Anti-nuke group seeks to reopen Vermont Yankee permit case

The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. Photo courtesy Vermont Business Magazine

The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. Photo courtesy Vermont Business Magazine

After years of litigation, environmental groups and nuclear safety advocates were relieved when Entergy accepted a ruling by state regulators to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant by the end of the year.

“This is the death sentence for this plant,” Raymond Shadis, a nuclear safety advocate who has long opposed the plant’s operation, said at the time.

Thursday, Shadis announced an attempt to put more nails in the coffin.

The New England Coalition filed a motion with the Public Service Board to amend the Entergy’s certificate of public good this week to include additional concerns raised by the public – a move the company could use as grounds to back out of its decommissioning agreement.

“We’re not trying to undo the deal; we are not asking the board to overturn this ruling,” Shadis, a representative for the coalition, said. “But we are asking the board to amend its ruling to make it a stronger ruling – one that is more just and one that is more protective of Vermont’s environment.”

The Shumlin administration reached an agreement with the company to make payments to the state, settle all federal litigation and tear down the plant sooner than required by federal regulators. In exchange, Vermont would support Entergy’s petition for a license to operate until the end of the year. The company was granted the license last month and the plant is to cease operations by Dec. 31.

The Vermont Department of Public Service opposed the coalition’s motion to reopen the case. In a filing with the board Friday, the department said the coalition’s filing is unclear, unpersuasive and untimely.

Entergy has said it would reject the memorandum of understanding if state regulators placed additional conditions on its license renewal, which in legal terms is called a “material change.”

“We oppose NEC’s motion,” an Entergy spokesperson said Friday. “We would have to review a board decision before making any determination regarding whether a material change to the MOU had been ordered.”

The coalition is asking Entergy to pay into a restitution fund for any possible impacts on the Connecticut River and to set up an advisory panel to watch over the decommissioning process – issues Shadis said have been raised throughout the Public Service Board’s hearing process.

The board inserted the MOU as a condition on the company’s permit. After receiving testimony to place further conditions on the CPG – including requests to set up a public review process for decommissioning, a larger site restoration fund and tighter thermal discharge requirements on the plant’s cooling towers – the board left the MOU untouched.

“They basically said, ‘Hey, you give the state several millions of dollars and we’ll throw the legal process out the window,’” Shadis said.

Shadis hopes to restore the board’s authority to issue conditions beyond agreements made outside of the hearing process. Otherwise, he said, what’s the point of having a hearing.

“Why would anyone ever hire an attorney to try to get their issues heard before the Vermont Public Service Board if a deal can be made behind close doors that they’re not a party to and can’t get thrown out?” he said.

Changing the MOU could come at a price, however. At risk is Entergy’s commitment under the MOU to pay $10 million into regional economic development; up to $50 million to restore the site to a greenfield; $5.2 million for renewable energy projects; settling all legal fees; and a commitment to begin the decommissioning process sooner than required under federal regulations.

Those financial agreements could be erased if the company opposes additional conditions – a real threat from a company that has successfully challenged the state in court when Vermont lawmakers attempted to shut the plant down in 2012 before its federal license expired.

Patricia Moulton, executive director for the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., plans to use the economic development money to accelerate a stimulus plan in Windham County.

“The Entergy funding certainly makes life easier,” she said, although the plan would still go forward without the money. “It’s not a live or die situation.”

Wage stagnation, little or no job growth, and anemic population growth, she said, are among the reasons the regional group has been working with others to come up with a plan to stimulate the economy – especially as the plant, which employs more than 200 Vermont employees and more than 600 total, shuts down at the end of the year.

The Agency of Commerce and Community Development will decide how to best spend the Entergy money.

Moulton, who will soon become ACCD secretary, has already pitched a plan to lawmakers that her organization helped create. The agency would then approve state and private projects if they aligned with the plan.

Also on Friday, Entergy reported it had $612 million in its decommissioning trust fund as of Dec. 31. The company estimates the full cost of decommissioning to be $623 million, according to a March filing with the NRC. As part of its agreement with the state, Entergy will provide a detailed cost estimate of decommissioning by the end of the year.

John Herrick

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Stewart Clark
2 years 9 months ago
From the CRWC newsletter: On March 28, the same day Vermont utility regulators granted Vermont Yankee an operating license and endorsed the settlement agreement between Entergy and the state, Entergy sent an uncooperative letter to the Agency of Natural Resources that all but threatens an appeal if they are not allowed to continue operating under its existing and flawed pollution discharge permit. Entergy admits their permit allows the river to get hotter than state law requires, but blames it on the sun and says they can’t do anything about it! That’s not how the Clean Water Act works, and they… Read more »
Howard Shaffer
2 years 9 months ago
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that VY has been using the Cooling Towers during the river’s vulnerable months. The Cooling Towers were added to the plant after the initial design, because of the Clean Water Act. The towers were added early enough so they were completed along with the plant. For the first few years the towers were used year round. Then the plant got permission to use them part-year. As Amory Lovins said again at Dartmouth on March 28th, “In God we trust, all others bring data.” What data did CRWC submit to ANR or, the PSB?
John Greenberg
2 years 9 months ago

“What data did CRWC submit to ANR or, the PSB?”

There are links to it here:

The water issue consumes hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of testimony, including testimony from CRWC, ANR, PSD, & NEC as well as testimony from Entergy, and rebuttals from both sides. There are even more pages of discovery, but you’d have to get those from the parties. I don’t believe they’re available online.

Howard Shaffer
2 years 9 months ago

This action and the statements in the article are an attempted snow job!! The NEC had the opportunity to participate in the MOU at the PSB hearings.

An agreement behind closed doors between two parties. Perfectly legal. Then is comes before the PSB to be ripped apart by the opponents. I wonder if the NEC, CLF and VPIRG have ever once met and not invited Entergy and the Department?

Paul Lorenzini
2 years 9 months ago
It is amazing to me that these folks have the time to devote to saving us. How many of them are receiving or have received free money that others earned? How many of them are wealthy, ivory tower ideologues? Are they saints? In their minds they are, but the truth is unknown. Witch burners thought they were doing saintly things also, but there was no profit in that then or now, except for those that made the accusations, and those that lit the fires. Sometimes protests are reasonable, but somewhere in time they become fashionable, and profitable. Humans are still… Read more »
Coleman Dunnar
2 years 9 months ago
Attn: NEC Hire an attorney to explain what comprises “material change”. The only result of your action would be to poison the deal. The issue of thermal discharge ceases to exist once the reactor is shut down and probably sooner if the summer is mild. There might even be good reason to keep the cooling towers operating even after the plant is dismantled. It could be used to cool the river water to mitigate the additional CO2 which will be generated from sources replacing the lost capacity VY provided. NEC you’ve got to know when to holdem, know when to… Read more »
Wayne Andrews
2 years 9 months ago

“They basically said, ‘Hey, you give the state several millions of dollars and we’ll throw the legal process out the window,’” Shadis said.

This whole process has been nothing but legal extortion. The petty bickering is only to see who is the bigger hog.

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