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Shumlin, Vt. Yankee Reach Deal

Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Montpelier — The Shumlin administration and Entergy Corp. have reached an agreement that, if all goes according to plan, would see the decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant decades earlier than originally planned.

In a Monday afternoon news conference, Gov. Peter Shumlin and Michael Twomey of Entergy Corp. outlined the details of the agreement, which they called “a path to decommissioning.” Under the plan, decommissioning could start in the 2020s, the governor said.

The agreement also calls for $10 million earmarked for Windham County economic development over the next five years, as well as a new, separate $25 million fund toward the “green field” cleanup of the Vernon reactor site and a $5.2 million “green energy” fund that would benefit both Windham County and the rest of the state. “That’s a big deal,” the governor, a Windham County native, said.

Attorney General William Sorrell said that Entergy also dropped its fight for $6 million in legal fees over some of the litigation, and all legal challenges had been withdrawn. Additionally, the state dropped its push for $5.2 million in generation taxes, which Entergy had been fighting in federal court as well.

In all, Entergy pledged a total of $70 million in the new agreement, and in exchange the state agreed to support Vermont Yankee’s continued operation until the end of 2014 before the Vermont Public Service Board, which is poised to rule on a certificate of public good for that last year of operation.

Until Monday, the Shumlin administration had opposed Yankee’s continued operation, and had often said Entergy Corp. couldn’t be trusted as a corporate citizen and had even given that as a reason to oppose Yankee’s continued operation.

Shumlin on Monday said he was pleased the state and Entergy had stopped fighting and “are instead focused on ways the state and Entergy can work together to ease the transition for Windham County.” The two sides have been meeting in secret ever since Entergy announced in late August that it would close the 41-year-old nuclear power plant because the reactor was losing money. Entergy blamed the New England power markets and the low cost of natural gas as the main reasons behind Vermont Yankee’s demise.

Shumlin said an important goal was to get the high-level radioactive fuel out of the plant’s spent fuel pool and into dry cask storage, and to start the clean up, rather than wait 50 years — as Entergy would be allowed to do under the so-called SAFSTOR option under Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules.

Twomey said the two sides did not come to an agreement on all issues, but he said it was better to reach an agreement on some matters, rather than hold up the entire agreement.

Issues not resolved include whether the decommissioning trust fund can be tapped for other expenses.

“We’re setting new standards for how these issues get addressed,” said Twomey, who noted that three other nuclear reactors in other parts of the country are grappling with the same issues.

Shumlin also said Entergy would complete a new financial assessment of exactly how much it would cost to decommission the reactor — a study three years ahead of the NRC schedule.

Under the deal, Entergy would apply to the NRC within 120 days of Yankee’s decommissioning trust fund reaching the amount of money needed to accomplish a full cleanup.

The fund, which was at about $160 million when Entergy bought the plant in 2002, is now close to $600 million, Shumlin said. Current ballpark estimates say that it would cost $1 billion to decommission and clean up the radioactivity at the plant.

Patricia Moulton Powden, executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., said afterwards the agreement would help her organization launch economic development projects to help the region.

Entergy’s 640 employees make an average of $100,000, and the loss of those jobs — about 6 percent of the entire Windham County economy — was viewed with great trepidation.

“From an economic development standpoint, it’s really good news,” said Powden, who attended the Montpelier press conference. “$2 million a day for five years, resources to implement projects, and it will also enable us to engage with employees of Entergy who may want to start their own businesses.

“It’s really exciting news,” she said.

Powden also said that the $25 million in the green field fund would also put to rest suspicions that Entergy would not respect that promise made more than 40 years ago by an earlier owner of Yankee.

The agreement drew skepticism from longtime opponents of Yankee’s operation — the Connecticut River Watershed Council, as well as the New England Coalition, an anti-nuclear group.

Raymond Shadis, senior technical advisor for the coalition, said the agreement essentially throws out the Public Service Board process.

“We have five years and $250,000 invested in that process, and it looks all of that could very well be trumped by a few men and one woman sitting around behind closed doors,” said Shadis.

Shadis said that early in November Entergy lawyers asked the Public Service Board for an extension because its lead attorney was busy with three other cases. In retrospect, Shadis said, Entergy was trying to buy time to reach an agreement with the Shumlin administration and didn’t tell the PSB the truth.

“The board should consider sanctions against Entergy. It’s not a very auspicious start for negotiations when you can’t tell the regulators the truth about it.”

Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, an employee of the watershed council, said the agreement “short-circuits” the pending state permit review of Yankee’s continued discharge of millions of gallons of hot water into the Connecticut River on a daily basis.

“Entergy has fought tooth and nail to hide behind their flawed science and cherry-picked modeling results in order not to have to stop discharging thermal pollution to the river,” Deen wrote in a release. “Entergy is a big company and they can afford to do the right thing, but they will not because they are terrified of the precedent here.”

The news conference, held at the Pavillion Office Building, was also streamed live via Shumlin’s YouTube account.

Shadis said many of the promises in the deal “don’t seem very solid to me.

“It’s like the deal could blow up at any time.” And he noted Entergy had a track record of broken promises with the state, starting with the promise not to invoke federal pre-emption.

“That’s the way they do business,” Shadis said.

The Public Service Board has already scheduled a hearing on the proposed deal for Jan. 2.

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