Deal could speed up sale, decommissioning of Vermont Yankee

VERNON, Vt. (WCAX) A big step forward in the sale of the shuttered Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, one that could speed up decommissioning of the site by more than 40 years.

"That is fabulous news. I am very, very happy to hear that," said Susan Quinn of Vernon.

It's not often that you get that sort of reaction from residents in Vernon, home of the now-defunct Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Especially from someone like Susan Quinn, who recently moved back to town after leaving decades ago because of the plant.

"Coming down here and seeing the steam coming out all the time and having a concern about what was being released. And I kind of had a feeling at the time that the waste was never going to leave the banks of the Connecticut River," Quinn said.

But a new memorandum of understanding aims to clean up the site much faster than originally planned. In it, Entergy, the owner of the plant, will sell Vermont Yankee to a company called Northstar which specializes in decommissioning power plants. Northstar has agreed to begin the process in the next three years. According to the Vermont Department of Public Service, full site restoration could be done as soon as 2030. Entergy had up to 60 years to complete that process when it powered down the plant at the end of 2014.

State officials expressed concerns over Northstar's ability to make good on its promises, but officials say the MOU also secures a financial assurance package in excess of $250 million. That money includes additional liability insurance, a site restoration trust and escrow for cost overruns.

Town officials have already begun looking at the life of the property after the plant.

"We have been looking at microgrids, server farms. There has been all kinds of things that we have been looking at. And now that we have a light at the end of the tunnel, we can get more serious about what we are going to do next," said Joshua Unruh, the chair of the Vernon Select Board.

According to Unruh, getting back lost tax revenue is the most important reason. Residents have seen a 20 percent increase in their municipal tax rate since the plant closed.

"We've also cut our municipal budget by 20 percent and still seen that 20 percent increase, so our residents have felt it significantly," Unruh said.

Not to mention the hundreds of jobs that left the region. Tim Forrett just opened a new store right down the road to replace one that closed several years ago.

"We might as well not wait to do it. We might as well do it," Forrett said.

Decommissioning will also bring more traffic to town, which means more business.

Tim Forrett: There is going to be a lot of workers there and I am probably going to have to have a lot of workers here, too, right?
Reporter Adam Sullivan: And work is a good thing?
Tim Forrett: Yes.

The Vermont Public Utility Commission and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission also must say yes to the sale of Vermont Yankee to Northstar.