Vermont Yankee Closing Could Bring 'Considerable' Economic Changes To Southwestern N.H.

Dec 22, 2014

In just over a week Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is set to close. It means the end of a long-running debate over the plant and nuclear energy in the Green Mountain State, but it could also mean the start of some economic challenges for the area surrounding the plant, including parts of New Hampshire's Monadnock Region.

Paul Miller is executive editor of the Keene Sentinel, which has been reporting on the economic effects of the shutdown. He joined All Things Considered for a look at the economic picture after the shutdown begins.

The immediate impact is job cuts.

I think there's about a couple hundred [workers] that live in New Hampshire, but keep in mind that some of the downsizing that is expected to occur has been taking place. There are people who took retirement, I believe; there are some people who opted out to take other jobs in the industry earlier than the plant shutdown time. And the whole tri-state region - it's a significant number of jobs, and it's not just the loss of those jobs, but to my view, it's the spending from all those employees that is really going to have an impact or is really going to cause some jeopardy for everybody. These are high-wage employees, they make a good wage, and it's a different kind of consumer.

There was a report in 2012 that looked at what the regional economic picture might look like if Vermont Yankee was going to close. They talked about the effects on subsidiary businesses and the amount of spending going into the local economy, and then also things like property tax rates, housing vacancies and the skilled workforce. These are all ongoing problems in this part of the country as it is. What have officials been talking about on this side of the border in trying to deal with, and maybe even head off, those effects?

The question is, have they been talking, really. We hold edit board interviews with local and state - and even national - elected officials, and we raise the matter of this little nuclear power plant on the western shores of the Connecticut River, but we don't get much in the way of response or much in the way of informed, enlightenment. When Vermont Yankee closed down, Governor Hassan was quick to issue a statement on the shutdown and put together a working group to outline some goals, but - and while I confess I haven't checked in recently - I think it's also noteworthy that the goals that this group outlined, or that she outlined, did not include addressing the economic impact of the plant shutdown. Those communities in our region, Chesterfield, Hinsdale - this has to be top of mind, because there is that trickle-down effect. Our economy's going to be affected. School enrollments are going to be affected. Population, which we know in this state is in decline, is going to be affected, and now we have to find out the extent to which all that happens.

Is it possible that the discussions around those issues might pick up for local and regional officials, or might they say the effects will be so gradual that it doesn't have to be addressed immediately?

That would be my fear, the fact that this shutdown is going to be a gradual, phased-in process, achieved over potentially decades, may cause us not to have that focus that I think we need. I think because we're on the other side of the river we don't have the direct tax base implications that towns like Vernon and Brattleboro and other places in Vermont have. But it does affect us, and it's not just from the safety standpoint. It's from an economic standpoint.

One of the things we did when we were looking for context when news came that Vermont Yankee was going to shut down is, we sent a reporter down to Roe, Mass., to take a look at the nuclear power plant that was shut down and decommissioned. And they're still feeling the effects economically from the closing of that plant, even though part of it remains open to protect the waste storage site. There are small businesses in this little town that say they'll never be the same, they haven't been the same since it closed down. So to think that you would not be affected is probably a little reckless. I hope that we'll begin to have some public forums and discussions in the way that they've done on the other side in Vermont, that helps us look at this in a smart way and plan for it and be ready for the outcomes. Because I think they stand to be considerable.