Skeptical Entergy attorneys asked the Vermont Public Service Board Friday for assurance that they could continue operating Vermont Yankee after March 21 when its license expires.
An equally skeptical board peppered the company with questions.
In an hour and a half status conference at the Vermont Statehouse, the board asked Entergy, the Department of Public Service, environmental groups and other parties for their take on how it should proceed in the relicensing process.
The Public Service Board docket for Vermont Yankee’s relicensing has been on hold while constitutional issues over two Vermont laws involving legislative approval for the plant to operate played out in federal court. With a favorable decision, Entergy is back in front of the board seeking a license.
James Volz, chair of the board, said Entergy appears to only be able to store spent fuel produced up to March 21.
“What authority do we have to approve storage of spent nuclear fuel after that date?” Volz asked Entergy attorneys.
Both the Vermont attorney general and the Department of Public Service have said the plant can continue to operate under its current license until the board makes a final decision.
Robert Hemley, an attorney for the Vermont law firm Gravel and Shea, which represents Entergy, told the board it needs to know one way or the other whether it will allow Vermont Yankee’s continued operation after March 21.
“We need certainty of the board’s position between now and March 21, or we need to obtain it from another source,” Hemley told the board.
Earlier this month, Entergy asked Judge J. Garvan Murtha, who ruled in its favor in a lawsuit, to issue an injunction that would let the plant keep operating past March 21 regardless of what the Public Service Board says.
Board member John Burke asked why Entergy had yet to request an official ruling on the issue of continued operation.
“You have the ability to ask us, so feel free,” Burke said almost jokingly.
Friday’s conference was largely a matter of hashing out procedural issues, like what record should the board rely on and if it should start from scratch. Entergy and other parties will file briefs on March 16 to address these issues.
The company appears to have the go-ahead to keep operating after March 21 from everyone but the Public Service Board.
Attorneys for public interest groups like the New England Coalition and the Conservation Law Foundation say the company shouldn’t expect a rubber stamp.
Jared Margolis, attorney for the coalition, said a state law still standing after Judge Murtha’s opinion and the company’s license won’t let Vermont Yankee store spent fuel produced after March 21.
“To continue to operate, they would need additional storage facilities,” Margolis said. “They would need a CPG under that same statute, but the board can’t issue it because they’re limited to the amount they can store there. That was what the board was getting at, and they’re right. They cannot issue a CPG for what Entergy needs.”
Sandra Levine, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation in Vermont, said the entire sale of the plant to Entergy in 2002 was conditioned on it closing down in March 2012 unless it got additional approval from the board. The board could extend the current license to after March 21, Levine said, but that license requires the plant to shut down.
Levine said the company is trying to push the state out of the way.
“Entergy continues to advance a very cavalier view of Vermont laws and Vermont statutes and Vermont’s court authority,” Levine said. “It wants to continue to operate no matter what and anybody that says there’s any requirement on it it seems to just want to disregard. I think the board’s not buying that and it shouldn’t buy that.”
But not everyone at the table wanted Vermont Yankee to shut down.
Representatives for the Associated Industries of Vermont and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers agreed with most of Entergy’s points Friday.
Bill Driscoll, vice president of AIV, said keeping the plant open would be good for Vermont.
“The bottom line is we should let it continue to operate,” Driscoll said. “It’s a major employer in the state and an important economic engine. Its continued operation makes the maintenance of the regional transmission grid more affordable and more reliable. If it shuts down there will be problems we have to deal with.”
The Department of Public Service did not comment on the conference but said in a statement issued Friday that the hearing demonstrated the detailed and careful review the Public Service Board is engaged in regarding Vermont Yankee.
“While Entergy conceded the Board’s continuing authority over it today, past experience shows that Entergy cannot simply be taken at its word,” the statement said. “Therefore, the Department will seek to hold Entergy to its commitments and will work to uphold the state’s important and legitimate authority and ensure that the general good of the state is protected.”