Business & Economy

Vermont fights Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s license approval for Vermont Yankee

Vermont Yankee on the banks of the Connecticut River

The state Department of Public Service is scrutinizing recent actions by Entergy Corp.

The department is questioning whether the 20-year license extension the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued the company in 2011 is valid.

State officials say Entergy doesn’t have a Clean Water Act permit.

Sarah Hofmann, deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said the federal NRC should have required the company to get certification from the state that the plant would not violate state water quality standards.

“Our allegation is that they needed to have that in order to get their license renewed,” Hofmann said. “Entergy’s claim is that they are still operating under their old one.”

Elizabeth Miller, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, will be presenting oral arguments to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington on Wednesday.

Vermont Yankee was originally scheduled to shut down in March of this year. Entergy continues to run the 40-year-old plant because it has the NRC license and a federal judge ruled in January that the state doesn’t have the authority to pre-empt federal law.

Entergy bought the plant in 2002, and applied for a new license in 2006. In 2010, the Vermont Senate voted against allowing the Public Service Board to issue a new license. That decision was based on a 2006 law allowing legislative approval. Earlier this year federal district court Judge Garvan Murtha found the state law unconstitutional, ruling that it was pre-empted by federal statutes. The Vermont Attorney General has appealed that decision.

Entergy recently requested approval for a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board.

A lot hangs in the balance in the legal arena — and with Vermont Yankee’s financial situation.

A decision in federal court could affect the outcome of the Public Service Board proceeding, and what the D.C. Circuit decides could affect the plant’s federal permit.

It appears that Entergy is also trying to spin off its transmission business and merge it with a separate company called ITC holdings. According to an Entergy spokesman, however, this will likely not affect Vermont at all.

On April 30, ISO-New England, the region’s electric grid operator, accepted a bid by Entergy to de-list the Vernon plant from its 2015-16 “capacity commitment period.” ISO-New England rejected previous requests from Vermont Yankee to be removed from the futures market.

But in its most recent filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, it stated “the ISO determined that Vermont Yankee is not needed for reliability for the 2015-16 Capacity Commitment Period.”

ISO New England stated that was because it expects transmission upgrades and other resources to be in place by that time.

The one thing that does appear certain is that the plant will continue operating while the legal and regulatory proceedings are pending.

Public Service Board decision in 2013, at the earliest

Wrangling over Vermont Yankee’s new permit will last late into 2013, at least, under a calendar set by the Public Service Board.

For some parties in the Public Service Board docket, the schedule set by the board drags it out too far.

“It’s taking too long,” said Sandra Levine, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation in Vermont. “This case could easily be decided in less than a year and a half. Entergy is dragging its feet.”

The amended schedule sets a deadline for intervenors at June 18. Final filings are due Aug. 26, 2013, hence the year and a half timeline.

Entergy requested the later time line, telling the board it could not prepare testimony until June 29. The Department of Public Service, which represents Vermont ratepayers in front of the board, asked for a May 15 filing date.

CLF’s proposed schedule, which the board rejected, advanced hearings by four months.

The board will hold public hearings on Nov. 5 in Vernon and another on Nov. 19 via Vermont Interactive Television.

Levine said the longer the process takes, the longer Vermonters will have to wait to see the plant close.

The parallel litigation in federal court over the Vermont laws caused the board to start over and create a new record to avoid using “preempted” materials in the record.

Not all the intervenors in the docket were as concerned about the lengthy schedule.

“This is a very long process,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney representing the New England Coalition, a group that wants to see the plant close. “We’re starting from scratch.”

He said the longer schedule will allow the board to make an informed decision based on a valid record.

The parties will file their first round of written testimony June 29.

The continuing dispute has proved problematic for Entergy, the state and environmentalists alike.

For Entergy, ongoing litigation with Vermont, prompted the company to file an “impairment evaluation” addressing the uncertainty of the plant’s continued operation on the value of the company.

The company has been filing such reports since 2010 about the plant’s potential value in the future.

In an April 26 earnings conference call, Entergy CFO Leo Denault said the estimated value of the plant, as opposed to what the company’s books said, resulted in a $356 million pre-tax “impairment charge.”

The dip in stock value reported by the company was directly related to the plant’s uncertain continued operation.

The impairment derives from the unique legal and State regulatory processes surrounding Vermont Yankee, which make it uncertain that the plant will operate until the license expires in 2032,” Denault said. “Absent this uncertainty, the evaluation for impairment would not have been required.”

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Alan Panebaker

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  • timothy k price

    Whether or when Vermont Yankee closes, the situation in Fukushima illustrates the extreme foolishness of keeping spent fuel, especially many time more than the facility was designed to hold, in the onsite facility’s cooling pools. It is the spent fuel which raises the consequence from any accident to catastrophic levels. Why are they allowed to exceed designed capacity??? With Fukushima as an example, how can they be allowed to keep spent fuel on site?? This is insane. This is an example of failure to regulate.

    There is no justification for keeping the spent fuel on site. Entergy must be required to remove it ASAP to any other location that is away from the Connecticut River, and is accessible for inspection.

  • Mike Kerin

    Entergy is operating on GREED! They do not care about the state or its residents. They only care about the bottom line. After all the execs are out of state and rolling in money.

    • Mike,

      GMP/Gaz-Metro-Canada is operating on GREED!.

      It does not care about the Vermont environment and ridge lines, or its low frequency noise and infrasound health-damaging exposure of nearby residents, or the real-estate devaluation of nearby residents.

      It only cares about the bottom line, i.e., grab as much subsidies as possible. Almost all the highly paid execs are in Canada and rolling in our money.

  • Alex Barnham

    It is sad to have to admit that the US Govt has been so diluted and deluded to put money over health and then come along and say we all have to pay for it. We do realize that by now the oil and energy companies have been given free license to do whatever they want. Exemptions for environmental concerns are the terrible truth. Of course we have to step up and say enough because we, the people, are the government and the carpetbaggers that are allowing this travesty will be held totally accountable. Unfortunately we are slow to respond and inadequate to make sudden changes to a monolithic protected system. The fact is that present unsustainable practices will have to cease.

  • Sally Shaw

    Yeah, and I’m still operating my car on my old, expired driver’s license. I thought we were a country of laws.

    • Alex Barnham

      Sally, not only is VY’s driver’s license expired, their car is leaking on and into the ground, overheating the Connecticut River, over-parked, double-parked, triple-parked, and belching nuclear waste into the atmosphere when no one is looking. That’s enough to make me want to call the police. Oh, sorry, the police aren’t allowed onto their sacred property (it doesn’t belong to Vermont anymore, it’s now part of the new world of nuclear waste dumps like Hanford, Fukushima, Chernobyl, etc). It’s enough to make me want to put up a clothes line, take the bus, and grow my own food.

  • timothy k price

    Has it become apparent that corporations dictate our foreign policy? has it become apparent that corporate controllers dictate domestic issues? Has it become clear that corporate controllers disregard our basic needs, out basic rights as free people to determine our way of life, our form of government, to choose our foods, our energy sources, and care for our health and safety? Has it become apparent that corporate controllers must be stopped or they will kill us?

    Is that their purpose? I can no longer tell and that bothers me. Is our survival based upon our ability to effectively resist them? I think so.

    Join a local Occupy movement near you.

    Occupy the streets, occupy the courts, occupy the offices of you.. til you do,..the bidding of the many, not the few.

    Makana Cameron. © 2011

  • John Greenberg

    Just to keep the record straight:

    1) “Vermont Yankee was originally scheduled to shut down in March of this year.” Actually, it was ORIGINALLY scheduled to shut down in 2007, but its original license was extended (not renewed) by NRC which changed the rules to allow plants to count their 40 years from the date of their operating license rather than, as previously, from the date of their construction license. Once these automatic extensions were granted to all US nukes, the plant was re-scheduled to shut down in March of this year.

    2) The dip discussed at the end of the article was not in “stock value,” but in “book value.”

  • Alex Barnham

    timothy k price, thank you for bringing the awareness websites to our awareness…are you aware of any websites that promote conservation, i.e. promoting ways of conserving our natural resources.

    We do seem to be in a struggle for information and the internet is our greatest resource for communication. I would just like to say that corporations sole purpose for existence is satisfy consumers. Consumers have the power, not the corporations. If we are so addicted to goods and services that we cannot function without them, we are held slaves to our own foolishness. The old adage that a fool and his money are soon parted can be rewritten: a fool and his tools are soon parted.

  • Pete Novick

    Quoted from the article above,

    “The [state Department of Public Service] is questioning whether the 20-year license extension the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued the company in 2011 is valid.”

    Does DPS just not get it?

    Painful as it may sound – and it sounds plenty painful to me – maybe it’s time Vermonters accept that Vermont Yankee is going to be our Vernon neighbor for a long time to come, and to shift focus to the next major VY milestone: decommissioning. Though it may a long way off, I believe there is much to be gained from Vermont officially getting out in front of what will be a long, hard slog. For some answers to FAQ on decommissioning, please see:

    Here are some of my recommendations:

    – Vermont Department of Public Service establish a senior staff position for nuclear power plant decommissioning. The incumbent must have successfully served as a licensed nuclear power plant manager for at least 3 years

    — The incumbent will chair a state government inter-agency working group among other duties

    – Vermont state legislature establish a permanent joint conference committee, The Joint Committee on VY Decommissioning, in the next legislative session

    – Vermont legislature require the governor to present to the legislature on an annual basis a report of VY decommissioning status and issues

    – Vermont state government establish and maintain an official website for VY decommissioning, to keep the public informed of issues, status, funding, public health, regulatory and technical documents, etc.

    Again, I think VY is here to stay – we’re not going to wish it away, and grumbling just fills the room with hot air.

    Vermonters have so far fought the good fight, though I think many state government officials and legislators grossly underestimated the power and resources Entergy has at its disposal. Official Vermont has certainly taken the honorable position, though it kind of reminds me of Charlie Brown walking off the mound saying, “How can we lose when we’re so sincere.”