County moving on after nuclear plant closing
KEWAUNEE – In a county that has four times as many cows as people, the loss of Kewaunee Power Station’s 600 high-paying jobs and its tax contributions was a hard blow.
Owner Dominion Energy of Richmond, Va., closed the nuclear power plant in May 2013 after failing to find a buyer. The blow fell especially hard on the town of Carlton, which has about 1,000 residents.
Few nuclear plant employees lived in Carlton and only 23 percent of the 623 workers lived in the county, so the greatest impacts were lost tax revenue — a situation complicated by Carlton’s effort to mitigate its expected losses — and the stimulus of an extra 500 workers coming to the county on a regular basis for refueling and maintenance work.
Regionally, the plant provided $85.5 million in salaries, not including refueling workers.
Dominion owns 900 acres on the western shore of Lake Michigan, 25 miles southeast of Green Bay. It stripped the plant of much of its equipment. What remains is the reactor building, a remote office building/training center and a dry-cask spent-fuel storage facility.
Before the closing, Carlton received about $350,000 annually in lieu of taxes, based on electrical capacity at the plant. It also received a $50,000 annual payment for used nuclear fuel storage and an additional payment for an American Transmission Co. substation.
In 2014, Carlton assessed the closed plant at $457 million, knowing property tax refunds would have to be made if Dominion appealed that valuation or sued and won.
The company did sue, contending the total value was worth just over $1 million. A subsequent settlement said Kewaunee County, Kewaunee School District and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, but not Carlton, would have to repay $11.9 million in refunds or credits to Dominion over 10 years.
The settlement set the property’s value at $15 million for the next eight years.
“The county government, and I would assume the townships and schools, did get a reasonable settlement (from Dominion),” County Board Chairman Robert Weidner said. “The county is going to survive.”
In April 2017, the county board enacted a 0.5 percent sales tax to replace lost tax revenue from the plant. The tax is expected to provide about $1 million annually, offsetting a loss of $750,000 a year. The tax is set to expire in 2021, but can be continued if the board chooses.
“We were sort of in a holding pattern because of the lawsuit,” said Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp. “Now there is seriously an opportunity for planning for the future.”
That planning includes boosting tourism. While it is not a tourism destination itself, the county is on the way to popular Door County, and has an emerging wine industry and recreational opportunities.
The county also is discussed as a site for a potential state prison.
Because Dominion took more than a year to wind down employment at Kewaunee Power Station, the employment impact was gradual. Proximity to Green Bay and the fact that 77 percent of workers lived in Brown or Manitowoc counties helped absorb the impact. But, as Weidner pointed out, “for those personally impacted by losing a job, it was devastating.”
Some workers found employment in the nuclear industry, while others who wanted to stay in the area found other, sometimes lower-paying, jobs.
“If people were going to leave, they left quickly,” Brown said. “If they were going to stay around, they found jobs elsewhere.”
The county unemployment rate in April 2017 was 2.6 percent. It was 5.8 percent when the plant closed in May 2013.
The 556-megawatt pressurized water reactor operated commercially for 38 years, 10 months and 22 days. Major Decommissioning and dismantling activities are scheduled to start in 2069, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
This article originally appeared on Wisconsin: County moving on after nuclear plant closing