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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.

 

The Regional Economic Impact of the Closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant

 

The socio-economic impact of the Vermont Yankee closing is such that the Southwest Region Planning Commission is devoting time and resources to helping the public understand the situation in the interests of developing appropriate responses and strategies. Information, resources, case studies, related news and events, and an overview of the Vermont Yankee decommissioning can be found using the links in the menu to the left. 

 

RECENT NEWS & EVENTS

Vermont Yankee’s Decommissioning to be Accelerated by Decades

 

Press Release from Entergy Corporation

November 8, 2016

 

VERNON, Vermont – Entergy Corp. (NYSE: ETR) announced today an agreement to sell Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee and transfer the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses to subsidiaries of NorthStar Group Services, Inc. to accelerate decommissioning and site restoration by decades. In addition, Entergy announced plans to accelerate the transfer of all spent nuclear fuel to dry cask storage at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, from 2020 to 2018. The sale of Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee (ENVY) is subject to closing conditions, including approval by the NRC and the Vermont Public Service Board. Entergy and NorthStar will ask the Public Service Board to approve proposed site restoration standards that are generally consistent with those of other regional decommissioning projects.

 

The companies anticipate that the transaction will close by the end of 2018. “By accelerating decommissioning, we are fulfilling a commitment we made in 2013 to decommission Vermont Yankee as soon as reasonably possible,” said Bill Mohl, President, Entergy Wholesale Commodities. “Decommissioning and site restoration, drawing on NorthStar’s expertise, will provide economic development for the region.” Mohl added, “For Entergy, this transaction enables us to manage financial risk and reduce our company’s merchant power footprint.” NorthStar, based in New York, is one of the premier US dismantling and remediation companies and is partnering through a subsidiary with industry leaders AREVA, Waste Control Specialists and Burns & McDonnell to perform specialized services drawing on each company’s core competencies.

 

The NorthStar team members have collectively worked on more than 300 nuclear and non-nuclear power plant projects over the past 15 years and bring deep expertise in complex and specialized tasks such as reactor vessel segmentation, waste packaging/transportation/disposal, environmental remediation, site closure and spent fuel management. “Our in-house expertise, combined with the proven track record of our partners, provides the complete package of skills needed to ensure the timely, safe, cost-efficient decommissioning and restoration of the Vermont Yankee site,” said Scott State, NorthStar’s chief executive officer. “Our primary objective is to complete the decommissioning of the non-Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation portion of the site decades earlier than originally planned so that a majority of Vermont Yankee can be re-developed to promote business for the region.”

 

Under Entergy’s original schedule, as outlined in its Post Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report filed with the NRC, Entergy expected to initiate decontamination and dismantlement in 2068, with projected completion of both decommissioning and site restoration by 2075. Under the agreement with Entergy, NorthStar has committed to initiate decontamination and dismantlement by 2021 and to complete decommissioning and restoration of the Vermont Yankee site (with the exception of the ISFSI), by 2030. Thereafter, NorthStar will continue to operate and maintain the ISFSI until the US Department of Energy fulfills its statutory and contractual obligations to remove all of the spent nuclear fuel from Vermont Yankee. NorthStar will then decommission the ISFSI, terminate the NRC license and complete site restoration. Holtec International, the manufacturer of the dry storage systems used at Vermont Yankee, submitted license amendment requests to the NRC earlier this year, which if approved, will support complete transfer of all of Vermont Yankee’s spent nuclear fuel to dry storage by the end of 2018.

 

For more information regarding the acceleration of decommissioning and site restoration, please visit the Entergy Newroom website.

 

 

 

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Coming Oct, 14: Lessons learned from the Vermont Yankee Closure

 

By James A. Rousmaniere Jr.

October 10, 2016

 

In August, 2013, Louisiana-based Entergy Corp. declared out of the blue that it would shut down its fully-licensed Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant just south of Brattleboro, Vt.

 

The surprise announcement, which was attributed to competition from lower-cost natural gas supplies, set in motion a scramble about what the closure might mean in practical terms for the area around the plant.

 

Local authorities immediately understood that there’d be a hard financial punch. Nuclear plants had shut down before – in nearby Rowe, Mass. in 1992, and in Connecticut and Maine later in that decade – and the economic impact in terms of lost jobs and taxes in those places was a matter of record. But precisely how and when the hits would be felt in and around Brattleboro wasn’t clear.

 

Further, locals had little to guide them through the thicket of rules and regulations that are related to power plant decommissioning. There was, for example, no document that told them whether they’d have any say in the staging of decommissioning and the on-site storage of nuclear waste. The absence of any such guidance was particularly important in the case of Vermont Yankee, which wasn’t controlled by a utility that presumably would have a continuing interest in the economic health of the community; Vermont Yankee was what’s called a merchant plant – a generator of electricity that’s sold to utilities -- that had no lasting ties to the area.

 

Finally, locals had no guide to outside funding that might help soften the blow of the shut-down of the 600 megawatt plant, an economic engine that annually pumped $100 million into the region.

 

Vermont Yankee ultimately shut down in December, 2014, and the first layoffs from the workforce of more than 600 highly-paid workers began almost immediately. In the months that followed regional planners and economic developers in and around Brattleboro, Keene and Greenfield, Mass. began shaping an ambitious joint effort to stimulate new economic activity in the tri-state region, an initiative that was helped along by several hundred thousands of government financial support partly arranged by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy.

 

They eventually did something else, too -- something that might well reverberate across the country where 60 other American communities have nuclear plants in their midsts that someday (a year from now, five years from now, more than a decade from now) will close. They wrote down what they’ve learned about the experience of the Vermont Yankee  closure, including such things as the byzantine regulatory set-up of different federal departments and no single one of them staffed to help nuclear host communities recover from a shut-down.

 

Their findings will be publicly presented Friday, Oct. 14 with the presentation of a report titled “When People and Money Leave (and the Plant Stays) – Lessons Learned from the Closure of the Vermont Yankee Power Station.” The event begins at  2 p.m. at the Brooks House Atrium, 120 Main Street in Brattleboro.

 

The “Lessons Learned” report is the work of a group that includes the Franklin Regional Council of Governments in Greenfield, the Southwest Region Planning Commission in Keene and the Windham Regional Commission and Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation in Brattleboro.

 

Key among the lessons is to start thinking about plant closings long before they happen, even long before plans to close are announced.

 

Understanding the socioeconomic benefits of a nuclear facility in a region while it is fully functioning will go a long way in preparing for its eventual demise,” said Tim Murphy, executive director of the Southwest Region Planning Commission. “It is well worth the effort of developing both quantitative and qualitative inventories of these benefits to serve as a foundation for their mitigation when inevitable disruptions and/or closure approaches.”

 

By that reasoning, the report is as applicable to the closure of any large employer in a rural region as it is to a nuclear power plant, one key difference being aspects about safety that are unique to nuclear-powered generators. Until very recently, none of those agencies had any apparent interest in the impact of nuclear plant closings on host communities. Participants in the response to the Vermont Yankee situation helped change that.

 

Chris Campany, the head of the Windham Regional Commission, raised the topic of local repercussions at a NRC conference in Washington last spring, and during the summer Jennifer Stromsten pushed for language about local impact at a Department of Energy hearing about power plant siting in Boston. Stromsten is a principal in the Institute for Nuclear Host Communities, a local nonprofit that got its start shortly after Entergy announced its closure plans in 2013 and that the following year hosted a conference on the topic that helped lead to research and other work that helped lead to the “Lessons Learned” white paper. (The institute has also conferred with figures in Plymouth, Mass., following the announcement a year ago that the Pilgrim nuclear power plant there will close in 2019.)

 

Stromsten’s group didn’t have a hand in the actual drafting of the “Lessons Learned” report, but she’ll be there at the presentation. “I love that paper” she said in an interview.

 

 

 

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An Ecovation Hub in the Tri-State Region

By James A. Rousmaniere Jr.

October 10, 2016

 

In the early 1970s, as Harrisville was coming to terms with the closing of its last textile mill, Bruce Anderson, a young MIT graduate, moved to town. He’d been drawn by a friend who was fixing up old homes, but Anderson didn’t stay in renovation long. Instead, backed by a master’s degree in solar architecture, he self-published a book about solar home design, helped launch a magazine titled “Solar Age” and opened a consulting firm that he called Total Environmental Action.

 

Amid the energy crises of the 70s, Anderson’s “Solar Home Book” became a best-seller and the magazine was a hit. TEA, as his consulting firm came to be known, eventually built a staff of 30 designers of energy-efficient buildings and products.

 

Four decades later, the book’s no longer in print, “Solar Age” is gone and TEA is no more, all victims of President Ronal Reagan’s turn away from solar research and tax credits in the 1980s.

 

Anderson now runs an innovative solar power manufacturer in Virginia, but his accomplishments in Harrisville still resonate with Tedd Benson, the Walpole homebuilder who’s widely known for breakthroughs in timber-frame and energy-efficient construction.

 

“The DNA that got planted there is still here,” Benson said the other day.

The basis for that statement is a new collaborative effort, starting in Brattleboro, Vt. and extending to neighboring parts of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, to develop a national reputation for the area in energy-efficient design, research and education.

 

The effort, which goes under the name Ecovation Hub, includes Benson and other local business executives and banking interests, plus academics and experts in energy-efficient design. The team also includes development interests, the lead one being the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, a non-profit economic development agency, and also the Southwest Region Planning Commission in Keene, the Windham Regional Commission in Brattleboro and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments in Greenfield, Mass.

 

A major focus of the effort, which initially was called the Green Economy Innovation Hub, is to help the region’s economy recover from the shut-down nearly two years ago of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, an economic engine that had pumped roughly $100 million annually into Cheshire County, Windham County, Vt. and Franklin County, Mass. where the plant’s 600 highly-paid workers lived.

 

At the time of the shut-down, locals were already exploring new directions for the economy because the underlying trends -- a greying population, stagnant job growth and so on – raised questions about the long term economic health of the area.

 

Said Laura Sibilia of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp.: “We already had a bad situation and (with the Vermont Yankee closing) we saw that the situation was going to get worse.”

 

Among new approaches, the idea of a regional cluster of businesses in the energy-efficiency field had particular appeal. Brattleboro was already host to BuildingGreen, Inc., a nationally-known promoter of energy-efficient design, and across the river in Walpole there was Bensonwood, which was just then completing a 100,000 square-foot building at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst made of cross-laminated timber (CLT), a new construction substitute for steel and cement in the U.S. market. (Bensonwood imported its CLT from Canada.)

 

A result is the Ecovation Hub. It’s not a physical thing – no building, no paid staff -- but rather a belief that there are enough skilled people and institutions in the three-state area who together can begin to make something big happen in the green business sector, including energy-efficient design and wood-based construction manufacturing in a region that’s rich with renewable raw materials, namely trees.

 

The market for products and services in the field is growing rapidly, according to  the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, partly because most American homes were built before 1990 when the first energy-efficiency building codes were written. The market for energy-related upgrades of homes is said to be close to $40 billion nationally.

 

Part of the logic behind the Ecovation plan: Why not grab a piece of that action here, ultimately by fostering and attracting new companies and research activity to establish a nationally-recognized center of knowledge and excellence?

 

The work behind all this has been pretty much low-profile during the formative stages, but that’s changing.  On Oct. 18, the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce plans to showcase the Ecovation Hub at its regional issues series breakfast from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. at the Keene State College alumni center as one way to demonstrate success with the tri-state collaboration effort. The same day principals in the project will report on their progress at the Marlboro Graduate School in Brattleboro from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. The events are open to the public.

 

Among other things the presentations will show that, while the initiative started in Brattleboro and has been supported by federal and state grants related to the Vermont Yankee closing just south of town in Vernon, the participants include players in other states who have been active in the energy-efficiency arena. They include, in the educational sector alone:

 

At Keene State College, an architecture curriculum that includes training in sustainable product design and architecture (three graduates of the program work for Bensonwood) and a Technology, Design and Safety Center. 

 

At Antioch University New England in Keene, a Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience, plus degrees in environmental science.

 

At Greenfield Community College in Greenfield, Mass., a nationally recognized provider of programs in Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency that, among other credits, have provided a large share of solar equipment installers in the region.

 

At the School for International Training and World Learning in Brattleboro, a master’s degree in sustainable development and an international reach that attracts experts from around the world.

 

The four institutions are talking with each other and others about complementing their different curricula, and for that reason the collaboration is unusual. “There’s nothing identical to what we are building here in terms of a multi-state consortium,” said Abigail Abrash Walton, who co-directs the climate preparedness center at Antioch.

 

Walton said that there are some models to follow, including successful workforce development consortiums in Washington state, Minnesota and British Columbia.

 

By those examples, the goal of the Ecovation effort is practical, not theoretical. “We have fashioned this with workforce development in mind,” said Cary Gaunt, director of Campus Sustainability at Keene State. One possible outcome: a regional business incubation center that draws on the resources of the various academic institutions, local chambers of commerce and also such providers of business support as the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship in Keene.

 

Benson, the Walpole builder, sees promise. When asked what he hopes to come of this tri-region collaboration three years from now, he replied without hesitation:  “(The region) will be known nationally as a hotbed for green building.”

 

 

 

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Three Regions Get Together for Economic Planning

By James A. Rousmaniere Jr.

 

September 23, 2016

 

 

 

On first impression the regions around Keene, NH, Brattleboro, Vt. and Greenfield, Mass. don’t have a lot in common.

 

But in fact the three regions are alike in a number of ways. For example, they all have long traditions of manufacturing, their unemployment rates are low, their natural environments are clean and the education levels of their citizens are much higher than national averages.

 

The three regions also have a shared experience: For more than four decades, the economies of all three were bolstered by the operations of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt.

 

Before its closure nearly two years ago, the plant annually pumped $100 million of wages, purchases and charitable contributions into the three regions where most of its 600 workers lived, paid taxes and were part of the local social fabric.

 

The three regions are now feeling the impact of the rapidly contracting Vermont Yankee presence, and the effects are bound to get worse as the plant’s highly-paid workforce dwindles. Meanwhile, all three regions are also experiencing troubling conditions and economic trends that were already showing up before Vermont Yankee’s shut down, including the greying of their populations, shortcomings in workforce training and uneven broadband connections.

 

In recent years regional planning agencies headquartered in Keene, Greenfield and Brattleboro have been attuned to these challenges. They’ve examined transportation inadequacies that discourage jobholders from getting to work; they’ve seen ownership of local businesses shifting elsewhere; they’ve heard how access to capital has narrowed as financial sector mergers diluted lenders’ sensitivities to local needs.

 

But the shock of the Vermont Yankee closing in 2014 has led to the three regional planning agencies in the area --  the Windham Regional Commission in Brattleboro, the Southwest (NH) Region Planning Commission in Keene and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments in Greenfield – to work more closely with one another.

 

That’s changing, in part because the top people at the three planning agencies feel that the problems are big enough to call for a regional response and also that their regions have enough natural affinities and assets, including a combined workforce of 150,000 people, to justify a coordinated approach to economic development.

 

“We all have a stake,” said Chris Campany, the head of the Windham Regional Commission, referring to the three regions. “A household in Brattleboro has a stake in a business in Keene.”

 

Further, he said in a recent interview, the job of making up for Vermont Yankee’s loss and dealing with the underlying negative economic trends will have to be handled locally. Speaking of the three regions as a unit, he said, “We’re kind of on our own. We’re going to have to lead it and try to make it happen. We can’t wait for some savior to come down from Montpelier or Concord or Boston.”

 

Beneath this sense of urgency is a degree of self-confidence. Early last year a representative of Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Development Organizations spoke to a regional gathering that was prompted by the Vermont Yankee closure.  He said, among other things, that the three regions had the background and resources to make change happen.

 

In a recent interview, Campany recalled that assessment, which he expressed as:  “Look at what you have to build on!”

 

In the near future Campany and his counterparts in Keene and Greenfield plan to get together to talk about their economic development roadmaps, which formally go by the name Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies. A goal will be to find ways the three regions can work together. They’ll have a nascent example to go on – a project largely directed by the  non-profit Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation to foster a regional cluster of businesses and colleges in the energy-efficiency field.

 

The three regions already have some experience working together. Recently, for example, local Vermonters and Granite Staters rescued an important bridge replacement project between Hinsdale and Brattleboro that had lost favor with state funders. The Southwest Region Planning Commission joined with member communities as well as interests across the Connecticut River to help convince policymakers that citizens in Hinsdale needed the bridge to get to hospital services in Brattleboro, and employers in both New Hampshire and Vermont counted on the bridge to access workers. They also successfully argued that the new bridge would have to be bigger than the current one so it could carry larger trucks. The larger bridge is now scheduled to be built in 2021.

 

With that success as a backdrop, planners are considering other ways to work together. For example, Linda Dunlavy, head of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, said that she imagines working with Brattleboro-area interests to capitalize on recent upgrades by Amtrak, which recently built a new station in Greenfield. She said that she imagines a positive impact on tourism.

 

This idea of collaborating on a regional basis isn’t entirely new. The federal Economic Development Administration, an agency that helps fund local economic development planning, has been encouraging regional approaches with extra emphasis since its Congressional reauthorization in 2004.

 

Still, the arrangement of this particular regional effort – three regions in three different states – represents something new and unusual. C J Epps, director of public affairs for the EDA, said, “Three different states working together to coordinate three different CEDS appears to be a unique undertaking.”

 

 

Click here for the CEDS from the Southwest Region Planning Commission

Click here for the CEDS from the Windham Regional Commission

Click here for the CEDS from the Franklin Council of Governments

 

Dunlavy in Greenfield says she imagines something coming of the coordinated effort to strengthen the tri-region economy. When asked how she’d like things to be 10 years from now, she replied: “A younger population. More diversity. More diverse economy in village centers in all three regions. That would be awesome.”

 

Her enthusiasm is shared by Raul Gonzalez, a planner at the Southwest Region Planning Commission. Relatively new to the area from development work in Texas, he said that he sees connections among the three regions. “We have so much in common. It’s not three separate entities.”

 

 

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Progress Report on a Tri-State Economic Development Effort

By James A. Rousmaniere Jr.

May 25, 2016

 

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. – What a difference a year can make.

 

Almost precisely a year ago, an expert on regional economic development spoke at a meeting here about the shuttering of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.  Few if any of the 50 or so attendees, many of them regional planners and economic developers in the area, seemed sure-footed about dealing with the projected loss of many tens of millions of dollars of annual economic activity that was generated by the 600-employee plant. 

 

At that meeting, there appeared to be more questions than answers about how to offset the impact of the closing on Cheshire County (NH), Windham County (Vt.) and Franklin County (Mass.) where most of Vermont Yankee’s highly paid employees lived.

 

Last week, representatives of planning agencies in those three areas returned to the same meeting room at the School for International Training to resume the discussion. Almost immediately it was evident that some of the uncertainties that existed a year earlier appear to have faded, principally whether the three different areas could mount a regional economic development effort as opposed to each of them trying to go it entirely alone.

 

 Above: Laura Sibilia and Kristin Mehalick of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation take a question from an audience member during the May 19, 2016 Stakeholder Event. 

 

For instance, representatives of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, a key non-profit player in the recovery effort, talked enthusiastically about the launch of a regional collaboration on sustainable building – a broad term that takes in the types of materials that are used in construction and also nontraditional approaches to the architecture, financing, restoration and in some cases dismantling of homes and workplaces.
 

The concept entails a coordinated group of enterprises that so far includes Walpole-based builder Bensonwood whose two-year-old Unity Homes unit makes energy-efficient homes, Brattleboro-based Building Green, an authority on construction and design. Participants also include academic centers in the region -- such as Vermont’s Marlboro College, with its degree in sustainability, and Keene State College with its Technology, Design and Safety Center.

 

The idea of a regional green-building cluster took shape during the last year, partly on the strength of grants from the federal Economic Development Administration and a state-directed redevelopment fund that’s financed by Entergy Corp., the plant’s owner. If the effort expands materially, according to one scenario described at the meeting last week, the Tri-State Region could put itself in a position to compete with large cities for federal research and economic development dollars in the green business arena.

 

Thinking along those lines wasn’t the only notable development that surfaced at last week’s meeting. Equally impressive was the fact that Vermont Yankee itself was barely mentioned at all during the two-hour gathering; the talk among the 50 or so attendees was largely about economic softenings in the area that were already showing up before the power plant closed such as a drift toward an aging population and a housing market that’s priced beyond the reach of younger workers.

 

Talk about those and other conditions – and how to correct them – got down to relatively basic levels. For example, Chris Campany, the head of the Windham Regional Commission, said that the lack of cultural diversity in the general area worked against recruitment and retention of young workers, and the situation isn’t going to change on its own. “We have to be pro-active and not just stumble (on a solution),” he said. He made reference to day-to-day ways of being more inclusive to diverse groups.

 

At the Tri-State Region meeting a year ago, when Vermont Yankee’s closing was still fresh, such detailed concerns weren’t voiced. The talk then was about the overall dimension of the economic hit in what was a unique setting: In no other part of the country had a nuclear power plant shutdown affected the economies of three different jurisdictions in three different states that didn’t have deep traditions of working together.

 

Raul Gonzalez, a planner who’s new to the Keene-based Southwest Region Planning Commission, said that he saw encouraging signs toward the three regions working together. He reported on a study of the economic plans in the three impact areas – the plans are formally known as Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies; the one for Southwest New Hampshire can be found here.

 

Gonzalez, whose previous work had involved economic planning in an area of the Southwest that covered parts of Texas and New Mexico, said in an interview that he was positively impressed by a sense of cooperation among the different geographic segments of the Vermont Yankee impact region. He added that he was surprised that that inclination toward cooperation was relatively new. Based on the progress during the past year, he said he sees reason for optimism in the Tri-State Region’s future.  

 

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