Lessons for Diablo Canyon: Vermont region adjusts to life without its nuclear plant via The Tribune

The closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in 2014 spread wide ripples of economic impact across a tri-state area. The town of Vernon lost nearly half its tax revenue, while the area lost 1,220 high-paying jobs. But quick cost-cutting and economic aid from the plant owner Entergy Corp. are helping to ease the transition.

Editor’s note: Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant’s closure in 2025 means an annual economic loss of about $1 billion locally. This is the first of a four-part series on how other communities dealt with the financial consequences when their nuclear power plants closed.

When residents of Vernon, Vermont, lost their biggest taxpayer — the 620-megawatt Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant — nearly two years ago, they reacted quickly and pragmatically. Among other cost-cutting measures, they eliminated the entire Police Department and turned to the sheriff to enforce the law in the town of 2,100 residents.

The news was welcome in some quarters. Many environmentalists in New England had been calling for the plant’s closure for years. The opposition only grew louder following the partial collapse of a cooling tower in 2007 and the discovery of radioactive tritium leaks in 2010. The state of Vermont tried to shut down the plant but was overruled in court.

In the town of Vernon, though, the plant was a respected neighbor, so much so that if another energy plant were to come to town, “people would welcome it with open arms,” Pong said.

Tax income from the plant provided residents of Vernon with services — such as its own Police Department — that were out of reach to other Windham County communities.

While those days are over, the Entergy income stream hasn’t been shut off completely. The company will continue to make tax stability payments to the town over the next five years, though payments will gradually decline from $750,000 this year to $400,000 in 2022. The payments will stop after that, though the town’s grateful for the five-year leeway.

A study by the University of Massachusetts found Vermont Yankee boosted the region’s economy by $500 million per year and, between the plant’s workforce and spin-off jobs in the community, provided 1,220 jobs.

Yet even when the plant was open, the region struggled with challenges that confront many communities: an aging population; deteriorating infrastructure; lack of affordable housing; and low household incomes. (According to a 2009 United Way study, the median household income in Windham County was more than $5,000 lower than the statewide median.)


Drop in housing prices

Yet the economic recovery funds can’t compare to what Vermont Yankee used to contribute on a regular basis. Loss of Vermont Yankee dollars is being felt in ways large and small, especially in Windham County.

When the plant closed and a first wave of workers left, the number of houses on the market increased and housing prices dropped. While there are fewer houses on the market this year, the median sales price for single-family homes selling the first seven months of this year — $175,000 — was still below the state median of $210,000.

The plant’s closure also hurt nonprofit groups. Entergy used to contribute between $300,000 and $400,000 per year to 100 different organizations. That’s gone.

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