Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Economic Development Fund Won't Help Vermont Yankee People

Two Million Dollars in Development Funds Won't Help People from Vermont Yankee

In November, Nuclear Energy Institute asked me to write a guest post about the effects of the closing of Vermont Yankee. I wrote:

In Entergy's...."late-2013 agreement with the state...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.....Some workers at Vermont Yankee....are fairly cynical about this development funding. They don’t believe it will help laid-off employees. I agree with them. ...."

I was right.  The workers were right. This money will not help Vermont Yankee workers. In retrospect, this outcome was predictable.  And yes, part of the outcome is Governor Shumlin's fault. I hate to point fingers, but sometimes facts are facts.

A Timeline: We Start With the Money
In December of 2013, Entergy and the state of Vermont signed an agreement about the final months of the plant operation. Basically, Entergy agreed to pay millions of dollars to the state (and move fuel to dry casks quickly). In return, the Entergy would get a Certificate of Public Good to operate the plant until the end  of 2014.

In March 2014, the Public Service Board approved the agreement and granted the Certificate. Various money was on the table, but for the purposes of this post, we will only discuss some of it, specifically the economic development money. Entergy's agreement included $2 million a year, for five years, for economic development of Windham County.

In late March or early April 2014, the state received $2 million dollars from Entergy.  By May, the state was developing guidelines for proposals to disburse the funds. Here's a May article in the Brattleboro Reformer about guideline development.

The economic guidelines needed to resolve many controversies. Should for-profit businesses be allowed to compete for this money? Would there be a revolving loan fund for businesses? Finally, in late July, the state had its guidelines and it requested applications.   As Vermont Digger reported,  non profits could apply for grants, and businesses could apply for loans. Loan "repayments will remain in a revolving fund for Windham County in perpetuity."  All applications were due on September 23.

The proposals and the panel
The panel received about $6 million dollars worth of proposals for the $2 million dollars available. The town of Vernon worked hard on its proposal: it was especially hard-hit by the plant's closing.  In this video clip about Vermont Yankee closing, you can hear Patty O'Donnell, chairman of the Vernon Selectboard, speaking hopefully of Vernon's application for a grant to start a business incubator.

The Vermont Economic Progress Council, an eleven-member panel, served as the decision-maker about the economic grants.  This panel has nine members appointed by the governor, and two members appointed by the legislature. Only two panel members come from Windham County, a fact noted by the Brattleboro Reformer in an editorial. The Reformer thought that more local representation might have been a good thing.

The panel recommends
Around Thanksgiving, the panel made its recommendations.  These were recommendations to Governor Peter Shumlin.  Shumlin would make the final decision.

Governor Shumlin
Note: Weirdly, in this state, "Governor Shumlin will make the final decision" doesn't surprise anybody. I have lived in many states, and in general, agency panels make decisions on funding. They put out a request for proposals, then they choose the proposals they want to fund.  Sometimes the governor must approve, but rarely is the situation described as the Governor making the final decision.

Vermont Digger wrote a report on the panel's recommendations.  The panel only planned to award $1.7 million in funding, and none of that was to the town of Vernon. That town's proposal didn't even make the first cut.

Governor Shumlin Decides
Governor Shumlin did not find all $1.7 million dollars worth of projects worthy of
funding.  As a matter of fact, he only plans to fund $800,000 dollars worth of projects.  Vermont Digger described the projects in its article: The State Slows Windham County Economic Development Program.  

The funded projects included $79,000 for the "Strolling of the Heifers" business plan competition.  Now, far be it from me to disrespect the "Strolling of the Heifers," a fine parade in Brattleboro. The Heifers organization is also involved in many locavore, farm-to-table projects.  Still, I don't understand why the Vernon business incubator made no headway with the committee, but the Heifers will be awarded funding for their business competition.  It's almost like saying: we are not interested in what happens to the people in Vernon.  (I am a blogger.  I have opinions.)

Well, that's my opinion of the outcome.  Governor Shumlin's opinion is that Vermont has to revamp the application process to get better proposals next year.

One businessman commented in Vermont Digger, claiming that the process was insulting. He doesn't think the business community is going to try again for next year's funds. A commentator on a Vermont Public Radio article said that the process puts Shumlin in an overly regal  role. 

Opinions certainly vary.

So It Goes
After an entire summer of workshops and excitement about grant applications for the Entergy money, the result can be most honestly described as a fizzle. Most of the money wasn't even awarded. Governor Shumlin was disappointed that the received proposals  were not "transformational" enough. Was he really disappointed, or did he just want to emphasize that the final decision is in his hands alone?  Who knows? Probably a little of both ideas.

Skeptics at Vermont Yankee thought the Entergy economic development money, once it was given to the state, was unlikely to be used to help Vermont Yankee workers.

The bottom line is that the Vermont Yankee skeptics were correct.



Anonymous said...

The question is, will the funding help Governor Shumlin?

Tom Buchanan said...

I think you are correct that the economic development money wasn’t intended to help Vermont Yankee employees. Each VY employee already qualifies for regular state level assistance offered to any worked discharged in a layoff. When Entergy announced the shutdown in August 2013 it made note that the corporation would be recognizing charges totaling $55 to $60 million for future severance and retention costs (an average of approximately $88,000 per employee), a significant benefit not afforded to most Vermont workers who lose their jobs. Entergy has consistently made a case for secondary benefits from operations at the plant that support the regional economy. These existing economic benefits includes non-plant employees in local businesses and the multiplier effect of plant money spent in the region. It is these impacts that the economic development funds were intended to address. It was always envisioned that VY workers could qualify for some of the money, but the intent was to bolster the regional economy generally, rather than assist displaced workers.

Anonymous said...

I don't want anybody to "give" me money. I just want my job. But those who opposed VY took it away. Not only did they destroy my livelihood, they destroyed my family's well-being. But they don't care, they are probably very proud of themselves for doing that. I know Bernie Sanders is.