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Putting the Issues in Context

Nuclear power plants can bring significant economic benefits to the regions where they are located.  In addition to generating reliable low-carbon power, these utilities provide high-paying jobs (often in rural communities), support municipal and school budgets through taxes and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs), generate a wide network of indirect jobs, and can enhance civic life by sponsoring local events and funding scholarships.  However, these power plants have a finite life span and will eventually close, removing from the community all the aforementioned benefits and resources.   Additionally, competition for experienced employees within the nuclear power industry is high, so when a plant ends operations a majority of employees and their families will tend to leave town.  And if the plant is located in a rural or otherwise lower income area, the loss of what are often outsized household incomes can have significant impacts throughout the larger community as less money is available to be spent locally.  At the moment, over 20 nuclear power sites are in the closure and decommissioning process and between five and ten additional plants could close within the next few years.  At a minimum, a typical nuclear plant creates approximately $400 million in annual gross regional product, and the removal of this economic engine produces a potentially devastating impact on rural towns and regions that may not have a diversified economy.

Given the economic and social contributions nuclear power plants make to their host communities, it is a natural fit to discuss their role and impact in a region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, or CEDS.  The CEDS, often prepared by an Economic Development District (EDD), is a locally-based, regionally-driven economic development planning process and document that creates the space for a region to identify its strengths and weaknesses and brings together a diverse set of partners to generate good jobs, diversify the economy, and spur economic growth.  An effective CEDS allows a region to maximize its economic development potential, as well as engage with the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and other federal partners to access a variety of infrastructure and capacity building grants.

Despite the value in highlighting nuclear plant closure impacts in the CEDS, a national review of these documents reveals that these issues are often not thoroughly addressed.  Many CEDS do not mention the existence of the nuclear plants at all; others only briefly discuss them in passing references to electricity generation and number of jobs created in the region.  Not including this information in the CEDS is a missed opportunity as it means the CEDS doesn’t present a full picture of the region’s economy.  It also may limit the region’s ability to access funding and resources to support economic diversification and workforce development.  There are, however, a handful of CEDS that do effectively call out the ongoing or potential economic impacts of closure and provide useful information and strategies for the region to adapt, diversify, and become more resilient.

The following observations and best practices are offered to encourage local organizations to incorporate nuclear community issues into the CEDS to better position their regions for recovery and resilience.  Included in these suggestions are examples from effective CEDS and also insights from Chris Campany, the executive director of the Windham Regional Commission (WRC).  Though not an EDD, WRC served as a key organization in guiding the region in preparation for the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station’s closure in December 2014 and was part of a coalition of organizations that developed the Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategy (SeVEDS).  (Learn more about Vermont Yankee closure experience and lessons learned here).

Economic Development Districts (EDDs) and other regional organizations that prepare the CEDS are well-positioned to facilitate the conversation around inevitable plant closure.

As trusted conveners in their regions, EDDs and other regionally-based organizations are able to facilitate discussions and meetings about nuclear power plant closure and the wider economic and social impacts that may follow. These can be highly sensitive and emotional topics, but as a trusted partner, EDDs can use the CEDS planning process and other regional economic development initiatives to create the space to talk constructively about these issues.  “We weren’t supporting or opposing the continued operations of Vermont Yankee,” says Chris Campany.  “But we knew it would close eventually and therefore began looking into what closure scenarios were in the region’s best interest. It’s the same process you should consider for any industry that may have a limited lifespan, whether that lifespan is driven by the availability of a specific resource or market conditions that could impact the economic viability of reliance on that resource.  What has so greatly impacted the economic viability of nuclear plants is the availability of relatively cheap natural gas.”

As federally-designated entities and EDA’s key institutional partners, EDDs can leverage ongoing partnerships with many federal agencies to help translate the vision identified in the CEDS into action.  EDD staff capacity and project expertise can be leveraged to prepare applications for communities to access funding and other resources and implement projects and initiatives identified through the CEDS planning process that support with closure issues.  These funding sources include EDA’s Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance programs, including the Nuclear Closure Communities funding stream designed to support “regions that have been impacted, or can reasonably demonstrate that they will be impacted, by [nuclear power plant] closure(s).”

Nuclear power plants shut down for many reasons.  Talking about a potential closure isn’t one of them.

There may be a reluctance in some places to discuss these issues out of a concern that doing so might somehow lead to early closure or influence the utility’s decision-making process about the future of a plant.  However, evidence shows that economic considerations such as changes in the energy market, the high cost of deferred maintenance, and other plant-specific reasons are the primary reasons a plant may close early.  Says Campany: “The plant isn’t going to close just because you are asking questions and talking about these issues as a community.  Vermont Yankee closed because it wasn’t competitive and it cost too much to run the plant.  It had everything to do with the economic climate.”

It is never too early to discuss plant closure and economic diversification.

Too many places wait until it is too late to discuss important issues like economic diversification. When times are good and an economy or industry is booming, there seems to be little incentive to think about preparing for a possible (or eventual) economic downturn or closure.  However, every community and region should always be thinking about diversifying its workforce and economic base.  This is particularly important in places where there may be an industry or entity that has an outsize impact on the local or regional economy, such as regions that are home to a nuclear power plant.  Over-reliance on one employer to provide jobs, a tax base, or other services puts a community in a very tenuous position.  Even if there is no sign at the moment of a plant closing, now is still the time to gather information, have conversations, and look at ways to make the economy more resilient.  Even Cupertino, CA – home to Apple and other successful tech companies – has explored local diversification strategies in the event that those companies ever left town, downsized, or made a major change in their operations.  If Cupertino of all places is discussing economic diversification, your community should, too!

Discussing nuclear power plant issues in the required sections of the CEDS is an effective way to highlight their contributions to the regional economy and anticipate the economic impacts of closure.

Each required section in the CEDS provides the potential to highlight the economic impacts of nuclear power plants and eventual closure.  As a refresher: the Summary Background should give a clear explanation of the region’s current economic status; the SWOT analysis is a clear recognition of the region’s opportunities and challenges; the Strategic Direction/Action Plan sets a vision and approach for how to address the issues identified in the SWOT; the Evaluation Framework is a method for tracking progress; and Economic Resilience addresses strategies for how a region can best anticipate, withstand, and bounce back from shocks, disruptions, and stresses.  For more information about the required sections of the CEDS, visit here.  Keep in mind that the CEDS is as much a process as it is the final document produced.  Public engagement and outreach efforts, in particular during the SWOT analysis, are opportunities to address these issues as a region and provide a forum for candid, thoughtful discussions about these topics with a wide cross-section of the community.

Below are examples of how districts have incorporated nuclear plant issues into the different sections of the CEDS and the language that was used:

[Summary Background] Crater Planning District Commission (2020-2025 CEDS): “The period of the 1970s and 1980s was also a time of suburbanization in the counties adjacent to the District’s cities. Economic development/jobs generation/tax base expansion became a central focus in all of the District’s localities. A key example was the location in 1972 of the Dominion Virginia Power Surry Power Station, the company’s first nuclear station, in rural Surry County along the James River. It continues to be a major employment center and taxpayer in Surry County.”

[Summary Background] Southeastern Connecticut Economic Development District (2017-2022 CEDS): “The largest 6-digit NAICS industry within the [Energy and Environment] cluster is Nuclear Electric Power Generation, with over 1,000 jobs, or 18% of jobs in 2016. This industry specifically contributes $757,449,697 to seCTer GRP…The Energy and Environment cluster within the seCTer region has declined over the past five years by 546 jobs, a 9% decrease and is projected to decrease by another 423 jobs in the upcoming five-year period which would contribute to an 8% decrease. Job losses have been driven by losses in the nuclear industry, electrical distribution, and engineering services.”

[SWOT] Region 1 Planning Council (2021-2024 CEDS):  “Exelon Corporation’s announcement that the Byron nuclear power plant will close in 2021 is a reminder that the Northern Illinois Region, which has long enjoyed inexpensive electricity, must develop sustainable, alternative energy sources to mitigate the likelihood of higher electricity costs in the future.”

[Strategic Direction] Bi-State Regional Commission (2016-2021 CEDS): “Request EDA Technical Assistance funds to study the economic effects on the energy sector to the region including coal and nuclear plants within the region, as well as sustainable and future energy sources.”

[Evaluation Framework] Old Colony Planning Council (2020-2025 CEDS): “OCPC worked with U.S.EDA and the Towns of Kingston and Plymouth to plan a Regional Economic Diversification Summit (REDS) that was held at Kingston Town Hall on Thursday, September 19, 2019. This summit discussed and found solutions to the infrastructure needs and workforce development needs for these two communities to help them deal with the impacts on their communities due to the closure and loss of jobs with the closure of the Entergy Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant on May 31, 2019.”

[Economic Resilience] Hudson Valley Regional Council (2019-2023 CEDS):  “The downturn in specific industries that make up a critical component of jobs or a local economy is currently happening in our region also. Currently, the Town of Cortlandt in Westchester County is taking actions, knowing that it will be experiencing adverse economic impact with the closure of Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. Although hailed by many, the loss of several thousand jobs, and millions of dollars in tax revenue to the School District, the Town, several hamlets, villages, and the County will have a long-term impact on a large portion of our region. The Town of Cortlandt is working on feasibility studies and identifying areas for potential economic growth and development to offset the loss of revenues as well as create new employment opportunities for those affected. The Economic Development Administration as well as the State of New York are developing programs and funding opportunities to assist in rebuilding the economy in this area.”

Use the CEDS process to gather information to highlight how the nuclear power plant is positioned within the wider regional economy.

Use the information gathering process while preparing the CEDS to research and synthesize information about the plant, its workforce, and economic impact to paint a clearer picture of its impact on the wider regional economy.  Chris Campany has the following suggestions for EDDs and other regional organizations: “Look at proceedings related to the plants to see what if any information can be gleaned from the plants themselves, including employment and income data.  There may be other things included in Nuclear Regulatory Commission filings and state utility commission fillings that provide an economic characterization of the plant.  There may be information about what the decommissioning scenario will be – SAFSTOR or DECON.  That is incredibly useful information because it tells you how sharp the cliff will be when it comes to number of employees and how that translates into income leaving the region.”  For EDDs that may be reluctant to highlight this information out of a fear it may be seen as “calling out” the nuclear industry, Campany suggests doing a similar analysis for all other major industries in the area to show the nature of the full regional economy.  “If you want to take the sting out of it, if there are other major employers in the community – seek similar information from them as it is important to have anyhow for the CEDS.”

Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t yet know about closure impacts.

The CEDS planning and public engagement process may reveal gaps in knowledge or raise additional questions for the region.  Be transparent in the CEDS document about what information or data might be needed to allow for more informed decision making.  For example, in the Bi-State Regional Commission’s 2015 CEDS, the Summary Background included the following point: “The region has a nuclear power plant owned and operated by Exelon in Cordova, Illinois; however, the plant will need to be decommissioned in a few years.  Changes in regulations for coal-fired plants may also cause the plants in the region to close in the future.  The overall effects of a nuclear power plant decommissioning and/or coal-fired power plant closures are not known at this time and will require future study.”  By including this information in the CEDS, the region is clearly identifying what else is needed to make these planning efforts part of a long-term, on-going strategy for economic resilience and diversification.

And at a bare minimum…at least mention the existence of the plant in your CEDS.

A surprisingly number of CEDS that cover regions home to nuclear power plants do not even mention there is a plant in the area at all.  Regardless of the status of the plant – whether it is operating, undergoing decommissioning, or closed – it is a part of your region’s economic landscape and should be identified in your CEDS.  Ideally, the CEDS will address some of the deeper economic and social issues discussed above, but if for whatever reason that it not feasible, make sure that the plant is at least mentioned as a power generator, jobs creator, and part of the region’s industrial mix.  This can help establish a solid foundation to address these issues in more detail during a CEDS update or rewrite, or through other regional economic development initiatives.  Finally, you might consider taking a closer look at the experiences of communities where plants have already closed to frame questions your CEDS could address, and what some likely impact scenarios could be for your community.  For a background on the socioeconomic impacts of nuclear power plant closure, please see the Nuclear Decommissioning Collaborative’s recent report here.

This brief was written by Brett Schwartz, Associate Director, NADO Research Foundation.  Special thanks to Chris Campany at the Windham Regional Commission for his time, expertise, and insight.

If your region is home to a nuclear power plan, you are eligible to receive free technical assistance through the Nuclear Closure Communities Technical Assistance Program funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration and staffed by Smart Growth America, the Nuclear Decommissioning Collaborative, the NADO Research Foundation, and the Center for Creative Land Recycling. No matter where the power plant is in its lifecycle, the program team can provide support with a host of planning, evaluation, and implementation strategies.  Click here to learn more about the program and here for a description of services available from the project team.

This effort utilizes Federal funds under award ED20HDQ3030068 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the project team and do not necessarily reflect the views of EDA or the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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Regional Development Researcher Andrew Coker joined the NADO team in March of 2023 after spending two and a half years as the Regional Economic Resiliency Coordinator at West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District. Andrew holds a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix College and a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

At NADO, Andrew conducts research on the newest economic and community development best practices from Economic Development Districts across the country. He helps produce easily digestible information on complex regional issues through case studies, tip sheets, and research reports. Andrew also hosts training and professional development opportunities including conference sessions and virtual webinars for member regional development organizations.

Andrew is one of our Missouri-based team members and enjoys reading and training for his next triathlon.

Jack Morgan came to the NADO team in 2022 after seven years with the National Association of Counties (NACo) as a Program and Senior Program Manager. Prior to NACo, Jack was a Policy Analyst for Friends of Southwest Virginia. Jack holds a bachelor’s in geography from Emory & Henry College and a master’s in geography from Appalachian State University.

As a NADO Senior Program Manager, Jack leads capacity-building and peer-learning work supporting energy communities in economic transition, regional resilience, and recreation economies. He also helps with the EDA-Austin training program Emerging Leaders.

Jack is certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and is a member of the American Planning Association (APA) in the Regional & Intergovernmental Planning division. He also serves on the Emory & Henry College Alumni Board.

Taking road trips, reading non-fiction, and indulging in top-notch barbecue and coffee round out Jack’s days. He loves maps, mountains, and of course, all things sports.

Karron Grant joined the NADO team in 2023 as Administrative Specialist and is the first face (or voice) you’ll see or hear when reaching out to NADO. As Administrative Specialist, Karron manages our database and coordinates NADO event operations. He ensures members’ needs are met, contact information stays current, and NADO’s office is running efficiently.

Karron came to NADO after four years in the classroom teaching at The New Century School and Old Mill Middle North where he received the Patriot of the Year award. He attended Towson University and the University of Maryland Global Campus and holds a bachelor’s in international studies and humanities.

Visiting art galleries and museums, playing basketball and bowling, and taking in movies and music are some of Karron’s interests and hobbies.

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Laurie holds a bachelor’s in public affairs and government from Mount Vernon College and a master’s in health services administration from The George Washington University. Prior to NADO, Laurie spent time as a Field Specialist and an Eagle Staff Fund Director at First Nations Development Institute.

When she’s taking a rare reprieve from her NADO work, Laurie enjoys traveling domestically and internationally to visit friends and family.

Jamie McCormick joined the NADO team as a Policy Fellow first in 2019, then moved into her current role as Legislative Associate in 2021. As Legislative Associate, Jamie keeps NADO members apprised of any policy and regulatory issues and communicates NADO’s policy priorities to federal stakeholders and partner organizations. She is also the first stop for members with inquiries on policy issues. The planning and execution of NADO & DDAA’s annual Washington Conference is also managed by Jamie.

Jamie holds a dual bachelor’s in political science and international relations from The State University of New York College at Geneseo and a master’s in international development studies from The George Washington University. In addition to her roles at NADO, Jamie also worked as a Legislative Assistant for the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association.

Outside of her NADO work, Jamie is an active volunteer with the VOLO Kids Foundation and a fundraiser for YMCA youth programs. She is also NADO’s resident baker regularly providing treats for those in NADO’s D.C. office. Traveling, taking her pup on walks, and hiking in the northeast keep Jamie busy. 

Brett Schwartz began at NADO in 2012 as a Research Fellow after earning his J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. The following year, he was promoted to Program Manager and has now been leading as an Associate Director since 2018. Brett is responsible for managing NADO’s Economic Development District Community of Practice (EDD CoP), as well as researching and monitoring the latest trends in regional economic development and resilience, including best practices for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). With more than a decade of experience on the NADO team, Brett is a dynamic relationship builder helping connect and build capacity among the national network of regional development organizations.

Brett also holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s from Trinity College Dublin, as well as a certificate in mediation training. He’s a member of Catalyst Grantmakers of San Diego and Imperial Counties and was a participant in the 2021-22 Field Trips to the Future Cohort.

Brett is one of NADO’s West Coast team members residing in San Diego, CA where he enjoys spending time outdoors, attending concerts and festivals, and soaking up life as a parent of two young children.  

Communications Manager Katie Allison joined the team in 2023 to lead the strategic communication efforts of NADO. Katie creates and develops print and online materials, communicates NADO’s updates to members via weekly emails, and maintains content for nado.org and NADO’s social media channels. She also works with different departments to generate new ideas and strategies to effectively describe and promote the important work NADO is doing for EDDs and RDOs across the country.

An experienced nonprofit communications professional, Katie has worked for organizations in western North Carolina for nearly a decade. She holds a bachelor’s in communications from Wingate University where she was a four-year student athlete. Katie has also completed Vision Henderson County, a comprehensive leadership development program that promotes informed and committed civic volunteerism.

Katie stays busy trying to keep up with her two young sons whom she enjoys exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains with. Traveling to new and favorite places and cheering on the Atlanta Braves are some of her family’s favorite pastimes.

Senior Program Manager Ciara Ristig has been a member of the NADO team since 2021, and helps with NADO’s EDD Community of Practice, EDD staff capacity building and other grants on a range of subjects, including equity and solar energy. Before NADO, Ciara worked as a Planner for the County of Santa Barbara and an Assistant Project Manager for REM Consult. Ciara holds a bachelor’s in urban studies and French from Bryn Mawr and a master’s in urban studies from Ecole d’Urbanisme de Paris.

When she’s not traveling, you can find her outrigger paddling and serving on the board of the Blue Sky Center in New Cuyama, CA, near her home base of Santa Barbara.

Carrie Kissel has been a member of the NADO team since 2005 when she began as a Research Fellow. She later moved into the roles of Program Manager in 2006, and then Associate Director in 2011. Carrie holds a bachelor’s in anthropology from Ball State University and a master’s in public anthropology from American University. As Associate Director, Carrie oversees NADO’s work in rural transportation and rural wealth creation. She provides technical assistance and support to rural regions on transportation and economic development issues and develops training and peer exchange events on transportation issues and rural wealth creation as an economic development strategy.

Carrie is a member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and secretary of TRB’s Rural Transportation Issues Coordinating Council. She is also a member of the American Anthropological Association and the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology.

Reading, gardening, hiking, and kayaking are a few of Carrie’s hobbies, and she organizes and facilitates a DEI/social justice-focused book club in her community.

Melissa Levy has worked at NADO as a Regional Development Researcher since February 2023 and is the Principal Consultant at her own firm specializing in wealth-based economic development consulting. With a career spanning nearly 30 years, Melissa brings a breadth of knowledge to her role as a Regional Development Researcher. Melissa provides in-depth research, coaching, and training on regional economic resilience, rural wealth creation strategies, and economic development.

Melissa is a North American Food Systems Network trained AgriCluster Resilience and Expansion (ACRE) facilitator and a WealthWorks coach, facilitator, and trainer. In addition to her professional work, Melissa serves on the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Council, on the board of the Hinesburg Community Resource Center, and on the Hinesburg Economic Development Committee.

A true outdoorswoman, Melissa enjoys cross country and downhill skiing, paddleboarding, hiking, biking, and kayaking, as well as yoga, and teaching Tai Chi.

Program Manager Krishna Kunapareddy began her role with NADO in February of 2023 after 14 years of service at Boonslick Regional Planning Commission in Missouri. Krishna manages NADO Research Foundation’s Planning and Environmental Linkages and Center for Environmental Excellence projects. In addition to researching and writing, Krishna also conducts virtual workshops on innovative tools and techniques related to transportation planning.

She holds an undergraduate degree from Andhra University and a master’s from JNT University in India, as well as a master’s in city and regional planning from the University of Texas at Arlington. Krishna is also a certified Smart Cities Academy Practitioner and holds the Location Advantage certificate from geographic information system software company ESRI.

In her spare time, Krishna volunteers with Mentors4College helping high schoolers better plan for their post-high school paths. She is also a dedicated advocate for documented H4 Dreamers.

Krystal DeLeon joined the NADO team in October of 2020 as Database & Grants Manger, but in January of 2022 transitioned to her current role as Operations Manager. Krystal keeps NADO running through behind the scenes work of invoicing, solving any database issues that may arise, producing membership reports, and much more. Her organizational skills and thorough knowledge help the NADO team operate more efficiently across all departments.

Prior to NADO, Krystal was the Conference Services Coordinator for State Services Organization. She is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), a licensed realtor, and holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Liberty University. When she’s not keeping NADO’s operations in order, Krystal enjoys running and rock climbing, and adventuring with her husband and son.

Senior Program Manager Bret Allphin joined NADO in April of 2022 bringing with him a wealth of knowledge after a 20-year career with Buckeye Hills Regional Council in Marietta, Ohio. In addition to his bachelor’s in political science and master’s in public affairs, Bret is licensed Geographical Information Systems Professional (GISP). He is NADO’s go-to team member for all things mapping while also supporting members with transportation and economic development technical assistance services.

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Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.

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