(Ed. note: This is the final dispatch from reporter Anne Galloway on today's votes related to the relicensure and decommissioning of Vermont Yankee).
So far, 25 municipalities have passed a resolution asking lawmakers to deny approval of the continued operation of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant after 2012.
The resolution that petitioners placed on town meeting day warnings for about 40 municipalities around the state also requires that lawmakers hold Entergy Corporation, the owner of the plant, fully responsible for the cost of shutting down Vermont Yankee.
One town, Topsham, rejected the resolution; Walden tabled it; and Bolton stripped out two portions of the proposal.
Entergy, the New Orleans-based company that purchased Yankee in 2002, has permission to operate the 37-year-old reactor until 2012. It is seeking a new license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to keep the plant running through 2032. Yankee’s continued operation for that additional 20-year period is also subject to legislative approval.
While the town votes are non-binding, they are, as the editorial in today’s Brattleboro Reformer put it, “the closest thing to a statewide referendum we will see” on the issue.
The plant, located on the banks of the Connecticut River in Vernon, has been plagued with safety problems over the last few years including leaky valves, missing fuel rods and the collapse of a cooling tower cell.
Spokesmen for the plant, Larry Smith and Rob Williams, said last week that Entergy officials would not be present for the town meetings where the resolution is under consideration. Yesterday, Smith reiterated the company’s stance on the issue: “We’re concentrating on what we do best, which is making 30 percent of Vermont’s electricity.”
The following towns passed the resolution today: Brookline, Calais, Charleston, Charlotte, Corinth, Dummerston, East Montpelier, Greensboro, Guilford, Halifax, Hinesburg, Holland, Marshfield, Middlesex, Newfane, Plainfield, Putney, Richmond, Townshend, Warren, Westfield, Westminster, Windham, Woodbury and Worcester.
In most towns, the resolution was presented in three parts: The first asks the legislature to recognize that Vermont Yankee accounts for 2 percent of New England’s power supply and that the electricity the plant generates can be replaced with renewable energy sources, energy conservation and excess power already available in the regional market; the second asks lawmakers to deny approval of the plant’s continued operation beyond March 2012; and the third holds Entergy responsible for the clean up of VY after it is shut down.
The town of Bolton rejected the first two portions of the resolution, but passed the third unanimously, according to Dan Dewalt the organizer for Replace VY, the group behind the grassroots petition drive.
Topsham defeated the resolution 36-34, and Walden tabled it.
In Worcester, the majority of voters passed the resolution after two supporters made brief comments. No one spoke in support of Vermont Yankee at the meeting.
Peter Sterling, who helped to put the issue on the Worcester town warning, said, “There’s no place to put the waste. I felt we should tell the legislature to shut it down and find a new form of energy.”
In a voice vote from the floor of the Doty Memorial School gym, the majority of the roughly 100 Worcester residents boomed out a resounding, simultaneous yea. The nays were, by comparison, a murmured afterthought.
The scene was similar in East Montpelier, according to Rep. Tony Klein (D-East Montpelier), who is chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. More than 200 people attended town meeting and the issue was passed on a voice vote, he said.
Five hours into a meeting that was largely consumed by intense wrangling over the school budget, Woodbury voters wearily took up the resolution at the end of their town meeting warning. The first motion would have passed over the article altogether. Several residents argued that the resolution wasn’t appropriate, that it was an issue legislators should decide. The motion was quickly defeated, and even more heated discussion ensued. Retta Dunlap proposed an amendment to strike the first two provisions of the article and simply ask Entergy to pay for decommissioning costs.
Mike McGlynn didn’t think this was a good idea; he argued that rates will go up if the corporation is required to pay for clean up.
David Morse made his case more broadly. “I think we need 128 more plants, not one less. The article says we’re going to get replacement power from renewables. I think it’s somewhat disingenuous to say that when we spent 20 years pulling out all of the dams, and we won’t put up windmills.”
Dunlap, too, bemoaned the state’s lack of planning. “I look at this,” Dunlap said. “And I say this is reactive, not proactive. They should have put in a new reactor.”
In Middlesex, only the decommissioning clause of the resolution survived at first. After this stripped-down version was rejected, voters passed the original language, Klein said.
The downside of SafeStor in which the plant could sit idle for 60 years until Entergy’s decommissioning account builds up to pay for cleaning up the site, hit home for Middlesex voters, Klein said. The plant is valuable, not only because of its substation, power lines and important connections to the New England grid, but also because it is a source of property tax revenue, jobs and electricity, according to Klein. To let it sit idle for so long, isn’t tenable; he envisions eventual reuse of at least part of the site.
“It was reassuring to me that at least on the decommissioning point we’re following the will of the people,” Klein said.
“I think on some level it’s (the resolution) a pretty powerful message,” Klein continued These towns are sprinkled all around the state. It may indicate a mood that Vermonters are in about the plant. Part of the problem is the company that runs the plant. People don’t have much faith in (it). I know I don’t. (It doesn’t) have a good track record as far as I’m concerned.”