OP ED: Vernon Needs Our Support to Build its Post-VY Future

Adam Grinold, Executive Director, Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation

The Vermont Public Utility Commission has been undertaking proceedings on the sale of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant (VY). The Town of Vernon, eager to create a path forward, has concluded the sale is a crucial step towards a timely and complete recovery from the closure. The Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) agrees that if a safe accelerated decommissioning is environmentally and financially possible, it would benefit the economic recovery of Vernon, the Windham region and the State of Vermont more than the current mode of SAFSTOR, which entails cleanup being delayed for decades.

The BDCC’s interest in the current proceedings is mitigating major, long term negative economic impacts caused by the plant’s closure: loss of jobs, people, tax revenues and payroll. BDCC has advised Vernon on participation in the PUC process. Last week the BDCC provided a public statement of support for Vernon’s position in the Docket 8880 proceeding which is in support of a rapid, safe, and financially sound cleanup.

Vernon has worked hard to respond to changes to its tax base, and to its future prospects. The Town has begun to articulate what they need from the closure process. Vernon began to develop a shared vision, and plans to realize that vision, through the Vermont Council on Rural Development Process, in which the BDCC and many local, state and federal partners took part. The BDCC will continue to work with other area partners in helping Vernon implement the community’s local goals, such as an expanded village center, establishing new local businesses, or writing a new chapter in the town’s long history as an energy-provider for the region. Three elements will help Vernon to succeed:

  1. A rapid decommissioning that is safe and financially sound, as an alternative to SAFSTOR.
  2. A strong regional economy to support recovery. BDCC is committed to replacing the lost VY jobs, economic activity and tax revenues and will continue to focus on increasing jobs, businesses and opportunities here to offset closure’s impact. Through research and testimony BDCC and regional partners helped secure $10 Million in the VY closure agreement to establish the Windham Economic Development Program. BDCC partners with the state to implement WCEDP and dozens of other programs to build a vibrant regional economy. This work is guided by the Windham Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS) outlining the region’s challenges and assets, and what we can do to improve the economy.
  3. Local initiatives and investment. Vernon is following a planning process similar to BDCC & SeVEDS regional planning—an asset based approach to economic recovery and growth. BDCC supports strategic planning and investment that can bring these plans to life.

By 2011 BDCC & SeVEDS had begun to highlight the pivotal role VY played in the regional economy. We have since then worked to attract attention, build capacity, find resources, and respond to the VY closure, all within a context where baseline economic challenges are serious. Since most U.S. nuclear power plants are located in rural areas based on nuclear siting rules prescribing low population areas, plants tend to have an oversize impact on a small economy and to be found in locations with little local economic development capacity.

BDCC has worked hard to overcome these factors at a regional level. But Vernon finds that its future is deeply tied to the VY site. Therefore, a PUC decision which will allow economic reuse and redevelopment of the site to realize the town’s goals including for recreational use, new energy production, an expanded village center and/or industrial development uses, as articulated in Vernon’s approved Town Plan, would substantially expand available options for the Town. Vernon’s voice should be heard during these proceedings, to ensure that outcomes honor the community’s wishes for economic recovery and future plans.

This is part 1 of 2 part series. Part 2 will focus on BDCC & SeVEDS long-term, regional approach to economic recovery from the loss of jobs, employers and opportunities in the region.