The state and Entergy have reached an agreement that will ensure that decommissioning of the state’s lone nuclear power plant could begin in the next 10 to 15 years.
An accord between Entergy and the administration was announced during a news conference Monday in Montpelier. The agreement sets a decommissioning goal for the 2020s, sooner than required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 60-year permissible timeframe.
“I’m pleased to announce that we have come to an agreement that really will emphasize the areas that unite us – all good news for Vermonters – and help to set the stage for the areas of concern that are shared not only by Entergy, but the folks at Windham County and the people across Vermont,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said.
Bill Mohl, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, did not attend the news conference but issued a statement in a news release.
“This agreement makes clear that Vermonters need not be concerned that Entergy VY will delay decommissioning and related activities longer than necessary once we determine that the decommissioning trust fund has adequate money to complete these tasks,” Mohl said.
Entergy, the Louisiana-based company that operates Vermont Yankee, announced in August it would close the 41-year-old Vernon plant in 2014 for financial reasons — just days after a federal court ruled the Vermont Legislature could not block the relicensure of the aging nuclear plant for a 20-year period after its presumptive shutdown date of March 21, 2012.
After the August announcement, Entergy resubmitted its application for a certificate of public good and asked the Public Service Board for a license to operate through 2014. Recently, Shumlin administration asked the board to halt relicensing proceedings for its final year of operation until a compromise was reached.
Now, the state has agreed to settle all federal pending litigation with Entergy and decide on a “path” toward decommissioning the plant. All the conditions of Monday’s agreement are contingent on the board’s issuing a certificate of public good by March 31, 2014.
Shumlin said Entergy will conduct a cost study within the next year to determine how much money is needed for decommissioning.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows Entergy to keep spent fuel stored at the plant for up to 60 years.
The new agreement between the state and Entergy defines a path for decommissioning that begins 120 days after the company has adequate funds in its Nuclear Decommissioning Trust.
Vermont Yankee has 3,879 fuel rod assemblies submerged in a spent fuel pool that was originally designed to hold about 350. Once spent fuel rods are cooled, they can be transferred into long-term cement “dry casks.” Vermont Yankee will need 58 casks in all. Right now, the facility has 13. Each cask costs about $1 million.
Under the agreement, Entergy will have to move all its spent fuel stored in onsite pools to dry cask storage. Shumlin said this process is expected to take about seven years.
The cost to decommission the plant is estimated at $800 million to $1 billion, though Shumlin emphasized that only rough estimates exist. Entergy officials say they have less than $600 million in the decommissioning fund.
The agreement did not determine how much of the money will be removed from the fund for decommissioning, however, Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia said.
“We’ve reserved our right to challenge those, Entergy has reserved its right to seek those expenditures from there,” Recchia said.
Entergy has agreed to perform the site-cost analysis two years sooner than required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which will move the process forward, Shumlin said.
Video: AG Bill Sorrell and Entergy’s Mike Twomey speak.
The state is unsure what will happen to the Entergy-owned site after decommissioning.
“I think we have to be realistic with Vermonters about the site. While the transmission lines and infrastructure is an asset, once the site is cleared of the plant, it’s hard to envision a use for energy before the plant is removed,” Shumlin said.
Site restoration was one of the areas of disagreement between the state and Entergy, Recchia said.
Guy Page is communication director for Vermont Energy Partnership that represents 90 energy producers, including Entergy. He said the agreement is good for taxpayers and Vermont Yankee’s reputation as a “corporate citizen.” However, he said the onus is on lawmakers to find a replacement for Vermont Yankee.
“To say the least, there is a long hard fight to replace the affordability, the carbon – low carbon and reliability of that one power source,” he said.
Renewable Energy Vermont (REV), a renewable energy trade association, supported the inclusion of $5.2 million from Entergy for the Clean Energy Development Fund, which they said has already supported a broad array of renewable energy technologies.
“Today’s announcement is good news for the Vermont economy,” said Thomas Hughes, the chair of REV, in a news release Monday. “Investing in the CEDF means more clean energy jobs, more energy security, and keeping more energy dollars in-state.”
Entergy will also make payments to the state for regional development and close the $12.5 million hole in lost taxes from the plant’s closure.
Payments to the state include:
• $5.2 million for the Clean Energy Development Fund, half of which goes to Windham County;
• $10 million for economic development in Windham County, payable at $2 million per year for five years;
• $5 million for transitional payments to the Tax Department in 2015 in addition to revenues from the generation tax;
• and payments to a newly created Site Restoration Trust through initial payments totaling $25 million plus an additional parent guaranty to accumulate over time.
Patricia Powden, executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., said Entergy’s $10 million economic development payment is a good deal for the area.
“These resources exceed anything we’ve seen ever,” Powden said. “This is a great opportunity for us.”
The Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS) and Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. issued a joint statement partly supporting the decision:
“We are encouraged by today’s announcement and believe this is a positive step forward in the effort to not-only revitalize the regional economy, but to help with the loss of over 650 highly paid jobs and the impacts those job losses have on the lives of the VY employee families. While we remain concerned about the overall impact the closure of Vermont Yankee will have on the regional economy, today’s announcement is a very positive step which accelerates the path forward,” the statement said.
The Connecticut River Watershed Council, an environmental advocacy group aiming to protect the Connecticut River, is unhappy with the agreement.
“CRWC is not satisfied that the thermal pollution continues just because there is only one year left for the plant operation. 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,” the statement said.
For years, scientists and advocates have said the discharges have elevated the temperature of the river and harmed the ecosystem.
The agreement requires Entergy’s Vermont Yankee to operate in accordance with its existing National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and amend their permit after the plant closes.
Video: Question and answer session.
Editor’s note: This article was updated at 8:04 p.m. Monday.