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Local Voices Locked Out Of Vermont Yankee Discussions

AP File Photo

For more than a week, Governor Peter Shumlin and top state officials have been in closed-door discussions with the owners of Vermont Yankee.

The talks focus on the details of dismantling the nuclear plant after it closes in December 2014.  So far, local voices have been excluded from the high-level talks.

The Windham Regional Commission, which represents the region’s interests of 27 southern Vermont towns, is one of several groups calling for a place at the table.

Since 2008 the Windham Regional Commission has been a formal party to the state’s proceedings on whether to extend Vermont Yankee’s license to operate.

Entergy, the plant’s owner, initially asked the Vermont Public Service Board for a twenty-year extension. After Entergy announced in August that the plant would close next year, the company sought a one-year license instead.

The board had finished gathering information in the case. But the Shumlin Administration asked it to defer its decision to give Entergy and the state time to negotiate.

The Windham Regional Commission was one of six intervening parties who were not invited to those talks. Chris Campany is the Commission’s executive director.

“We would clearly like to have been at the table,” he says.

Campany’s organization has been neutral on whether the plant should be relicensed.

“What we’ve always been focused on,” Campany says, “Is what happens when the plant eventually closes? What’s in the interests of the orderly redevelopment of the region and the wellbeing of our towns?”

Chris Recchia is the Commissioner of the Department of Public Service, which represents ratepayers before the decision-making Public Service Board. The department was due to brief the board on the outcome of the talks with Entergy this week.

“We’re continuing discussions and they’re constructive,” Recchia says. “But we don’t have an agreement yet, and our intention is to give an update to the board on Friday. There’s really not much else I can tell you.”

Chris Campany says the state’s negotiating team understands and largely supports his organization’s concerns. But he wants the regional commission to also have a say.

“What we hope is, if the state and Entergy are able to come to some agreement, and they present that to the Public Service Board,” Campany says, “That all the parties will have an opportunity to review it and comment on it before any decision is made by the Public Service Board.”

Chris Recchia thinks it’s probable that the board will give the other parties a chance to comment.

The Windham Regional Commission and other parties are hoping their priorities will be reflected in conditions attached to any permit issued by the board.

Campany says the region will be better off economically if the plant is decommissioned promptly. It would keep more people working longer, he says.  Entergy has said it wants to mothball the reactor, possibly for decades, while its radioactivity level goes down and its decommissioning fund grows through investments.

Campany’s group thinks Entergy has underestimated the cost of decommissioning. He says Entergy expects the site to be taxed as vacant land after the plant closes, which he says isn’t likely. He also says Entergy’s plans for restoring the site don’t go far enough.

Campany also wants the state and Entergy to specify who will be accountable if dismantling is delayed for 50 years or more.