Business & Economy

Trial that could decide Vermont Yankee’s fate begins in Brattleboro

Vermont Yankee, photo from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Editor’s note: This article was first published by The Commons.

BRATTLEBORO—U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha heard opening arguments from the state and from Entergy attorneys on Monday morning in a trial that could decide the fate of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station in Vernon.

Entergy Corp., owner of Vermont’s only nuclear plant, filed suit against the state in April, claiming legislators had pre-empted the federal government’s authority by trying to regulate radiological safety.

Their lead attorney, Kathleen Sullivan, stressed that point in her presentation, calling the state’s concerns about reliability and economic impacts “pretexts for nuclear safety.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) extended VY’s operating license for another 20 years in March. Vermont, however, requires nuclear plants to obtain a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) from the Public Service Board (PSB) to operate.

In February 2010, the Vermont Senate voted 26-4 against awarding VY a CPG, citing its authority under Act 160, a 2006 law that effectively gives the Legislature veto power over the continued operation of the plant. Without a new CPG, says the state, VY must close when its current 40-year operating license expires in March 2012.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Kline, who is leading the state’s legal team, contended that the case is really about whether Entergy will live up to the agreements it made with the state when it purchased VY in 2002 — mainly, not to challenge the state’s authority regarding non-safety issues at the plant.

“This case is really about honoring commitments,” he said.

After opening arguments, Murtha heard from two of Entergy’s witnesses.

One of the witnesses, Vice President for Power Marketing Marc Potkin, said he was pressured by the state to offer a favorable price of VY’s electricity to Vermont’s utilities as a condition of getting a CPG.

Potkin said that the 2010 Senate vote — which on the heels of revelations of tritium leaks from underground pipes that plant officials said didn’t exist — influenced the power purchase agreement talks. He also said that the electric utilities wouldn’t sign an agreement until Entergy sold the plant.

Also on the stand was President, CEO, and Chief Nuclear Officer John Herron.

Before proceedings began on Monday morning, there were dueling vigils in support of, as well as opposition to, keeping Vermont Yankee open another 20 years.

Representatives from the Ethan Allen Institute’s Energy Education Project, the American Nuclear Society Vermont Pilot Project, and the Coalition for Energy Solutions organized the pro-VY vigil, while the Safe and Green Campaign sponsored what they called “a vigil to support the state of Vermont” in its legal fight against Entergy.

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Olga Peters

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  • Mike Kerin

    This is a States Rights case.
    When republicans want something they always say “States Rights”. Now we have a legitimate “States Rights” issue and they are for big government taking over.

    To me it’s GREED on the part of the top 5% of income folks.

  • Alex Barnham

    While we are dying to see what happens, all the electricity being generated in Vt gets shipped 1,000 miles away…now that sounds like a real efficient way to do business. Put the dangerous generator a looonngg way away. Oh, and insist that is the sensible way to do business.

  • Alex Barnham

    What we need in Vt are SLOWPOKEs…reactor designs are extremely safe and requires almost no maintenance (it is even licensed to operate unattended overnight); it can run for more than 20 years before the nuclear fuel needs replacement. If Entergy wants something, let them build a safe reactor like the SLOWPOKE.

  • Alex Barnham

    And would someone please tell attorney Kathleen Sullivan and Vice President for Power Marketing Marc Potkin that the Civil War is over.

  • Edd Foerster

    Mr. Barnham,

    You complain that VT will b the site of the generator of electricity that is used in other places. That is a consequence, at least in part, of the Shumlin Administration’s long-standing hostility to VY — none of the VT utilities were willing to make a power purchase dealwith VY. So the situaton you complain of is thestate’s doing.

    Second, I would point out that by not buying power from VT Yankee, Vermont is doing the exact same thing you are complaining of: we will buy our power from dirty oil-fired and coalifired plants hosted in far away midwestern and southern states — and from a nuclear power plant hosted by New Hampshire. The double irony, by the way, is that we wil be buying more power from those very oil and coal burning plants that Vermont is suing because of air pollution.


  • Alex Barnham

    As I understand it, Vt is buying from ISO-NE which oversees the operation of New England’s bulk electric power system and transmission lines, generated and transmitted by its member utilities, as well as Hydro-Québec, NB Power, the New York Power Authority and utilities in New York state, when the need arises. ISO-NE is responsible for reliably operating New England’s 32,000-megawatt bulk electric power generation and transmission system. Perhaps more can be purchased from hydroelectric power systems. I will not complain if the air is cleaner. I will actually live to tell about it if we get rid of the pollution.

  • Rob Simoneau

    In the final analysis it is not the trail, the lawyers, the politicians, or even the citizenry of the region that will decide the fate of VY. It will be the plant’s inherent structural and operational stability. If Vermont Yankee is allowed to run beyond it intended design window it will fail as it is already doing. It will be the region that will pay the ultimate price, suffering the loss of their homes and lives and much of the Connecticut River Valley.

    I don’t mean to get sentimental here but as I drive through the region I think of how beautiful it is. “God’s Country,” people immediately tell me whenever I tell folks where I live. I pray that nothing will go wrong, but I know otherwise.