UPDATE: State allows Vermont Yankee to operate through 2014

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell (left), Gov. Peter Shumlin and Mike Twomey, vice president of external affairs for Entergy, announced an agreement to close Vermont Yankee in December. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell (left), Gov. Peter Shumlin and Mike Twomey, vice president of external affairs for Entergy, announced an agreement to close Vermont Yankee in December. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

The Vermont Public Service Board issued a certificate of public good Friday allowing the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to operate through the end of the year. In exchange, the Louisiana-based company will make payments to the state for economic development, renewable energy projects and a special fund reserved for tearing down the 42-year-old plant in Vernon, according to an agreement reached with the state in late December.

The company in December said it would close the plant in 2014 for financial reasons, just days after a federal court ruled the Vermont Legislature could not force the plant to shut down in 2012. State officials later worked with Entergy to iron out a memorandum of understanding to ensure a smooth closure in spite of the company’s rocky relationship with the state.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a statement Friday that he supports the decision.

“The decision provides certainty and predictability for the hard workers at the plant, over $10,000,000 of economic development funding for the region, and lets us focus on the important work of transitioning to a future after Vermont Yankee,” he said.

Bill Mohl, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, agreed.

“These actions are in the best interest of Vermont and all our stakeholders,” he said. “Throughout the remainder of 2014, we will remain focused on the safe and reliable operation of Vermont Yankee.”

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who has litigated against the company over the past several years, told VTDigger the decision appears to be consistent with the conditions set by the MOU, which includes the end of current litigation between the state and Entergy.

“We’re pleased that the board issued a certificate of public good consistent with the provisions of the memorandum of understanding. We think there are some real benefits to the state under the terms of the MOU,” he said. “Looking at the intro and conclusion, it doesn’t look like there are any conditions that would be deal breakers.”

The certificate requires Entergy to make payments to the state for economic development in Windham County, renewable energy development and a site restoration fund. It also settles all pending federal lawsuits and legal fees.

Critics of the agreement say it does not guarantee the plant will have enough money reserved to fully deconstruct the plant in a timely manner. The cost to decommission the plant in 60 years has been estimated at more than $1 billion, according to the company’s 2012 Decommissioning Cost Analysis report.

Entergy has more than $600 million in its decommissioning fund, according to the Department of Public Service.

The administration expects the decommissioning of the plant to occur within two decades after the plant closes, much faster than the 60 years the company is allowed under federal regulations. But at this point there is no deadline set for dismantling the plant.

The memorandum of understanding does not set a timeline for decommissioning. Instead, it states Entergy will draft a decommissioning cost analysis by the end of the year. Entergy is to begin decommissioning the plant with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission within 120 days after it determines it has enough money in the fund to complete the process. At this point, the funds will be insufficient for some time; the total cost for decommissioning is estimated at $1 billion.

Meanwhile, Entergy plans to draw on its decommissioning trust fund – money put away for the plant’s radiological cleanup and dismantlement – to move spent fuel from onsite cooling pools and into dry casks on a cement pad near the plant, where the radioactive fuel will sit indefinitely.

Sorrell has said the state opposes Entergy’s plan to use decommissioning money for that purpose because it could delay the dismantling of the plant. Sorrell says he will go to court to fight the plan, if necessary.

Entergy plans to take more than $200 million out of the decommissioning trust fund to move spent fuel, according to a company filing with the NRC in 2009. The decommissioning trust fund grows over time, and drawing on this fund early will slow its growth, which state officials say could postpone the date by which the company begins decommissioning the plant.

The company will have to sue the Department of Energy for reimbursement.

Critics said Friday that given Entergy’s history of misleading state officials, the permit should have been denied.

“It’s clear from the Board’s final order that our concerns about Entergy’s terrible track record were heard loud and clear,” VPIRG director Paul Burns said in a statement. “But the order sends a troubling message, suggesting that a company with the worst kind of record of misconduct could still merit a CPG. It does nothing to discourage that kind of behavior from Entergy or any other company in the future.”

The New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution indicated it might continue its legal battle over the decision.

“Based on a cursory reading that finds numerous legal and factual errors in the Order, NEC is now weighing the option of filing either a motion to reconsider or a motion to amend in seeking a more just outcome- one more protective of the environment and more responsive to community sentiment,” the group wrote in a statement.

This article was updated at 3:58 p.m. Friday.

John Herrick

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