Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pain From Vermont Yankee Closing Spreads Far and Wide

Meredith Angwin
We continue our focus on the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant with a guest post by Vermont resident Meredith Angwin. A nuclear industry veteran, Angwin is now project director of the Energy Education Project at the Ethan Allen Institute.

Vermont Yankee will close at the end of the year. I have blogged at Yes Vermont Yankee for five years. It’s hard to even know how to begin a description of the effects of closing Vermont Yankee. The pain starts with the people who work at the plant.

Hundreds of Goodbyes

Jan. 30, 2014, was the day that the “lists were up” at the plant. The plant will cease operations by the end of December 2014, and fuel should be unloaded to the fuel pool by the end of January 2015. In August, 2013, Entergy announced that the plant would close and not be refueled. "This was an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call for us," said Leo Denault, Entergy's chairman and chief executive officer, when the company announced its plans to close the facility. However, given the economic situation, he said, "we have reluctantly concluded that it is the appropriate action for us to take under the circumstances."

“The lists” were announced in January 2014. These were the names of the employees who would be laid off in February 2015 and the names of other employees who would work for another year, getting the plant ready for SAFSTOR. No local newspaper covered the day the lists were up, but I covered it in my post: Paint It Black.

Now, public meetings about decommissioning are taking place, and reporters are covering employment at Vermont Yankee. As reported in the Keene Sentinel, plant staffing will drop from 550 employees this fall to 316 at the end of January. Approximately a year later, in April 2016, staffing will drop again, to 127 people. What is happening to these employees?

Entergy is committed to helping employees find new jobs. So far, they have more than 100 jobs for Vermont Yankee employees at other Entergy facilities, according to Bill Mohl, president, Entergy Wholesale Commodities, as quoted in the Brattleboro Reformer. Some employees will retire, and some will take comparatively low-paying jobs to stay in the area. Others are already moving to faraway plants. It’s not easy for anyone, and it is especially hard on some employees who are “pushing 60” and not yet in a position to retire. It’s a very mixed situation. I attend some cheerful goodbye parties as people leave for new jobs, but I also get some very despondent comments on my Yes Vermont Yankee posts.

Hard Choices in Vernon

Vermont Yankee is located in Vernon, a town that will lose a huge portion of its tax base when the plant closes. While people in town are aware that they have to cut back, it is not easy. In Vermont, budgets are determined at the town meeting. The Vernon town meeting is usually held on one or two evenings. This year, the town meeting turned into a multi-day and, later, a multi-week affair. During the meetings Vernon decided to abolish the town police force. Instead, the town will pay a small amount for less protection from other law enforcement agencies like the state police. The school budget is also in some disarray, despite the fact that Entergy has made voluntary deals with the town to gradually decrease tax payments instead of cutting them off suddenly.

The Pain Beyond Vernon and on the Grid

The fiscal pain spreads far beyond Vernon.

Around 200 people work at Vermont Yankee but live in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is just beginning to deal with the implications of this.

Vermont Yankee adds more than $60 million to the local economy each year and donates more than $150,000 to local charities.

Recently, the generation tax on Vermont Yankee was raised to $12 million a year. At the end of last year, Entergy cut a deal with the state for a Certificate of Public Good for this final year of operation. In this agreement, Entergy will pay a $5 million “generation tax” to the state in 2015, even though VY will not be generating power.

But after 2015, the Entergy generation tax ends. Considering that the state is facing a $30 million budget shortfall this year, even with VY running, this is not small potatoes. Estimates of the 2015 budget shortfall run as high as $90 million. Nobody knows which programs will be cut, or which taxes will be raised, to make up for the shortfall. Closing Vermont Yankee has added to this pain

Then there is the price-pain on the grid.

For years, I did presentations and wrote op-eds explaining that if Vermont Yankee closed, our electric rates would rise. And yet, people are still surprised! With the polar vortex, the coming closing of Vermont Yankee and the closing of the Salem Harbor coal plant, some local utilities are posting winter prices that are 50 percent higher than last year. Also, last year Vermont Yankee sent $17.8 million to local utilities as part of its revenue sharing agreement. This payment may help keep electricity rates in Vermont below the average for the area. Obviously, such payments will not be continuing.

No Relief in Sight

In the same late-2013 agreement with the state in which Entergy promised to pay a $5 million generation tax (while not generating power), Entergy also agreed to send money to the state for economic development. Entergy will send $2 million a year for five years (for a total of $10 million) to the state for economic development of the Windham County region. The state has already received the first $2 million, and local groups are bidding for grants based on this money.

Aerial view of Vermont Yankee in Vernon, Vermont.
Some workers at Vermont Yankee that I’ve spoken with are fairly cynical about this development funding. They don’t believe it will help laid-off employees. I agree with them. As far as I can tell, this money will merely bolster new and existing not-for-profits. I think these groups will fund “economic development” projects that won’t have much actual effect.

The $2 million a year cannot relieve the pain of Vermont Yankee closing. It certainly can’t mitigate the economic pain, and it can do very little for the emotional pain of people losing their jobs and deciding whether or not to leave the area. In short, there is no relief in sight.


Mittendorf Rusty said...

For those who conspired to close VY YANKEE... all i can say "STUPID SHOULD BE PAINFUL" and stupid really does hurt. My condolences to the many good people who will suffer.

Anonymous said...

I am a Vermonter or at least I was... In my job I inspect commercial Nuclear Power Plants across the US. Vermont Yankee is one of the better ones. Just look at the NRC's ROP Action Matrix Summary and Current Regulatory Oversight page.

They have put up with a lot from the State of Vermont. It's too bad that Vermont's politicians couldn't educate themselves on nuclear power before pushing so hard to close Vermont Yankee. The Vermonter's are going to feel the real pain.

Governor; what exactly is your plan for your deficit, VT's energy consumption and loss of tax revenue, loss of local charity donation loss, and not to mention your out of work tax paying citizens that will lose their jobs in the middle of winter?

Ron Schwartz said...

Well said Rusty.

Anonymous said...

I got the chance to work there for a brief time. In the 3 years I worked there I saw how much that plant did for the community and the schools in all three states. They helped a tremendous amount in terms of tax breaks, lower energy costs and also putting together events by employees like fundraising and working around the community. It hurts to see so much work and heart be put into a community by a local supporter like VY just to see the locals fight tooth and nail to close it because they don't understand it. I wish the best for the employees that work there. To the people that got what they wanted, enjoy watching the area slowly crumble. Look at the plant in California that closed for the same political bull. That area never gained back the prosperity it once had. Vernon and Brattleboro will not be the same.

gmax137 said...

I wonder if there are any studies of the effect of closures on the local communities. Haddam Neck, Wiscasset, "the ranch," etc. Unfortunately it seems like there are enough instances now to make it worthwhile to look at.

Anonymous said...

was my first outage plant I all way enjoyed working with this great group of people. Wish the best of luck too all of them

Anonymous said...

With$12mill in taxes, 17mill in revenue "shareing"and $60 mill in economy benifits, it just isnt profitable for Entergy to keep the business running. Thats what"we have reluctantly concluded that it is the appropriate action for us to take under the circumstances." means

Meredith Angwin said...

Thank you ALL for your comments.

I will attempt to answer two of them.

First, studies of the economics of closing nuclear plants. There's one about Maine Yankee, documenting widespread effects. For some reason, the author is also concerned with the "stigma" of having hosted a nuclear plant. Anyhow, here it is.

And here's my blog on two studies of the effect of closing VY...big effects expected.

Meredith Angwin said...

My second comment, to Anon. Yes, indeed, A 600 MW plant that had to pay $12 million in state generation taxes ($4 million is more typical for a plant this size) and almost $18 million in revenue sharing. The plant closing for economic reasons? $30 million worth economic reasons. Well, yes, that was a cause of its closing, but what was at the BASIS of those economic reasons? Maybe the legislature's hatred of the plant, you think?

The $60 million, on the other hand, is the value of the plant's payrolls etc to the local economy, not a tax.

Anonymous said...

So I just passed the 100 resume sent out mark and no offers, no callbacks, nothing. They can't ask your age but when they see a college graduation date in the early 1970s, its not hard to figure out you aren't dealing with a young person. Entergy says I should take my retirement and severance and go lie on a beach somewhere. I can't afford to lie on a freaking beach, with one kid in college and another going next year. Think Shumlin gives a crap? I don't think so. So no job and nowhere to go. Despair? That doesn't even begin to cover it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear no offers for you yet, I left there in May with a heavy heart, and a lot of pain. The personal impact is immeasurable. Good Luck and god bless you all, I hope that the good people in Vermont leave so that the fools that wanted this can stew in the juices of there own making.

Anonymous said...

Over 120 now and nothing but rejections. I asked a couple of them why and they would not say anything definite, but I am pretty sure I know why (too old). No offers yet? I am not really expecting any. Why hire a 60-something in a job when there are plenty of 30-somethings willing to work who have a lot longer "shelf life"?