Researchers from the University of Massachusetts laid out the challenges Plymouth will face when Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station closes at Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting.
The presentation was part of a trio of reports that, Selectmen Chairman Ken Tavares said, would provide information on how the town should prepare for Pilgrim Station’s closing.
Given the potential loss of jobs and revenue that could result from Pilgrim closing, several selectmen expressed frustration in getting help from the federal government in preparing for that inevitability.
According to the UMass report, Pilgrim Station offers good paying jobs to a skilled and specialized workforce. Those jobs, said presenter Jennifer Stromsten, pay higher wages than the state median. According to the report, The average weekly wage at Pilgrim Station is more than double the average wage in Plymouth. Pilgrim, she said, employees about 600 people, while creating about 600 secondary jobs in the area. Most of the plant’s employees, she said, live in the area and spend their money here. Plymouth itself is home to 190 of those workers.
Since their work is so specialized, Stromsten said, those workers are likely to leave town when the plant closes and their services are no longer needed here. That happens quickly, she said, within three years, those 600 employees go down to 100, and by the time all fuel has been moved to dry storage, it can fall to 30. Their loss and its impact on the community, said Dr. John Mullin, is a “death by 1,000 cuts.” Mullin is the assistant director of the UMass Center for Economic Development, which produced the report.
A big challenge for the 65 towns hosting power plants is that there are no government programs or established practices designed to help ease the transition, Stromsten said. She contrasted that to the help communities that host closed military bases get. Mullin suggested nuclear host communities try to work with those municipalities.
The loss of tax revenue when Pilgrim Station closes could be devasting. Selectmen John Mahoney estimated that up to 300 town jobs would have to be cut to make up the shortfall. In the past, he has called for setting aside more money to deal with the impact of the plant’s closing. Stromsten warned Mahoney that what he wants is “almost politically impossible. Someone has to throw you a lifeline.” Vernon, Vermont, which hosts the recently shuttered Vermont Yankee plant, set aside money, she said, “but it’s never enough.”
Plymouth is a role model for other communities hosting nuclear power plants because, Stromsten said, it is paying attention to the looming crisis. That’s in contrast, she and Tavares agreed, with many of those other towns. Tavares said that efforts to reach out, led by former Selectman Belinda Brewster, were largely ignored. Stromsten said she had seen the same lack of interest in facing the potential closing of nuclear power plants. “It’s a source of befuddlement,” she said. She noted that in many of those communities, the plants are located in unincorporated areas with no municipal oversight. Other places seem to be afraid to just raise the issue, she added.
As for solutions, Stromsten gave a few options. She said the town should look for economic development opportunities off of the Pilgrim Station site and think about how to replace the economic activity the plant generates. Redevelopment of closed nuclear plant sites has not been good, she said. “It’s difficult to find an industry that can replace the sort of jobs that will be lost when Pilgrim closes, observed Selectman Anthony Provenzano.
Another potential source of help, but also frustration, comes from the federal government. The town has had a hard time getting congressional leaders to pay attention to the issue, said Tavares. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy has filed legislation aimed to help host communities, Stromsten said. Tavares also wondered if money collected by the federal government to deal with nuclear waste could be turned back to the towns that now find themselves storing that waste, despite promises to the contrary.
Read the UMass Report