plan, Act to Deal with Vermont Yankee's Closure

4/3/15: Planning Commission Effort Seeks to Address Socio-Economic Impact of VY Closure

March 2015

3/11/15: It's up to us to Make Resiliency Happen 

February 2015

2/26/15: Asking for More Numbers

2/19/15: Meeting about the "PSDAR"

 

 


 

 

 

Few Economic Offsets for Vermont Yankee's Pullback

January 27, 2016

 

Three months from now the remaining workforce at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt. will be further cut in half, leaving about 150 employees at a company that for decades was one of the area’s largest employers.

 

The cuts, large as they are, are all the more meaningful for the economic context in which they’re occurring where few businesses are starting up or expanding and where studies show the population’s demographic coloration is trending grey.

 

 

The projected job reductions at Yankee continue a series of staff reductions that began in earnest a year ago when the 600-megawatt reactor, a major economic presence in the region since 1972, shut down. Last year at this time the payroll was cut from about 550 workers to a little more than 300 workers, most of them compensated well above local averages at more than $100,000 per year. Plant owner Entergy Corp. next plans to reduce staff in 2020, leaving about 50 jobs, most of which will likely be in the mid-level pay range.

 

The cuts, which independent economic-impact studies say could have a ripple effect in the contiguous areas of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts on the order $100 million annually, could deliver a real punch to Cheshire County where roughly one-third of Vermont Yankee’s staff lives.

 

So far, the local jobless rate hasn’t gone up, in part because a great many departing Vermont Yankee workers found nuclear-industry jobs in other parts of the country. Recent jobless rates in the Brattleboro and Keene areas are in fact better looking than a year ago – about 3 percent in both locales, with the number of claimants for jobless benefits flat and the size of the active labor force generally unchanged.

 

Meanwhile, however, signs of job growth in the market are scant, and indeed the jobs picture is even less appealing than it was just months ago.

 

The other day plans for a public-private hydroponic business at Keene’s landfill were scrapped for financial reasons. The site for the project, which held out the prospect of 25 jobs in an eye-catching green enterprise – fish and vegetables growing partly on methane gas releases from the landfill – had been the setting for an upbeat economic development photo-op last year.

 

Equally sobering is the fact that independent efforts to find a commercial reuse of the sprawling Troy Mills complex in Troy have also lost steam, according to recent press reports. 

 

 

Meanwhile, talks that Monadnock Economic Development Corp. had been having with three prospects for Cheshire County towns in Vermont Yankee’s shadow – talks that had been supported financially by a grant from Entergy – have yet to yield results, according to Jack Dugan, the head of the Keene-based economic development unit.

 

Additionally, no new hirings at local companies have been announced in recent months. The only significant expansion prospect that’s getting any attention at all is a planned retirement community in Keene – a project whose purpose underscores the principal demographic direction in local waters.

 

Among other sobering measures of economic activity, charitable contributions by Entergy that in the three-state Vermont Yankee impact area averaged $300,000 annually were almost entirely cut off with the plant’s closing 13 months ago, and real estate reports show a continued softening in prices, unlike what’s happened in other parts of the state and nation. Chris Masiello of the Keene-based Masiello Group, describes what he calls a “recalibration” of local pricing that was in motion even before the nuclear plant closing. Local sales of homes were up in Cheshire County in 2015, to 585 (up from 532 the year before), but the average price was $174,760, down from $181,427 in 2014.

 

Local interests are certainly trying to light matches to get new economic activity going. The Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce has been running a series of public talk sessions about local economic needs, and the city of Keene has mounted an effort to direct fresh energy to its east side where hundreds of thousands of industrial, retail and commercial space stands empty. Further, the Keene-based Southwest Region Planning Commission is working with contemporaries in Vermont and Massachusetts to coordinate economic development planning documents and explore opportunities for collaboration.

 

And across the Connecticut River in Vermont developers and private interests are pushing for new ways to help fill some of the vacuum left by the nuclear power plant, including a gas processing facility on the Vermont Yankee site.

 

But, two-and-a-half years after Entergy unexpectedly announced its plans to shutter Vermont Yankee, and a little more than a year since a University of Massachusetts analysis spelled out the considerable economic consequences of Vermont Yankee’s closure, no new employment prospect of any heft has surfaced to help make up even some of the difference.

 

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Dec. 15th Regional Issues Series: Broadband Connectivity and Economic Development

December 11, 2015

 

In another installment in a series of public discussions about the Keene area economy following the closure of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce will draw attention to the importance of high-speed Internet access. The public session is financed partly by a grant from Entergy Corp., the owner of the power plant in Vernon, Vermont.

 

Registration is free. The event runs from 7:30-9:30 a.m. Dec. 15 at the Alumni Center at Keene State College.

 

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Dec. 9th Webinar about Nuclear Plant Decommissioning and Community Engagement

December 7, 2015 

On December 9, 2015 from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) will host a webinar to highlight issues that communities face when a nuclear plant closes.

 

The webinar will introduce participants to the closure and decommissioning regulatory process which currently lacks local influence in closure and decommissioning decision-making.

 

Two local people who are closely focusing on the impact of the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant – Chris Campany of the Windham Regional Commission and Jennifer Stromsten of the Brattleboro-based Institute for Nuclear Host Communities – will participate in the webinar.

 

To learn more about the webinar or to register, click here.

 

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Economic development in the wake of the Vermont Yankee closing

By James A. Rousmaniere Jr.

November 12, 2015

 

Nearly a year after the first major layoffs at the now-shuttered Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, uncertainties about long-term local economic repercussions continue to mount. But planners and economic developers in the area today have new resources that might help soften the blow.

 

In separate actions, Yankee’s parent company and government granters at the state and federal levels have been directing money into the affected parts of New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts to support economic development efforts.

 

Not all of the money has been put to work as rapidly as some people had expected, and, to be sure, the ultimate sum is likely to be a pittance against Yankee’s disappearing payroll. But funding announcements during the last 12 months represent a pronounced departure from what’s happened in other parts of the nation where power plants closed without any outside assistance to help communities adjust to non-nuclear futures.

 

To take one example, in August plant owner Entergy Corp. cut a check for $350,000 to help developers and planners in the Monadnock Region adjust to the new circumstances.

 

Above: State officials and local interests pose with a facsimile of a $350,000 check by Entergy Corp. to be used for economic development activities in the region. From left: Chris Way, NH Dept. of Resources and Economic Development; Michael Twoomey, Entergy Corp.; Jack Dugan, MMEDC; Molly Kelly, NH State Senator; Phil Suter, Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce; Chris Wamser, Entergy Corp.; Tim Murphy, Sothwest Region Planning Commission.

 

A year ago that money wasn’t in the cards. Now it’s in local hands, and the intended use of the funds presents a revealing study of what sorts of actions can fall under the umbrella of economic development.

 

Of the $350,000 total, two equal amounts of $50,000 are going to the Keene-based Southwest Region Planning Commission and the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce. Neither organization is a nuts and bolts developer. The two agencies say that they intend to use the sums mainly to stimulate local long-term thinking about how to transition beyond the end of Yankee’s $100 million annual contribution to the tri-state economy and also to help reverse general economic declines that were already showing up before the plant went off line.

 

In September the chamber used some of its Entergy funding to launch a series of public meetings about local conditions such as the decline of younger workers, and also to draw attention to aspects of the economy that aren’t widely understood, such as the connection between early childhood development and strong workforces in the future. Next topics include the role of high-speed Internet services and reliable transportation in the economy. Phil Suter, the chamber’s president, says the public sessions are aimed at nudging local businesses to get active in economic development and push for support -- whether in the state capital of Concord or in Keene.

 

For its part, the Southwest Region Planning Commission says that it’ll use some of its new funds to update an economic plan that it first assembled 10 years ago. The underlying document contains an inventory of local economic conditions and a roster of strategic recommendations, such as improve the housing stock for local jobholders.

 

The document, which is formally called a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS, for short), has been updated several times over the years, but Planning Commission head Tim Murphy says, “with a changing economic landscape, we run the risk of it becoming antiquated.” That’s significant, since federal assistance for economic development purposes is guided to some extent by what’s contained in CEDS documents. Murphy said that the updating will probably be completed in 2016.

 

He also said that the Commission will match some of the Entergy grant with additional outside funding for a survey of economic needs over the region that takes in southwestern New Hampshire, southeastern Vermont and north-central Massachusetts. Organizations similar to the Commission in those neighboring areas have compiled their own CEDS documents in recent years. In a planned collaboration with those organizations, Murphy said, “We want to see what we have in common and where we might be able to work together.”

 

The remaining $250,000 of the Entergy grant will be used byMonadnock Economic Development Corp.(MEDC) the Keene-based non-profit developer. President Jack Dugan says that $125,000 of the sum will help support MEDC’s general operations in the five most directly-hit communities of Chesterfield, Hinsdale, Keene, Swanzey and Winchester, and the remaining $125,000 will be used to match and otherwise leverage federal and other public funds to build a loan and investment pool for those communities that ultimately could exceed $2 million.

 

The map above shows the number of Vermont Yankee employees who resided in Southwestern New Hampshire towns during 2011. The towns with the most employees include Hinsdale, Keene, Chesterfield, Swanzey, and Winchester.

 

Dugan, who over the years has built a record of innovative financing for private and non-profit businesses and government entities, said in an interview that he imagines that the investment pool could be used for a variety of debt financing, royalty financing and the purchase of equity stakes in local enterprises.

 

He broadly described three current but still-confidential prospects for financial support: (1) a Massachusetts-based business that’s eyeing a move to the region, (2) a local start-up that Dugan described as being well-capitalized and (3) an existing business that says that it needs room to grow.

 

In addition to the Entergy grant, other outside fundings have been prompted by the Vermont Yankee closing. For example, early this year the planning commission received more than $10,000 from the New Hampshire state government to organize and publicize information about the local effects of the plant shut-down, the idea being to get people talking about how to respond.

 

Plus, the commission is in line to receive $10,000 from the non-profitBrattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) out of a larger grant that that agency received in August from the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA); the $10,000 will help support the commission’s participation in the coordinated economic planning effort that covers the three contiguous parts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont that are most affected by the Vermont Yankee shutdown.

 

 Above: The "Tri-County Region" includes three contiguous counties in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

 

The larger grant, which totaled $265,000, is to be used mainly by the Brattleboro agency to help move along two ideas that were spelled out in that region’s most recent CEDS document: the creation of new industrial cluster in the field of environmentally-friendly building construction and also the launch of an effort to encourage entrepreneurs to set up shop in the region in what’s being referred to as a business innovation accelerator.

 

Last December both those targeted ideas won the blessing of state officials in Montpelier who approved more than $170,000 of financial support. The money represented some of the first disbursements from yet another source of economic development support -- a $10 million fund for Windham County, Vermont that came out of a legal settlement between Entergy and the Vermont state government.

 

The fund, which is to be financed by five annual installments of $2 million from Entergy, is unique in the annals of power plant closings in the nation, and the record of applications and disbursements so far indicates there are things to be learned about running such a program.

 

Some proposed projects sailed through the application process with apparent ease. One example is the $300,000 clean-up of a section of Bellows Falls by the non-profit Bellows Falls Area Development Corporation to accommodate a new home for the locally based Chroma Technology, a high-tech optical filter and medical products maker.

 

But many other applications for funding last year were rejected for not meeting the terms economic development, among them a $237,000 request by Landmark College in Putney to set up an on-line division. Ultimately less than $1 million was disbursed the first year.

 

The application process has since been redesigned, but requests for loans or grants have apparently been reduced to a trickle. Some critics say the granting process is too complicated and others say that the $10 million Windham County fund is directed mainly in Vermont’s state capital of Montpelier, with the effect of slowing the process.

 

While not commenting specifically on the mechanics of the $10 million Vermont fund, MEDC’s Dugan in Keene described a different approach on the eastern side of the Connecticut River. “The decisions here are local,” he said.

 

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Officials say government needs to do more when nuclear plants such as Vermont Yankee close

 

(The following article initially appeared in The Keene Sentinel on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015.)

 

By James Rousmaniere Jr.

 

AMHERST, Mass. — John Mullin, a University of Massachusetts professor who’s studied the local effects of nuclear power plant closings, says the federal government ought to give those closings the same amount of money and attention that it reserves for its dismantling of military bases.

 

 

 

“I think it’s an obligation of America to take care of this,” Mullin said at a conference at UMass Amherst Wednesday, which examined the intricacies and lasting impacts of nuclear power plant closings. By “take care of this” he meant, in part, provide money to help local communities find ways to replace the payrolls and other economic contributions of nuclear power plants after they close.

 

 

Governments have no record of such action — with privately owned property at least. Beginning in 1991, the federal and Massachusetts state governments spent many tens of millions of redevelopment dollars for new uses for Fort Devens, a sprawling military base west of Boston that employed thousands of people, but that was a government-run operation on government-owned land.

 

 

 

Still, said Mullins, nuclear power development and operation was a national priority for decades. “There’s some moral obligation that goes with that,” he said.

 

 

 

In August, the federal Economic Development Administration issued a $265,000 grant to the nonprofit Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. to launch a couple of industrial start-up plans and also to help coordinate economic redevelopment planning with officials in Cheshire County and in Franklin County, Mass.

 

 

 

The grant supplemented a round of funding last December that was spurred by the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon. The money resulted from lobbying by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and it was an exception: None of the dozen or so other nuclear power plant closings elsewhere in country since 1991 was followed by such assistance from Washington.

 

 

 

Until very recently, the local effects of nuclear plant closings have drawn little attention from anyone. Mullin’s first paper on the subject, in the 1990s, described the socio-economic decline following the closing of the Yankee Rowe nuclear power plant in Rowe, Mass., early that decade. He said that Internet traffic to the report was fairly modest for quite some time, on the order of only 25 or so hits annually, until about three years ago, when the numbers climbed to 300 per year. They’re now hitting 1,000 per year.

 

 

 

Mounting interest in what happens after nuclear power plants close was also reflected in the very event where Mullin spoke Wednesday — a panel discussion at the International Conference on Soils, Sediments, Water and Energy by the Association for Environmental Health & Sciences Foundation, which was heavily attended.

 

The Brattleboro-based Institute for Nuclear Host Communities — a new organization that took shape following the surprise 2013 announcement by the Louisiana-based Entergy Corp. to shutter its fully licensed Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant — hosted the panel discussion where Mullin, among others, remarked that the rules and standards for what happens after nuclear plants close aren’t neatly spelled out. The concern is particularly acute for communities around so-called merchant power plants such as Vermont Yankee, which are power generators that lack any continuing interest in sustaining the economies of the surrounding area, such as regulated utilities have.

 

“We are at the front edge of the decommissioning of merchant plants,” said Trey Martin, a Vermont state official who said that much concerning the shutdown of nuclear power plants has yet to be spelled out, such as what’s to happen to non-nuclear waste on power plant sites, and also whether a community can force a power plant operator to clean up its site immediately or instead wait 60 years to get the job done.

 

Chris Campany, head of the Brattleboro-based Windham Regional Commission, succinctly described the current decommissioning process that involves a jumble of uncoordinated federal and state agencies overseeing radiation, the environment, transportation, human safety and so on: “It’s a mess.”

 

Campany said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now getting down to writing rules for plant decommissioning, but he said that the public hasn’t been invited to help draft any of the rules.

 

Uncertainties over the details of nuclear plant closings, including what it might take to restore former nuclear plant sites to subsequent uses, were what led to the formation of the nuclear host community group.

 

The event Wednesday drew representatives from Plymouth, Mass., where the Entergy-owned Pilgrim power station last week was earmarked for closure in 2019; Keene, Brattleboro and Greenfield, Mass., all of which are concerned about Vermont Yankee; the Seabrook area, where a nuclear power plant operates; and Oswego, N.Y., where the Entergy-owned FitzPatrick nuclear power plant is being considered for early closure.

 

Jennifer Stromsten, a principal in the nuclear host community group, said she’d like to see a national conference on the subject. There are about 100 nuclear power plants operating in the United States today, all of which will see their operating licenses expire in 20 years.

 

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Local Economies Take a Hit When Nuclear Plants Close

(The following article initially appeared in The Boston Globe of Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015.)

 

By James Rousmaniere Jr.

Shortly after getting word last week that the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station would shut in 2019, Kevin O’Reilly, head of the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce, said his first concern was for the nearly 600 Pilgrim workers.

 

But a more complicated and broader concern for O’Reilly involves the economics of his community after Pilgrim stops generating electricity. Pilgrim’s annual payroll of $77 million, including benefits, will fall to a fraction of that figure within five years, based on the histories of other nuclear plant closings. Some 500 jobs in local businesses that sell goods and services to the Pilgrim plant and its employees will be put at risk, as will some $10 million in property taxes — about 7 percent of Plymouth’s levy — and $300,000 a year that the plant contributes to local nonprofits, according to a recent economic effects study.

The Town of Plymouth, MA will be hard-hit by the closing of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power state. Image source: Wikipedia.org

 

“Our job now is to understand how other communities have been affected,” O’Reilly said, “and also how they have reacted.”

 

He won’t have many happy stories to draw on. Nuclear plants have long been “sugar daddies” to their host communities, many of them in rural areas where flagship companies — and their loss — make a real difference in employment, business activity, charity, and tax payments.

 

Rowe, in Western Massachusetts, still hasn’t recovered from the 1992 closing of what was then the oldest commercial nuclear power plant in the nation, Yankee Rowe. Rowe’s property tax collections took a serious hit — the plant’s tax payments represented 33 percent of all tax revenues. A major supermarket in town closed, and plans for a new local restaurant were scrapped.

 

Wiscasset, a small community in mid-coast Maine, hasn’t found an economic engine with anything close to the oomph of Maine Yankee, which closed in 1996. High school enrollments are half what they were back then, and sewer and utility services are no longer free to residents.

 

We’re still feeling the loss of jobs, the economic downturn, and the huge tax increases,” said Laurie Smith, the town manager.

 

In Vernon, Vt., on the banks of the Connecticut River near the Massachusetts border, the shutdown of its nuclear power plant, Vermont Yankee, in December cut off hundreds of thousands of dollars of charitable contributions for everything from school science projects to local theaters to a summer baseball league.

 

Meanwhile, in upstate New York, state legislators are scrambling to prevent the closing of the FitzPatrick nuclear power plant in Oswego County, near Syracuse, because it generates $17 million annually in local property taxes and a payroll of $74 million, the largest around. Entergy Corp. of New Orleans, which also owns Pilgrim and the Vermont Yankee, recently said it is considering shuttering FitzPatrick because of competition from power generators using low-cost natural gas.

 

Awareness of what these plants mean to local economies will probably spread as more nuclear plants are pulled from service by owners squeezed between the high costs of maintaining aging facilities and the falling price of natural gas. Over the years, the economic effects of these plants were often obscured by concerns about safety, environmental effects, and future energy supplies.

 

Such was the case with the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which employed about 600 workers before the shutdown. Through all the years of debate and legal challenges about the plant’s ultimately successful effort to win a 20-year license extension in 2012, there was little public discussion about its role in the local economy.

 

After Entergy unexpectedly announced plans to shutter Vermont Yankee, a regional government group across the state border in Franklin County commissioned the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts to measure the plant’s local economic punch. The institute projected a drop in the company payroll from $80 million to about $2 million, and a loss in overall economic activity of $100 million — a huge hit to an area that has few big private employers and weak job growth.

 

Even before the Donahue report — indeed, even before Entergy in 2013 announced plans to close the plant — a small group in nearby Brattleboro, Vt., had begun to examine what the eventual and inevitable closure of the plant could mean to the region, which encompasses parts of Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

 

The leader of that group is Jeffrey Lewis, a former Boston area businessman who retired to Brattleboro only to find that retirement didn’t come easy. His interest in economics led him to ask whether anyone in the community had given a thought to what would happen when Vermont Yankee inevitably closed its doors.

 

Entergy Corp. announced last week it is closing Pilgrim plant in Plymouth no later than 2019.

 

“There was no folder that said, ‘When Vermont Yankee closes, open this folder,’ ” Lewis, 71, recently recalled.

 

Lewis pulled together a group that included John Mullin, a professor at UMass Amherst who has studied, and continues to study, the effects of the closing of Yankee Rowe nearly a quarter-century ago.

 

The group, called the Institute for Nuclear Host Communities, helped produce the report about the Pilgrim plant’s economic contributions in association with Plymouth officials. That was before there was any talk of the plant’s closing — Pilgrim is licensed to operate until 2032.

 

Anticipating more plant closings among the nearly 100 nuclear plants operating in the United States, Lewis’s group has organized a conference on the subject at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst Oct. 21. His goal is to help develop a network of communities around the nation, most of them rural and remote, to help their economies prepare for the inevitable, whether it comes with the expiration of operating licenses or before.

 

Lewis conceded he doesn’t have any specific strategies for communities right now but said getting them to talk about the prospect and share experiences is a good first step in developing responses to plant shutdowns. In the region around Vermont Yankee, for example, local officials quickly mounted campaigns to win hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from federal and state governments and plant owner Entergy for revolving loan programs to help local companies expand and new companies get started. But those grants came in a scramble — only after the plant’s closing was announced.

 

Nuclear power and economic development specialists say the earlier communities begin planning for their post-nuclear economies, the better. At a conference on nuclear plant decommissioning in New York last week, authorities said communities and states with nuclear plants should develop the political clout and know-how to win important concessions down the line, such as requiring plant owners to clean up their sites shortly after they close so the properties don’t remain blighted and unusable for decades — a sure turn-off to new businesses considering moving to town.

 

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VY Closure: Big Impacts are Slow to Show

By James Rousmaniere Jr.

September 24, 2015

Three-quarters of a year after the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant flicked the “off” switch, the local impact of the closure has been spotty. To be sure, local charitable giving by plant owner Entergy has declined precipitously, and residents of the Vermont town where Yankee’s holdings constituted one-half of the local property tax base are seeing big cutbacks in some government services.

 

Still, broad economic repercussions aren’t visible. “The trickle-down effect still isn’t affecting us yet,” said Kate O’Connor, head of the Brattleboro Chamber of Commerce. Across the river in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, town administrator Rick Carrier said, “Common sense would be that there must be some consequence of big economic change in the area. I haven’t seen it.”

 

New Hampshire Economist Dennis Delay says that the region isn't currently poised for growth. See more from his forecast here.

 

The apparent absence of economic bruising is surprising given the battering that’s been experienced in other regions where nuclear plants shut down. Plus, economists have been saying that the plant closure means substantial cutbacks in payroll and local spending by Vermont Yankee.

 

There are explanations for the seemingly moderate impact, and they’re worth examining lest the generally benign impression so far lull the public into expecting more of the same and, at the same time, lead people to overlook economic downtrends that were already presenting themselves when the plant shut down last December.

 

So, why no signs of pain?

 

For one, workforce reductions at the plant, which at its height employed about 600 people, have been arranged in phases, and in a great many cases Yankee’s owner provided replacement jobs elsewhere in the country. Jeffrey Wimette of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Vermont reports that about 85 percent of the local unit’s members who’ve been cut from Yankee so far have found work at other plants; another 10 percent retired and only about 5 percent were left without jobs. Meanwhile, state labor officials in Vermont have worked closely with labor authorities in neighboring New Hampshire and Massachusetts to coordinate job fairs and other services for displaced workers; they’re about to begin scheduling more collaborations for the next round of Yankee layoffs that’s scheduled for next spring.

 

Another explanation for the seemingly light impact so far is the fact that local suppliers of goods and services to the power plant generally counted on Yankee for only a minor share of business. One such supplier was Washburn Vault Company, a Hinsdale-based maker of pre-cast concrete products. Nate Reil, manager of the 8-person custom-manufacturer, said the company made quite a few products for the power plant including such things as manhole covers and stops for parking lots, but the orders never came to more than 5 percent of overall volume. There’ve been no orders since the plant shut down last December, and Reil said that Washburn’s job numbers have remained unchanged.

 

In at least one case, the Yankee closure actually meant increased business for one Brattleboro enterprise. Gouger’s Market, which is a short drive from the plant, had provided products and services to Yankee for 18 years, and earlier this year it signed a contract to operate a café at the plant during the early stages of decommissioning. Jeff Gouger, who runs the market, described the deal as “a big boost.” But the contact ends in February, he said, and from his perspective the shut-down is bad for the local economy overall. “It’s definitely not a positive,” he said.

 

Still, there’s little visual evidence of distress beyond the rising number of “For Sale” signs on houses in the area, Walk or drive through downtown Brattleboro and you’ll notice that most storefronts are occupied and that many sidewalks in evening hours are full of pedestrians; you’d likely be surprised to hear that a major economic engine in the community was in shut-down mode.

 

Greg Worden, whose Vermont Artisan Designs sells beautifully-crafted house wares, art and books, offers one possible explanation. While his business has been off somewhat this year, he said that there’s a positive feeling in the air, an upbeat psychology. He attributes that at least partly to the downtown’s recovery from two major hits in 2011 – first a big fire and then a devastating flood. The impression: resiliency. As for the impact of the closing of Vermont Yankee, he said, “There’s no hard evidence of a downside – yet.”

 

That there’s a likelihood of downside is beyond question. Otherwise, the federal Economic Development Administration might not have pledged, as it recently did, hundreds of thousands of dollars of redevelopment money to the Brattleboro area, and Entergy might not have cut a check to the Monadnock Economic Development Corp., the Southwest Region Planning Commission and the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce to be used for economic development purposes.

 

Meanwhile, community leaders in southwest New Hampshire are showing increased interest in economic development. On September 15, they packed the first of a series of meetings organized by the chamber of commerce in Keene to generate talk about how to reverse economic trends that were already showing up in the region before Yankee shut down.

 

The speaker at that meeting, economist Dennis Delay of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, presented a series of slides that projected a future of very slow growth and in some cases decline. You can view his presentation here.

 

In light of those projections, there’s concern that the local economy lacks the kind of resiliency it’ll need when the real effects of the Vermont Yankee closure begin to register.

 

UPDATE: Vt Digger, the independent journal, reported that some people are considering the possibilityof building a natural gas processing plant in Vermont, Vermont, the home of the now-closed Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

 

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The Closing of a Power Plant Affects Three Regions

By James Rousmaniere Jr.

August 25, 2015

UPDATE: The federal Economic Development Administration has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant funding for economic redevelopment in Windham County, Vermont. 

 

The contiguous areas that include Keene NH, Brattleboro VT and Greenfield, MA differ from one another in obvious ways. For example, each region is located in its own state, meaning that residents of one region pay taxes that differ from those that are assessed elsewhere, and students in the different areas observe school calendars that start and end on different dates. Further variations can be found in the business regulations that people in the different states must follow and in the rules that govern the registration of cars and motorcycles that they drive.

 

 

But there are similarities and common interests among these regions, too. For example, the color of the landscape around Keene, Brattleboro and Greenfield is generally green. Each of the communities has a hospital and at least one college. And the percentage of local jobs that are in manufacturing in each community is higher than the national average, reflecting a shared history of industrial development.

 

For all these pleasing similarities, the three areas also share some negatives. For one, none offers much in the way of public transportation. Each is part of a rural region where broadband Internet connectivity is spotty. None has much political clout in its respective state capital. Each is seeing increases in the population of retirees and declines in the numbers of young workers. Incomes in each region are generally stagnant and noticeably lower than the state average, and real estate prices in each community remain soft, even as home values in other parts of New England rebound from the 2008 crash.

 

There’s one more similarity. Each of the three communities is beginning to feel the impact of the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, an economic engine just south of Brattleboro on the western shore of the Connecticut River that until very recently pumped close to $100 million annually into local markets through wages, taxes, grants, purchases of goods and services, and charitable contributions.

 

The economic impact of last December’s plant closing was generally spelled out by the Donahue Institute think tank at the University of Massachusetts late in 2014. The report was commissioned by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, a regional planning agency based in Greenfield, after plant owner Entergy Corp. unexpectedly announced plans to shutter Vermont Yankee.

 

Notably, Franklin County already had felt the body blow of a nuclear plant closing: two decades earlier a reactor in the town of Rowe was shut down, setting in motion a pronounced long-term economic decline. So it was understandable that planners there would want fresh information about the possible impact of another plant closing just on the other side of the border with Vermont.

 

Even before the Donahue study came out, representatives of regional planning and economic development agencies based in Keene, Brattleboro and Greenfield began talking with one another about what, if anything, the plant closing might mean.

 

They now have an improved sense of what lies ahead. Using information supplied by Vermont Yankee, the Donahue Institute forecast that Windham County VT will lose 204 power plant employees, Cheshire County NH will lose 176 and Franklin County MA will lose 101 – all of them paid well above local average salaries. Total direct payroll, including fringe benefits, are projected to fall from $82 million annually when the plant was operating to about $1 million six years from now.

 

The plant shut-down is unique in one respect. In no other case in the United States has a nuclear plant’s closure been spread over three contiguous counties in three contiguous states. That means that the economic impact will spread over three political jurisdictions, meaning that no single white knight is likely to emerge to help soften the blow for the combined region.

 

As part of a negotiated agreement with Vermont’s state government, Entergy pledged $10 million to help in the economic recovery in Windham County VT; Entergy also recently gave $350,000 to help local agencies mount economic development efforts in Cheshire County NH. And government officials in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts have offered some help (this informational website, for example, was supported by a grant from Concord). But it’s evident that if there are to be any strategic economic responses to the Vermont Yankee closing, they will likely have to be formulated at the local level.

 

 

To their advantage, representatives from the three parts of the Vermont Yankee impact area in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts are going into the job with useful information in hand. In each case, they have a grip on their regions’ particular economic needs, vulnerabilities and possibilities, thanks to economic appraisals that were promoted by the federal Economic Development Administration. The appraisals, which are exhaustive in range and depth, are called Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies – “CEDS” for short. The CEDS documents for the three affected regions can be found here:

 

Keene area (by Southwest Region Planning Commission) http://www.swrpc.org/files/CEDS_2015_Final.pdf

Brattleboro area (by Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies) http://seveds.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/FINALCEDSReport.2013.pdf

Greenfield area (by Franklin Regional Council of Governments) http://frcog.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2015_CEDS_Plan.pdf

 

The CEDS studies, which are updated at various intervals, vary somewhat in style and design, but they all identify fields of interest or projects where attention ought to be paid. Some years ago, for example, the Franklin County CEDS cast a spotlight on the need for an industrial park in Orange MA; that project has since been built thanks partly to outside funding and now is half-full. Among other steps, the CEDS for the Brattleboro area promoted the development of a green building cluster; that project received $179,000 from the $10 million Entergy economic development fund and now awaits word from possible federal funders.

 

Beyond identifying specific projects, the CEDS also serve as reminders of broad areas of challenge and opportunity. Tim Murphy, the head of the Southwest Region Planning Commission, explained, “Although our economy has weathered the storm of the great recession, we continue to see signs of an under-performing economy. It becomes increasingly important that we remain diligent in maintaining the quality of our infrastructure in transportation and communication and workforce development opportunities while also promoting local businesses and the creative economy.” Almost uniformly the CEDS documents from the three regions point up such concerns.

 

As to what comes of all this – the sharing of economic experiences and concerns among representatives from the three post-Yankee areas -- it’s early yet.

 

Said Adam Grinold, executive director of the nonprofit Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, “The news is that before the closure of Vermont Yankee there was no coordinated effort among the regional planning agencies to understand our shared needs.” Now there is.

 

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Entergy gift of $350,000 to go toward economic development

By James Rousmaniere Jr.

August 3, 2015

If you’re into metaphors, a group of about 20 government and business officials chose an appropriate spot to announce a major gift from the parent company of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant on July 30.

 

Entergy, the Louisiana-based owner of the recently-shuttered power plant, was saluted for a $350,000 cash gift that Keene-area economic development interests say they will use to help the region overcome the loss of the plant’s significant annual infusion of payroll and purchases into the local economy.

 

SEED MONEY FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: State officials and local interests pose with a facsimile of a $350,000 check by Entergy Corp. to be used for economic development activities in the region.

From left: Chris Way of the NH Department of Resources and Economic Development, Michael Twoomey of Entergy Corporation, Jack Dugan of Monadnock Economic Development Corporation, State Senator Molly Kelly of Keene, Phil Suter of the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce, Chris Wamser of Entergy Corp and Tim Murphy of the Southwest Region Planning Commission. The photo was taken at the gift presentation ceremony at the Keene Transfer Station on July 30, 2015.

 

Those interests, which include the nonprofit Monadnock Economic Development Corp., the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce and the Southwest Region Planning Commission, plan to leverage the Entergy gift to fashion a revolving loan fund of an estimated $1 million and also boost other economic development purposes such as broadband development, workforce training and transportation improvement.

 

The setting for the announcement was a freshly clearcut site of several acres on a rise above the Keene transfer station in northwest Keene. The place looks rough, what with huge tree stumps waiting to be bulldozed, crumbling stone walls that surely date back more than a century, mud and dirt that retain the tracks of heavy equipment and piles of logs on the ground.

 

A year from now, the site is expected to look far different by supporting a one-acre greenhouse and an associated hydroponic fish production facility powered by methane gas piped up from the city’s sealed landfill. The privately owned project is expected to produce half a million pounds of lettuce annually, and has been earmarked for a $480,000 loan from Monadnock Economic Development. None of the Entergy grant will go to the biofuel-to-farming project, which is expected to produce 25 new jobs, but the choice of the site to announce the Entergy gift was fitting as it suggests how material progress can be made to happen, even on what looks to be a mess.

 

Entergy was under no legal requirements to make the $350,000 contribution, $50,000 of which will go to the Southwest Region Planning Commission, $50,000 of which goes to the chamber of commerce and the remainder goes to Monadnock Economic Development. But T. Michael Twomey, an Entergy official, said State Senator Molly Kelly of Keene has spoken to him frequently about the area’s need to adjust to the post-Yankee economy – he described her approach as “relentless” – and he said the company wanted “to leave the community in a way that’s responsible.”

 

Tim Murphy, who heads the Southwest Region Planning Commission, said he plans to make efficient use of the funds by exploring options to leverage additional support through federal partners such as the Economic Development Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He referenced on-going collaboration with counterparts in Vermont and Massachusetts as having potential for accomplishing more as a tri-state region than could be accomplished in any one state individually.

 

Chris Way, an official with the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, said talks about economic development concerns began about a year-and-a-half ago, shortly after Entergy announced that the plant would close for competitive reasons.

 

Referencing the several agencies that will split the grant, he said, “collectively, we can move forward.”

 

 

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The Economic Sides of the VY Plant Closing Will Air on Local TV

By James Rousmaniere Jr.

July 13, 2015

The Brattleboro TV show about Vermont Yankee's economic impact in the region can be found here.

 

Ever since the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant stopped generating electricity last December, public discussion about the subject has rarely touched on economic issues. That’s about to change.

 

ON THE SET: Marty Cohn (left) and Ken Swanger, Senior Manager of dry fuels at Vermont Yankee, at the studios of Brattleboro Community TV. 

 

The principal venue for talk about the winding down of Vermont Yankee’s presence have been the sessions of the 19-member Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, a committee that’s comprised of government officials, company representatives and citizens. Discussions there have been pretty much confined to technical and administrative topics such as the handling of radioactive materials on the property, public safety in the area and environmental concerns.

 

For example, the agenda at a June 25th meeting in the multi-purpose room at Brattleboro Union High School included a presentation by the manufacturer of the storage casks that hold spent fuel. As is customary, members the panel and members of the public could ask questions. A Keene Sentinel report about that meeting can be foundhere.  

 

The meetings of the decommissioning panel generally run three hours, and in tone they tend to alternate between lively and dry. There’s a lot of talk about process. You can see for yourself by watching video recordings made by Brattleboro Community TV.

 

In recent months another window on the plant closing has been opened in the form of an interview show on Brattleboro Community TV. The interviews so far have covered topics that the decommissioning panel has considered – for example, how spent fuel is stored and how emergency planning is carried out – but soon the program will be getting into regional economic subjects.

 

The 30-minute show will explore the economic impact of the closing of Vermont Yankee on towns and cities in southeastern Vermont, southwestern New Hampshire and north-central Massachusetts. Later, it’s expected that the subject of economic development will be scheduled.

 

The host is Marty Cohn, a seasoned public relations professional who’s been retained by Entergy, the nuclear plant’s Louisiana-based owner, to assist its media operations. Cohn’s affiliation is worth noting, but his interviews so far haven’t been advocacy pieces. For example, see the segment on emergency planning.   

 

His planned examination of the regional economic impact of the closing of the power plant will likely include someone from the regional planning field and also Jennifer Stromsten, a co-founder of a new organization that’s studying how local economies are affected when nuclear power plants shut down. The topic is worth examining since nuclear power plants are huge economic engines and their closings have sent some communities reeling.

 

Cohn said that for a future segment on economic development, he may invite onto the show Jack Dugan, the head of the Keene-based Monadnock Economic Development Corporation that’s had a hand in a wide range of redevelopment activities in New Hampshire.

 

Cohn brings a relaxed manner to the show. He’s had wide experience in publicity for private businesses and nonprofit organizations in the greater Boston area, and he’s familiar with TV studios. “When David Letterman retired, I kept my phone open,” he joked.

 

He said that the planned episodes on economics will reach for practical commentary and ideas. For example: “What does economic development look like? How do you plan for that?”

 

New episodes of the program appear on a monthly basis, and Cohn said he has plenty of subject matter. “I have enough topics for at least a year,” he said.

 

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A By-product of the VY Closing: The Institute for Nuclear Host Communities

By James Rousmaniere Jr.

July 9, 2015

Not long after retiring to Brattleboro about a dozen years ago, Jeffrey Lewis made a disquieting discovery: At some point one of the area’s largest companies was certain to shut its doors, yet there was no plan in hand to guide the community through the resulting economic disarray.

 

The company in question was the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, an employer of more than 600 people and a generator of well more than $100 million annually in taxes, wages, purchases of goods and services, and so on.

 

Brattleboro, VT., shown above, is one of the many towns affected by the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. 

 

Lewis had a feel for economics, as his background included positions in marketing, technology, finance and economic development, and his take on the Brattleboro area’s economic prospects wasn’t all that positive: a rural setting with trends of young people increasingly moving out and older people increasingly moving in, few businesses starting up, and no apparent preparation to handle the shock of a major employer shutting its doors.

 

In the case of the power plant, he recalls today, “There was no folder that said, “When Vermont Yankee closes, open this folder.’”

 

Lewis began asking what might happen once the owners of the power plant flicked the “off” switch – whether within months or decades down the line – questions that led to a 13-page report in 2012 that for the first time spelled out what was at stake in terms of lost jobs, lost retail spending, lost taxes, falling home prices, and other economic impacts.

 

The report, written by a task force of the nonprofit Southeast Vermont Economic Development Strategy Planning Group, also roughed out some ideas about workforce training and possible uses of a state-financed redevelopment fund to help prop up the local economy.

 

Since those days, several significant things occurred, starting with the surprise closing of the power plant in December 2014 after it had won a 20-year federal license extension. Still more economic studies have been conducted, and regional planning agencies in the adjoining regions of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts began talking about launching a coordinated redevelopment effort.

 

Meanwhile, struck by what he had seen in the Vermont Yankee case, Lewis began looking at the plant closure not as an isolated situation but the early stage of a phenomenon that would span the country. Sometime in the future more than 60 other nuclear power plants in the United States will shut down, most of them in rural areas that lacked the resources to handle the consequences on their own, and few if any of them in line for the kind of outside assistance that communities around, say, military bases tend to receive when those bases are closed by the government.

 

 Above: This map shows current nuclear power reactors licensed in the United States, including the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Reactor which was licensed to operate until 2032. Image Source: the Nuclear Regulatory COmmission website.

 

With colleagues whom he met through the Vermont Yankee work, Lewis formed an organization that’s geared to help prepare communities for the inevitable closing of nuclear power plants. It’s called the Institute for Nuclear Host Communities.

 

In a recent step, the Brattleboro-based group conducted a study of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Mass. That plant, which is similar in size to Vermont Yankee, is licensed to operate until 2032. But the economics of atomic power generation have been upended by new supplies of low-cost natural gas – as was the case behind the Vermont Yankee closing – which has led to speculation that more such plants may shut down before their licenses expire.

 

The Pilgrim study  which came out in April 2015 was commissioned by Plymouth and authored by a research fellow at the Center for Economic Development at the University of Massachusetts, which is closely allied with the Host Communities organization.

 

The report is less a step-by-step economic plan for Plymouth than it is a set of recommendations for how leaders in the area can craft a mitigation and redevelopment strategy of their own, including ideas about how to approach state and federal authorities for support.

 

As Lewis and his colleagues discovered early on, the Brattleboro area had no such strategy nor prospect of outside government support when Vermont Yankee announced in 2013 that it would shut down. Nor, due to the structure of things, did the owner of the plant, Louisiana-based Entergy, have a continuing interest in the economic health of the region that, had it existed, might have helped eased the blow. Vermont Yankee was a merchant plant – an independent business that supplied electricity to transmission and distribution companies, not a regulated utility whose long-term success depended on the existence of an economically vibrant market around it.

 

All this – the sudden closing, the relative size of the company in town, the novelty of the experience, the absence of a mitigation plan – confirmed for Lewis and his colleagues that there was a lot that people didn’t know.

 

The other day Lewis recalled a gathering that the then-new Institute for Nuclear Host Communities put together in April, 2014 at Landmark College in Putney to discuss the economic impact of nuclear plant closures. About 50 people showed up, including John R. Mullin, a professor at UMass who in 1997 co-authored a report about the impact of the closing of the nuclear power plant in Rowe, Mass. that is becoming a classic in the field. One of the report’s key conclusions is that without advance planning and outside assistance, plant closures can deliver lasting pain.

 

Without advance planning and outside assistance, plant closures can deliver lasting pain.

 

The participants at the 2014 meeting were schooled in finance and economic development, but the subject that they were dealing with – the shut-down of a huge economic engine on a site that can’t be reused easily (or at all), amid tensions over environment and safety and conflicting concerns among state and federal regulators -- was too new, too much. “What it said to us was that nobody’s got an answer here,” said Lewis.

 

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When the Charitable Contributions Wind Down

By James Rousmaniere Jr. 

June 2, 2015

Of the local consequences of the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant last December, one of the least recognized is the end of a significant flow of dollars to the region’s non-profit sector.

 

For decades, plant owner Entergy Corp. has directed as much as $300,000 annually to a range of non-profit health, education, social service and sports organizations in southwestern New Hampshire, southeastern Vermont and north-central Massachusetts where the company’s 600-plus workers lived.

 

The flow of gifts and subsidies by the company has also gone to local government agencies, a recent example being a $20,000 donation last year to Hinsdale’s fire department for the purchase of an all-terrain vehicle.

 

These contributions are separate from the individual charitable activities of Vermont Yankee workers, whose pay levels have been well above local averages. Nor does the company’s annual $300,000 charitable outlay include the many tens of thousands of dollars of grants that Entergy, the Louisiana-based owner of Vermont Yankee, is required to make each year to public safety agencies in the three affected states. The funds eventually find their way to town-level public safety agencies to support emergency preparedness planning and training. Those payments, which in the case of Chesterfield amount to $30,000 annually, will end in 2016 if a recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruling survives an appeal, leaving the towns to decide whether any of those particular emergency preparedness activities should be continued with local taxpayers covering the costs.

 

Except for the Hinsdale ATV gift, most contributions by Entergy have been comparatively small, rarely exceeding $2,000. Further, in most cases the gifts have represented small shares of the operating budgets of local non-profit organizations who have benefited from the gifts.

 

This may help explain why recent studies of the economic impact of the plant closing -- including an analysis that was commissioned by Entergy in 2012 and a report by the UMass Donahue Institute in 2014 – make no mention of Entergy’s local charitable activities.

 

However, nonprofits that have been on the receiving ends of the grants say that the donations have been meaningful.

 

For a series of years, for example, Entergy annually donated $2,000 to Sophia’s Hearth Family Center, an early childhood education organization in Keene. The gift effectively underwrote a home-visit program that helped improve parenting skills and provide activities at home. “They were enabling us to do something that we otherwise would not be able to do,” explained Susan Weber, the director.

 

In another case, until this year Entergy annually donated $2,500 to support the Keene Swamp Bats, a summer college-level baseball team. The sum represented a noticeable component of the organization’s $45,000 fundraising goal. Said Kevin Watterson, the Swamp Bats president, “They were a great sponsor. In addition to the money, they helped ‘fill the park’ on their ‘Night’ with employees, families and friends. They will be missed.”

 

Entergy’s charitable support will also be missed by United Way campaigns in the three United Way regions surrounding the Vernon, Vt., power plant site. The money-raising organizations generate funds for multitudes of local non-profit organizations such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, non-profit food pantries, schools and services aimed at troubled youths. The Monadnock United Way, for example, says that the end of Entergy’s support means the elimination of a $30,000 commitment; the sum reflects both the end of employee giving via payroll deductions and the end of a company match.

 

The lost $30,000 constitutes a relatively small share of the Monadnock United Way’s overall $2 million goal, but the end of the that support comes at a challenging time for this and other United Ways in the region as they grapple with the unrelated ending of employee-giving campaigns at companies that remain in business and a generally lackluster economic recovery.

 

Acknowledging such challenging conditions, the head of the United Way in the Brattleboro area told recipient agencies late last year that their fund allocations would be reduced. “We are losing a major supporter, and there is no way we can make that up,” Carmen Derby, the United Way official, told the Brattleboro Reformer.

 

In most instances, the impact of the plant closing on local non-profit organizations has been immediate, but in a few cases the cutback’s been a scaling down process. Alec Doyle, the head of the non-profit Colonial Theatre in Keene, said that Entergy had annually provided $13,000 of support via a $10,000 show sponsorship, $2,000 in group ticket purchases and $1,000 in program advertising. “They were going to cut back entirely for the current season, but we were able to salvage $2,500 for our educational series. They made it clear this was for this season only and, moving forward, they will have to cease all support,” he said.

 

Generally, however, the hit to non-profit organizations, is jarring and unlike the pronounced yet gradual cutback in Vermont Yankee-related employment that is spread out over half-a-dozen years. From a height of $82 million (including fringe benefits) last year, for example, the company’s local payroll figure is forecast to decline steadily to a projected $2.6 million in 2021.

 

The cuts in financial support, then, have led local organizations to do more with less and also reorient their fund-raising activities.

 

The “Dirty Birds” robotics team at Keene High School is one example. Dean Joyal, the faculty advisor to the team, said Entergy had been contributing $1,000 annually toward a budget of $7,500, and recently upped its gift to $2,000. Other local high-tech firms helped fund the budget.

 

Entergy’s local charitable operations are ceasing, but Joyal says he still imagines a relationship with the company through its corporate charity arm. “I am hoping that even with the closing of the local plant, we will still benefit from national grants,” he said.

 

Still, the picture of Entergy’s local giving is changing radically with the plant closure. Its support of local music programs, volunteer fire departments, visiting nurses organizations, blood drives, charity golf tournaments, school scholarships and the like is ending.

 

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The Regional Approach: May 5, 2015 meeting of the Tri-Region Economic Development Stakeholders

By James Rousmaniere Jr.

 

On May 5, 2015 representatives from the three geographic regions most affected by the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, Vt., met in Brattleboro to discuss their shared interests. They were joined by state and federal officials, including representatives of elected office-holders. The upshot of the meeting was that the idea of a regional response to the closing is worth pursuing.

 

The organizers included:

• The Franklin Regional Council of Governments, based in Greenfield, Massachusetts

• The Windham Regional Commission and Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies based in Brattleboro, Vermont

• Southwest Region Planning Commission, based in Keene, New Hampshire The event was supported by the National Association of Regional Development Organizations (NADO) and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

 

About 50 people attended the session, which was held at the School for International Training in Brattleboro. The event included apresentation of the economic impact report on the plant closing by Branner Stewart of the UMASS Donahue Institute and a working session about possible regional strategies led by Brian Kelsey of NADO.

 

Chris Campany, executive director of the Windham Regional Commission, said of Entergy Corp.’s surprise announcement in August, 2013 to shutter the plant (VY stopped generating power in December, 2014): “It was a good kick in the butt to get us talking and working together.”

 

Campany said that public awareness about the situation needs to be stirred. He noted that a rising share of the local population draws its income from transfer payments such as Social Security and consequently isn’t normally concerned about local economic conditions. He added that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is only just now beginning to examine the host-community impacts of nuclear plant closings in the United States.

 

Kelsey of NADO is a professional economist based in Austin, Texas. Using his background and an “outsider’s view,” he cited a variety of positives in the region, including the relatively high 41 percent share of the over-25 local population that has a post-secondary school education. He also said that the region exhibits a fairly broad diversification of employment -- including manufacturing. “You have a very diverse base of small emerging clusters,” he said, adding, “You’ve got a lot to work with here.”

 

In group discussion, the following points were raised:

 

• In many respects the tri-county region represents the “forgotten corners” of their respective states, which suggests value in a collaborative effort.

 

• A regional economic strategy ought to involve private-sector champions.

 

• Any such regional effort should consider its own budget and staffing, as opposed to being structured as a volunteer enterprise that borrows staff and resources from existing economic development and planning groups.

 

• Such a regional approach should consider certain standards such as no-poaching rules for business recruiters.

 

• A regional strategy should consider recognizing commonalities (as indicated by inter-region and intra-region commuting patterns) and also differences (such as the fact that not all states have the same tax structures).

 

• Cross-state tourism marketing ought to be considered.

 

• Consideration should be given to aggregating existing initiatives such as work force development and efforts of chambers of commerce in the tri-county region.

 

Towards its conclusion, the session’s organizers suggested that they would follow up with attendees summarizing the discussion and possible next steps.

 

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Vermont Yankee Coordination Meeting 4/30/15

By James A. Rousmaniere Jr.

 

On April 30, 2015 a meeting of representatives of local municipalities that are directly impacted by the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant was held at the offices of the Southwest Region Planning Commission in Keene. The purpose of the meeting was to update the representatives on projects and other developments since the group last gathered in 2014.

 

The following municipalities were represented at the meeting: Chesterfield, Keene, Swanzey and Winchester. Representatives from the  New Hampshire Division of Economic Development and Homeland Security and Emergency Management in the New Hampshire Department of Safety also attended.

 

SWRPC representatives presented and discussed three documents:

 

Informational Web Page dedicated to the socio-economic impacts of the plant closure. The online document, launched in 2015, includes original content related to Vermont Yankee  and its surroundings as well as information about other nuclear plant-closings in other parts of the county.

Economic forecasts 2012-2022 by region of New Hampshire, by the Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau of the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security.The document, issued in 2015, shows that, prior to the Vermont Yankee closing, trendlines indicated slow growth for the Southwest Region.

Donahue Institute Report on the Economic Impacts of the Vermont Yankee closure. The report, issued in December 2014 by the Economic and Public Policy Research arm of the University of Massachusetts, estimates, among other things, that total labor income from direct, indirect and induced employment tied to the plant will decline from $107 million from the height of power plant operations to about $1.5 million in 2012.

 

During and following the presentations, there was discussion about the local impact of the plant closing – including the impact on the power plant’s extensive but now contracting  charitable activities - and what steps, if any, might be taken to help mitigate the impact.

 

At the end of the 90-minute meeting, Tim Murphy, Executive Director of the Southwest Region Planning Commission, asked the participants to reflect on what steps could be taken in the event that resources for further action were made available. He also advised the municipal representatives that SWRPC staff will soon approach local city and town officials to offer a walk-through of the new website. He added that the group will likely be asked to reconvene in the not too distant future in 2015.

 

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It's Time to plan, act, to deal with Vermont Yankee's Closure

April 5, Keene Sentinel

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst is a useful, if underutilized, philosophy for dealing with economic unknowns, be they personal finances or large-scale economics.

For decades, this region has readily accepted the huge economic upside of having a nuclear power plant in our backyard. Even when it was clear the plant was aging, evacuation plans were terrifyingly inadequate and, post 9/11, the plant posed a large and inviting target for terrorists, we continued to savor the high-paying jobs, the public relations-driven corporate largesse and the more-affordable utility bills that Vermont Yankee made possible.

...

 

To read more, click here.

 

 

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Planning commission effort seeks to address socio-economic effect of VY closure

April 3rd, Keene Sentinel

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff

 

A Keene-based regional planning commission plans to bring together public and private resources to address the socioeconomic impact on the region from the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

 

Southwest Region Planning Commission officials announced recently they will launch the effort with the goal of coordinating a strategy that draws on public and private interests in the tri-state area of New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.

 

To read more, click here.

 

 

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It's up to us to Make Resiliency Happen

March 11, 2015 Keene Sentinel

By James A. Rousmaniere Jr.

 

Twenty years ago, machine tool maker Kingsbury Corp. in Keene and Troy Mills in Troy were robust economic engines, directly employing well more than 1,000 people; today their giant factories stand empty.

 

Twenty years ago, C&S Wholesale Grocers, a food distributor that got its start in Worcester, Mass., before moving to Brattleboro, had no offices in Cheshire County; today C&S, now the largest food distributor in the United States, is headquartered in Keene, and locally employs more than 1,000 people.

 

This kind of economic succession runs through our history. Local companies that long ago turned out water wheels, locomotives, textiles and glass products have been replaced by manufacturers of high-tech optics, precision machinery and medical instruments, as well as by colleges, health providers and insurance firms.

...

To read more, click here

 

 

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* FEB. 26, 2015: Asking for More Numbers

Feb. 26 NDCAP Meeting in Brattleboro

*Featured News

The local economic impact of the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is being calculated mainly through reductions of wage income to Vermont Yankee workers as well as compensation to workers at (a) external suppliers to the plant and (b) workers who provide services to Vermont Yankee staff outside of work, such as restaurant staff, hairdressers, grocery store employees, and so on. The total annual labor income directly and indirectly associated with the plant has been calculated at $107 million by the Donahue Institute of the University of Massachusetts; that figure will fall to a projected $3.5 million after 2021.

 

There are other economic considerations that magnify the impact, including spending on contracted services by outside suppliers – local construction companies, plumbers and the like. Some of this spending is implicit in the Donahue Institute’s wage calculations, but not all. At the NDCAP meeting in Brattleboro on Feb. 26, several residents of Massachusetts communities said they wanted more information about the economic impact of the plant closing; one of them reported that the Greenfield City Council had passed a resolution calling more numbers.

 

Joseph Lynch, an Entergy representative, said that the plant uses about 40 outside suppliers in the market area. He said that during the first two months of 2015 Vermont Yankee paid out roughly $1 million to these outside interests. He provided some detail, but SWRPC has asked for additional information by which to gauge the local economic impact of the plant shut-down. We’ll share the information once we get it.

 

Much of the three-hour discussion on Feb. 26 dealt with safety concerns, including how long Vermont Yankee will continue to pay funds to agencies in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts in the emergency response planning. Entergy currently distributes $4.5 million annually for this activity, and wants to suspend all payments; critics among the 100 or so public attendees at the meeting said that such payments should continue for the next five years, until all spent fuel is shifted to dry cask storage. There was also talk about whether the 10-mile emergency evacuation zone will shrink now that the plant is no longer generating power.

 

For a full video record of the meeting via Brattleboro Community TV, please click here.

 

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* FEB. 19, 2015: Meeting about the "PSDAR"

*Featured News

On Feb. 19, 2015 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public meeting in Brattleboro to air and take comments regarding Entergy Corp’s long-term plans for its out-of-service nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vermont. 

The plans are spelled out in a document that’s formally titled the Post Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR). It’s a long and detailed document, written by the company, which describes what Entergy has in mind for the storage of spent fuel, decontamination, public safety, financing, real estate and so on over the coming decades. The PSDAR and other Vermont Yankee decommissioning news and reports can be found on the Entergy-sponsored site at http://vydecommissioning.com/.

 

About 150 members of the public attended the session, which was one of the last NRC meetings of its kind in the area for quite some time – an indication of the power plant’s late stage of life. The next phases, running out four or five decades, are geared to lead ultimately to the removal of the physical plant – a process that’s projected to cost more than $1 billion overall.

 

The PSDAR plan doesn’t address socio-economic issues in the region. Its focus is on the physical site and the environmental and public safety components going forward.

 

The plan came in for some harsh criticism in the three-hour meeting. State officials complained that details on radiological monitoring are lacking and that emergency planning is inadequate; further, they said that language about remediation of the property on the banks of the Connecticut River is too spare. There were also complaints about plans for the disposition of non-radiological waste. Additionally, more than a few of the 20 or so critics of the PSDAR charged that the document gives little assurance that the company’s decommissioning fund will be sufficient to meet all contingencies.

 

NRC officials at the hearing emphasized that they do not have the authority to approve or reject the company-drafted PSDAR – a stance that led some participants in the gathering to question whether – or how – alleged deficiencies in the document can be changed.

 

 

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