As an anti-nuclear Yankee protester wandered around the room loudly offering anyone and everyone popcorn from a grease-stained paper bag, a local legislator and the then-commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service physically wrestled over control of the microphone. Scattered among the audience, Vermont Yankee employees watched warily and quietly.
Not every meeting since then was quite as lively, but almost all were contentious and adversarial. Both sides were convinced that Vermont would be better off if they won and the other side lost.
The cold war began to thaw after the August, 2013 announcement of the pending plant closure. With the big question – would Vermont Yankee stay open or close? – settled, many former antagonists realized co-operation would benefit everyone. Just four months later, Entergy and the State of Vermont announced the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). This provides a clear regulatory road for a smooth plant shutdown, decommissioning, site restoration, resolution of expensive legal squabbles, and a generous $10 million economic development package from Entergy for Windham County and the state.
But like most public benefits, the MSA has conditions. For example, Vermont Yankee needs approval from the Vermont Public Service Board to build another concrete storage pad for spent fuel dry casks. In a more general sense, the spirit of the MSA assumes all sides will problem-solve in good faith and avoid harmful “my way or the highway” posturing. Such intransigence by either party could impede progress and even put the MSA and all of its benefits at risk.
In contrast to my first meeting, I left the most recent Vermont Yankee-related public hearing on Thursday, September 25 with a new sense of relief, optimism, even pride as a civic-minded Vermonter. The inaugural meeting of the first Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Citizen’s Advisory Panel (DCAP) lacked the usual dubious street theater.
Instead, the 19 member panel, representing 15 different stakeholders from across the Vermont Yankee spectrum introduced themselves, listened to organizational overviews by a consultant and new Vermont State Nuclear Engineer Anthony Leshinskie, saw a PowerPoint and animated film presentations on decommissioning and site restoration from Entergy, and elected its panel officers.
The entire meeting was conducted with civility and without rancor, character assassinations, or grandstanding. Community members asked sharp, focused questions – but then listened intently to the answers.
A Brattleboro woman asked if Vermont Yankee would donate to community non-profits at the existing level ($175,000 in 2014). Entergy senior official T. Michael Twomey said giving may decline because decommissioning does not generate revenue, but Vermont Yankee will continue to support the community. Someone concerned about aquatic life asked Vermont Yankee to stop using the Connecticut River to cool condenser tubing. Twomey pointed out the practice is permitted by the State of Vermont because it does not harm the environment.
As for Vermont Yankee, its two panelists expressed appreciation with the DCAP. "I think having us as a part of the panel, along with the citizens, along with the elected officials, sends a signal that we’re all there on sort of an equal footing, so that we can have a conversation about what’s happening next at the site," Twomey said.
No doubt some nights the dialogue will become heated. No doubt the DCAP will see many a robust discussion. That’s to be expected of a forum for people to ask questions, get answers, propose policy, and just be heard. But based on the initial meeting, the panelists seem to have chosen the path of mutual respect. That is a promising start.
|Guy Page with|
Governor of Vermont
This op-ed has appeared in several newspapers in Vermont. Guy Page writes frequent guest posts at this blog. His most recent post describes the backgrounds of the members of the decommissioning advisory panel.