VERNON -- Selectboard members are touting the potential benefits of new biomass power plant -- with the possibility of a natural-gas component -- that could be built at the Vermont Yankee site after the nuclear facility shuts.
Officials expect to organize a public forum to discuss the deetails of a plant with development costs estimated at $350 million for biomass and upwards of $1 billion for a hybrid facility.
Those involved with the proposal, including a Winhall man who is president of American Generation Partners LLC, acknowledge that the proposal is in its infancy and would have to overcome significant financing and regulatory hurdles -- not to mention acquisition of property from Yankee owner Entergy Corp.
But there is clear excitement about the idea.
"The key is, this is bringing in jobs, tax revenue and stability to Windham County," Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O’Donnell said. "I think everybody in the county is beginning to understand the effects of the closing of Vermont Yankee, and this would be a shot in the arm in Windham County to help turn things around."
Since Entergy announced last summer that Vermont Yankee would cease producing power by the end of 2014, there have been two main topics of discussion -- the structure of the decommissioning process and the economic impacts of losing vital tax revenues as well as hundreds of employees.
The state has negotiated a detailed agreement with Entergy that provides for millions of dollars for economic development and clean energy as well as a more "timely decommissioning" of the plant. But there has bene no clear direction regarding future use of the property, which lies between Governor Hunt Road and the Connecticut River.
The biomass idea is the first public, concrete proposal for redeveloping that parcel.
"There’s always been discussion about what are we going to do, or what is the owner going to do, about the Vermont Yankee site once the place is decommissioned," said Steve Skibniowski of Vernon Planning Commission. "This is one of those possibilities."
Skibniowski was joined Monday night by other members of the town Planning Commission and Selectboard to hear a presentation from G. Donald Campbell Jr., who said he has extensive experience in the finance sector and has worked on large-scale utility projects.
Campbell and O’Donnell already have written a letter to Jeb Spaulding, Vermont’s secretary of administration, outlining a proposal for "an exciting opportunity to provide an energy strategy consistent with Vermont’s unique neds and goals while providing a mechanism to repower state and local economies."
In a nutshell, Campbell’s plan is for a power plant that, with "advanced environmental control technologies," would utilize "woody and agricultural biomass and certain municipal solid waste as primary fuels."
He also sees potential for "hybrid technology that would also permit use of biomass opportunity fuels, while also having the ability to utilize natural gas-fired combustion turbines in a common facility," according to the letter to Spaulding.
Campbell and O’Donnell say the Yankee property is an ideal site for such a venture. Their letter makes the pitch this way:
"Even after this December’s closing of the VY facility, the residual value of the existing infrastructure represents what is likely the best -- if not only -- site in Vermont from which to deploy a significant generation project," Campbell and O’Donnell wrote.
"Access to electric transmission, rail and highway transportation, and land and water resources is unmatched; while improved access to natural gas resources -- either through rail delivery of (liquified natural gas) supplies or by pipeline through neighboring Massachusetts -- can serve electric capacity, local thermal and Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan transportation objectives," the letter says. "Finally, as Vernon serves as a market epicenter for the New England forestry sector, the physical and intellectual resources exist to support the development of a scale biomass generation facility utilizing a range of opportunity fuels."
On Monday evening, Campbell repeatedly compared the proposal to a new biomass plant operating in Berlin, N.H. He also referenced Vermont plants operating in Burlington and Ryegate.