Lawmakers back first-of-its-kind law to help Indian Point towns, schools after shutdown
State lawmakers on Wednesday passed first-in-the-nation legislation giving the communities around Indian Point the power to collect taxes from property used to store spent nuclear fuel at the Hudson River plant.
The bill approved by the Assembly and Senate late Wednesday amends the state’s real property law to include spent fuel pools and the dozens of cement-and-steel casks used to store used nuclear fuel at the Buchanan site.
State and local officials are hoping the measure will serve as an economic lifeline for the village of Buchanan, the town of Cortlandt and the Hendrick Hudson School District in the years after Indian Point shuts down in 2021.
Together, they’re expected to lose $32 million in annual property tax revenue, while being saddled with a 240-acre site that will be difficult to develop while spent nuclear fuel remains in storage.
The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Pete Harckham and in the Assembly by Sandra Galef. To become law, it will need the backing of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is reviewing the bill.
“This has never really been done before,” Harckham said. “It’s significant because until the federal government comes up with a solution for nuclear waste, that portion of Buchanan will be a nuclear waste storage site in perpetuity. It can’t be developed economically.”
The federal government’s efforts to develop a permanent underground storage site for the nation’s nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert have stalled amid political opposition.
As a result, dozens of communities across the nation are now home to spent nuclear fuel. And companies who ran shuttered power plants are collecting as much as $10 million a yearfrom the federal government to store the waste.
Buchanan Mayor Theresa Knickerbocker pushed for the bill as a way to deal with some $3.5 million in annual revenue losses for the village, half its budget.
“At a time of crisis when our village faces a staggering loss of tax dollars and jobs, our legislators listened to us and delivered for our community,” Knickerbocker said Thursday.
The village sponsored an online petition on its website that gathered 2,800 signatures in favor of passage.
Its latest budget includes a 40% tax increase to offset revenue losses in the coming years after the village’s PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) with Entergy, Indian Point’s owner, expires next year.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the owners of power plants across the country, said this appears to be the first time such a measure has passed a state legislature.
“We are aware of legislative proposals in some other states to give aid to communities where reactors are being decommissioned, but don't know of any legislative action so far this year,” said Matthew Wald, a spokesman for NEI.
Also Wednesday, the Assembly and Senate passed a measure that would keep wages for workers who participate in the plant’s decommissioning at the level of other workers in the area.
Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi said the company will hire about 300 of its current employees to work during the first phase of the plant’s decommissioning and will honor union-negotiated contracts.
“Legislation that mandates certain wage levels for employees or imposes additional taxes on the facility may have unintended consequences which could make the transition of the workforce and prompt decommissioning of the facility more difficult to achieve,” Nappi said.
Employees willing to relocate have been offered jobs elsewhere with the company.
A third bill passed Wednesday allows plants that once generated energy to make PILOT payments to local towns and schools.
Entergy has a pending contract to sell Indian Point to Holtec, a New Jersey-based firm that specializes in decommissioning nuclear power plants.
That deal is pending the approval of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Holtec says it will take 12 to 15 years to dismantle and demolish the site at a cost of $2.3 billion, which will come from funds that have been accumulating in decommissioning trust funds for each of the plant's three reactors.
Indian Point's Unit 2 reactor shut down in April. Unit 3, its other working reactor, shuts down in April 2021.
"As Indian Point moves from active energy generation toward decommissioning each bill eases the transition, protecting workers, tax payers and communities," Galef said.