VERNON, Vt. — Local officials are bracing for an economic blow to the region following the announcement that the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant will close next year.
Louisiana-based Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday that it will close the power plant by the end of 2014 because the facility is no longer financially viable. The plant has been generating electricity since 1972.
With the announcement, the communities surrounding the plant and Entergy’s offices in Brattleboro are facing the possibility of a rise in unemployment, a large number of residents leaving the area, and possible declines in real estate values and tax revenues.
Of the 623 people employed by Vermont Yankee, 238 live in Vermont, 210 live in New Hampshire, and 167 live in Massachusetts, according to an August 2012 Entergy filing with the Vermont Public Service Board. Another eight live outside the tri-state area.
The majority of Vermont Yankee employees living in New Hampshire and Vermont reside in Vernon, Vt. (78), Brattleboro (77), Hinsdale (47), Keene (46) and Chesterfield (41), according to the filling.
In March 2012, the Post-Vermont Yankee Task Force released a report stating that besides the Vermont Yankee jobs, an additional 400 jobs created by spending from the plant, its employees and contractors, would be in jeopardy. The task force is a subcommittee of Southern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, which is affiliated with the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. The development credit corporation is a private, nonprofit organization focused on helping to maintain and grow the economy in southeastern Vermont.
There will also be major declines in property values and tax revenues, and a loss of many residents who contribute to their communities, according to the report.
While officials in the region have been planning for the eventual closure of Vermont Yankee, it was something they weren’t ready for so soon, let alone two years after the area was devastated by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene, Laura Sibilia, director of economic development for the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., said Tuesday.
Her agency has the tools to deal with the situation, but they’re going to need “all hands on deck,” she said.
“The urgency this lends to our efforts is pretty significant, particularly when it comes on the flooding we had two years ago, and on top of a 20-year economic decline,” she said.
In Vernon alone, taxes paid by Vermont Yankee accounted for 48.5 percent, or $1,147,399, of the town’s 2011-12 tax revenue of $2,364,334, according to a plan prepared by the Windham Regional Commission for the town, regarding the plant’s closing.
According to the plan, much of the economic impact from closing Vermont Yankee will depend on how Entergy decides to decommission the plant.
“Of particular importance is not if the change will come to the town when the plant closes, but how fast that change will happen, and how much time (Vernon, Vt.) will have to adapt to, and absorb that change,” the plan stated.
Vermont Yankee employees who seek employment elsewhere in the nuclear industry will likely find it, and as a result, the most significant change to the town would be the loss of many residents, according to the Windham Regional Commission’s plan. How fast those residents leave, or if they’ll leave at all, is tied to the decommissioning process, according to the plan.
In addition, Vermont Yankee has donated $300,000 to $400,000 annually to 100 charities, according to the plan.
Jerold M. Goldberg, executive director of Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce, said Vermont Yankee and its employees have been generous in their contributions to nonprofit groups and communities.
“They’ve been very visible for many years in helping to support the neediest in our community,” he said.
He doesn’t know how that support will be made up once the plant closes, he said.
People working for Vermont Yankee have among the highest-paying jobs in the area, and consequently “have the ability to support the local economy in ways other folks can’t,” he said.
Vermont Yankee’s payroll was roughly $66 million in June 2012, according to the action plan. In 2006, the average wage for Vermont Yankee employees was $103,777, the plan stated.
In the wake of Entergy’s announcement, everyone’s focus has to be to try to maintain the region’s economic activity and work to build a more diverse economic base, Brattleboro Interim Town Manager Patrick M. Moreland said.
“I think today we have an opportunity to turn discussion away from the politics of Vermont Yankee, and really focus on having community discussions together about how we grow our economy,” he said.
In the meantime, it will be a challenge to maintain the Brattleboro community without one of its largest employers, he said.
While Vermont Yankee’s closing doesn’t look good for the region’s economy, there may be an upside, Goldberg said.
There is the possibility that people and businesses may not have wanted to invest in the community because of the nuclear power plant, he said. Now that the closing has been announced, those people and businesses may rethink their decisions.
In Chesterfield and Hinsdale, town officials know their local economies, and possibly budgets, will be affected by the Vermont Yankee closing, but they don’t yet know the extent.
Hinsdale Town Administrator Jill E. Collins said Tuesday one of the first things town officials need to do is get the most current number of Hinsdale residents working at the facility.
“It’s something the select board will be discussing, and we might have to do our own impact study,” she said.
Vermont Yankee also contributes about $28,000 to $36,000 annually to the town’s emergency management budget, she said. Those funds are filtered through the state of New Hampshire to the town, she said.
In New Hampshire, Chesterfield, Hinsdale, Richmond, Swanzey and Winchester are in the plant’s emergency planning zone.
This year, Hinsdale has received roughly $26,000 from Vermont Yankee to put toward its $33,671 emergency management budget, Collins said.
But the news of Vermont Yankee’s closure is still fresh, and there is a lot of information that needs to be gathered for town officials to get a complete picture of how it’s going to affect the community, she said.
Chesterfield Town Administrator Rick Carrier agreed.
“It’s too new to tell where this is going to go.”