Public Service Board officer recommends backup generator permit for Vermont Yankee

Almost two weeks before Entergy Corp. and the state of Vermont are set to meet in federal court, a Public Service Board officer recommended giving the owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant what it wants: a permit for a backup generator.

Vermont Yankee on the banks of the Connecticut River

Vermont Yankee on the banks of the Connecticut River

On June 4, Entergy is set to argue in U.S. District Court that the state of Vermont is federally preempted from barring the company’s application to construct a backup diesel generator at Vermont Yankee.

But, in a turn of events, the hearing officer overseeing the application proposed to the board on Monday that it provide the state permit, known as a certificate of public good.

To comply with federal regulations, the nuclear plant must have an emergency source of power, in case of a station blackout. The plant’s contract for that power is set to expire on Sept. 1; TransCanada, the owner of the Vernon Hydroelectric Station, is not renewing the contract.

Entergy filed the lawsuit because, the company indicated, it was under the impression that the quasi-judicial Public Service Board would not issue a permit to begin construction in a timely fashion. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires a backup generator for blackout situations, and Entergy argued that the state is federally preempted under two counts of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution by the power vested in the commission under the Congressional Atomic Energy Act.

Entergy asked the federal court to intervene, so that Vermont Yankee could begin constructing a generator for the site by June 11.

In a separate case, the board is considering whether to issue a new state permit for the plant to operate for another 20 years. Leading up to this proceeding, the board also denied Entergy’s motion to amend its previous sale order, dry fuel storage order and certificate of public good.

In an April letter sent to Entergy, the board’s hearing officer, Lars Bang-Jensen, questioned whether “the Board can and should grant permission for Entergy VY to install the generator when Entergy VY is not in compliance with existing Orders and (permits) and has not demonstrated that it is willing to comply with Orders of this Board.”

On Monday, Bang-Jensen concluded, “The Board can and should grant permission.”

Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, says his department supports Vermont Yankee’s application for a backup generator.

“This has no relationship to the overall CPG for operation of the facility; it’s specific to the back-up generator, and we think they’ve done what they need to do,” he said.

Vermont Yankee spokesman Jim Sinclair said that his company is encouraged by Bang-Jensen’s proposal, but is waiting for the final word.

“While we appreciate and agree with the hearing officer’s recommendation, we remain uncertain as to when the Board will rule,” he said. “Therefore, we will have to determine how this may affect the federal court hearing.”

The first hearing in the federal court case is still scheduled for June 4 at 10 a.m. in Burlington U.S. District Courtroom 251. Comments on Bang-Jensen’s proposal are due by May 28.



Andrew Stein

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