Vermont seeks details on Entergy’s finances

Vermont wants federal regulators to investigate Entergy’s finances in order to ensure the safe decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

The Attorney General’s offices signed a petition on Jan. 27 requesting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to investigate Entergy’s financial health. The plant in Vernon permanently shut down last year, but the state says long-term activities at the plant could affect the safety of Vermonters.

The dry cask storage units outside of the Vermont Yankee plant. Photo by Laura Frohn,
The dry cask storage units outside of the Vermont Yankee plant. Photo by Laura Frohn,

“The State of Vermont has a direct interest in the NRC abiding by its statutory duty to ensure that Vermont Yankee’s owners and operators have—and will continue to have—the ability to pay for these activities,” the state told NRC in their letter.

Entergy, the Louisiana-based company that purchased the plant in 2002, has set aside a special decommissioning trust fund to pay for nearly all expenses since the plant went offline on Dec. 29. These expenses include the moving of spent nuclear fuel from a cooling pool into long-term dry casks, as well as keeping the site secure.

“The 2.206 petition filed by the Citizens Action Network is without merit. The licensees remain financially qualified to own and operate the facilities, and are committed to safe operations at those facilities while meeting all NRC requirements,” said Marty Cohn, an Entergy Vermont Yankee spokesman.

He said the company has submitted a Post-shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report to the NRC demonstrating that the plant’s decommissioning trust fund will be adequate to complete decommissioning activities, including spent fuel management, safely and within the time period allowed by the NRC.

The company has obtained a $145 million loan to pay for some of the cost to move spent nuclear fuel into dry casks. The total cost to decommission the plant is estimated at $1.2 billion, and the decommissioning trust fund has $650 million currently. The more money the company takes out of the fund, the less it will grow in interest. The company will begin the decommissioning process only when there is enough money in the fund to pay for the entire cost of decommissioning.

But the state and Entergy disagree over what costs should be recovered from the decommissioning trust fund. The state wants the company to keep in place a 10-mile radios emergency planning zone and emergency monitoring system.

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 2013. 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 2013. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

“I’ve been concerned for quite some time what they want to use the decommissioning trust fund for given the fact that they say they are not going to put any more money into the fund,” said Attorney General Bill Sorrell. “I think there are very few Vermonters who want the decommissioning process to be unduly long.”

Entergy has said these are unnecessary expenses for a plant that is no longer producing power — or making money. Any additional costs to the company will likely come out of the decommissioning trust fund and therefore delay decommissioning.

“Vermont Yankee is its own entity. It’s a non-operating facility generating no money,” Cohn said. “We are meeting every requirement by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

Some residents in the emergency zone say the parent company should step in to pay for basic safety functions at the plant.

“It’s madness not to have the emergency planning in place. This should come from the parent company,” said Deb Katz, the executive director of the Citizens Awareness Network, one of the groups that joined in the original petition sent to the NRC in spring 2013.

In March 2013, a financial investment firm said two of Entergy’s reactors, Vermont Yankee and FitzPatrick in New York, were financially tenuous. Between 2011 and 2013, the companies’ net income for the plants dropped nearly 70 percent. As a result, the nuclear watchdog group filed a petition calling on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to investigate Entergy’s financial health. The New York and Massachusetts attorneys general supported the petition to investigate the company’s finances.

Deb Katz Citizen Awareness Network
Deb Katz, the executive director of the Citizens Awareness Network, spoke before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission during a hearing on the decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Brattleboro on Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

“If even operating they weren’t going to make money, but lose money, then there were real questions about whether safety would be compromised,” Katz said.

But in 2013, the company said it would close the Vermont Yankee plant for economic reasons. In January it removed all spent nuclear fuel from the reactor and is in the process of transferring spent nuclear fuel from a cooling pool into dry casks. It will then begin the process of dismantling and decontaminating the plant, a process that will take decades.

The state said regulators should determine whether Entergy — and its subsidiaries or parent company — has enough money to pay for decommissioning without relying on the decommissioning trust fund.

The company wants to eliminate its off-site energy planning. Entergy says the plan will save money and expedite the decommissioning process. The state opposes the plan, and says emergency planning should remain in place until all spent nuclear fuel is placed into dry casks. The state said it would even consider allowing Entergy to use the decommissioning trust fund to pay for these costs.

“I’m willing to talk about that,” said Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia. “I actually think this is a function of a plant that was operating and I don’t think it’s appropriate. That said, we are willing talk.”

The current emergency planning zone casts a 10-mile radius that includes 18 towns in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. The company has requested eliminating this planning zone to the limits of the plant compound about one year after its shutdown. Entergy plans to reduce staffing levels at the power plant from 316 to 127 workers by June 2016. The company says the employee drawdown will hasten the decommissioning process. Maintaining staffing levels for emergency response through 2020 would cost an additional $120 million, Entergy says.

Katz is among the advocates that want the company to only move spent nuclear fuel into dry cake when school is not in session at the Vernon and Hinsdale elementary schools.

But Cohn said the company has to load 45 dry casks with spent nuclear fuel by 2020. He said the company would only be able to move 12 dry casks per year if it was limited to the summer recess months.

“What you have done is you have extended decommissioning by years,” Cohn said. “We believe that the process in place for the moving of spent fuel from wet to dry is one that has been proven that can be done safely to not only our employees but the public as well.”

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  • Howard Shaffer

    To quote Mr. Gundersen, “There is no basis in physics” for keeping the Emergency Planning Zone, or keeping the instant data system to the State. Radioactivity decreases with time, so the amount that could escape from the site decreases. Plus, the time for Responders to correct whatever is wrong greatly increases.

    Your Home Insurance Company will calculate how long it will take the Fire Department to get there. Same principle applies to stopping reactor plant events.

    • John Greenberg

      Howard Shaffer:

      ““There is no basis in physics” for keeping the Emergency Planning Zone ….”


      The physical basis is that the spent fuel pool at VY contains substantially more radioactive materials than, e.g., Fukushima did at the time of the meltdown. A spent fuel pool meltdown is neither physically impossible nor unimaginable, and VY’s spent fuel pool is outside of containment.

      Surely, you aren’t arguing that giving emergency officials and residents a few more hours to respond to an emergency would be a bad idea? The mere fact that the urgency and the probability of catastrophe are both reduced by the cessation of operations does NOT imply that there is NO urgency or NO probability of an accident.

      I’m no expert in these matters, so I’m NOT going to argue the precise factual basis for estimates of either urgency or probability. But given the magnitude of the source term we’re talking about here, I am suggesting that your conclusion doesn’t follow at all from you premise, and requires a better argument than the one you’ve provided.

    • Sally Shaw

      Mr. Shaffer utterly misquoted Mr. Gundersen. I was at the meeting and took careful notes. Gundersen said there is no basis in physics for SAF STOR, for waiting 60 years to decommission, and that we should have an emergency plan in place until the spent fuel pool is empty. He also pointed out that windmills need a fully funded decommissioning fund before they are even built in VT. But nukes? What, we worry?

  • John Greensham

    State and the antis need to be careful what they wish for. They are both short sighted enough to want to drain the fund in name of “safety”.

    Do people still take Deb Katz seriously? Her grasp of science is right up there with anit-vaxxers and climate change deniers.

  • Pete Novick

    I have been posting this comment for some time:

    Here’s a link to the NRC’s


    Section III contains the NRC’s order with respect to the decommissioning trust funds and it’s worth a read.

    Also, here’s a link to the 2002 MOU between Entergy Nuclear VY, GMP, CVPS and the Vermont PSB:

    Here is the paragraph from the MOU

    “Transfer of Decommissioning Fund: Pursuant to Section 6.10(b) of the PSA, at Closing the entire fund balance in the VYNPC Qualified Decommissioning Trust Fund and Non Qualified Decommissioning Trust Fund will be transferred to the funds established by Buyer’s Post Closing Decommissioning Trust Agreement (as defined in the PSA).”

    I don’t have any confidence that either the federal government or the state government really know what is going on with respect to the Decommissioning Trust Fund.

    Who is the fund trustee?

    What are his/her/their fiduciary responsibilities?

    Where is the fund maintained?

    How are the funds invested?

    Who is responsible to audit the fund and where are the audit results published?

    Entergy has requested permission from the NRC to use funds from the Decommissioning Trust Fund to finance activities that are not directly related to decommissioning activities.


    Dear Governor Shumlin,

    Please obtain the most recent Decommissioning Trust Fund audited statement of account and all fiduciary details associated with it.

    Post it on the State of Vermont website.


  • First I need to share a chuckle at an interesting typo. Here is a direct quote from the article at the time I read it:

    “Katz is among the advocates that want the company to only move spent nuclear fuel into dry cake when school is not in session…”

    Maybe that “dry cake” is something that will be left over after numerous town bake sales conducted in a vain attempt to make up for the loss of property taxes resulting from the successful activist effort to push Entergy into a difficult financial position.

    New Englanders should know by now that operating manufacturing facilities can be pretty good town anchors and provide living wages to a substantial work force.

    Once they close, however, the revenues they used to produce stop and they become idle hulks that no one quite knows what to do with. New England is full of old textile mills, foundries, saw mills, and other facilities that were forced out of business by changing styles or external competition.

    Vermont Yankee was forced out of business by focused, repeated efforts to make it difficult — hence costly — to continue to produce its exceedingly valuable product. Clean, reliable, gas-free energy has not gone out of style. The replacement suppliers are NOT producing lower cost or better products.

    Though there might not have been direct funding from other energy interests that can be tied to particular actions by the state or its activist friends, it is clear that the primary beneficiaries of forcing VY to close are natural gas suppliers, distillate fuel oil suppliers, wind and solar developers, solar installers, biomass suppliers, and farmers being paid to turn manure into a moderate quantity of fuel.

    The school children that Ms. Katz says she is worried about were never in any danger as a result of the operation of VY, but their future is at risk due to living in an area that has forced a facility that was an exceptional supplier of an important product to close well before it had completed its useful life.

    • Louisiana Entergy went to court and won the right to remain open, and then Louisiana Entergy closed up shop for its own financial benefit.

      Louisiana Entergy’s closing of their Yankee plant had nothing to do with the state’s unsuccessful endeavors to hold Louisiana Entergy true to its word.

    • John Greenberg

      Rod Adams:

      You say: “The replacement suppliers are NOT producing lower cost ….”

      That’s a pretty odd statement. VY had power contracts (Power Purchase Agreements) until March, 2012, so it was entirely insulated from market prices. (In the last 4 years or so of those contracts, that turned out to be quite fortunate, since VY was able to charge significantly more than the ISO-NE market price because their contracts had been inked years earlier).

      But after March, 2012, VY sold its power into the open market. Any other business that’s losing money on its sales due to higher costs (your premise), would raise its selling price if it possibly could to make up the difference. The only reason I can think of that VY couldn’t do this is that OTHER New England generators were able to produce AND SELL power at a lower cost than VY. In other words, competition from other suppliers prevented VY from raising prices in the free ISO-NE market. In short, what the market giveth, the market taketh away.

      If that’s not the case, then please provide a cogent explanation.

      N.B. I’m not contesting your statement that “Vermont Yankee was forced out of business by focused, repeated efforts to make it difficult — hence costly — to continue to produce its exceedingly valuable product,” although I disagree with it. I’m accepting your premise as a given, and questioning your conclusion.

      • Vermont Yankee was not losing money on its sales. During its final full winter in operation, it shared $17 million with Vermont utilities as part of the profit sharing agreement that it had signed.

        Vermont’s owners had already decided, before that happened, that the plant was not making enough money and that market conditions were such that it was better for the company and its overall performance to shut the plant down.

        That action allowed Entergy to redeploy valuable employees, avoid future costs for plant upgrades proposed as over reaction to the Fukushima accident, and sell power at an increased price from the rest of the generating plants it owns in the same market area.

        There is also the matter of special subsidies and above market prices being paid to politically favored suppliers like those using biomass, wind, solar, or distillate fuel oil.

        Those subsidies skew the market. Though it has not yet come into effect, Entergy also recognized that the NE-ISO was going to allow negative bids into the market. That would have made Entergy sometimes pay a fee in order to keep running during certain sunny and/or windy days when there was not enough demand for power.

        Finally, many of the suppliers in the wholesale market are not paying the full cost of having them attached to, and backed up by the grid. The additional costs to customers show up not in the energy price, but in the transmission and delivery charges added to pay for infrastructure upgrades.

        Rod Adams
        Publisher, Atomic Insights

        • John Greenberg

          So let’s cut to the chase here.

          Vermont Yankee began to lose money on sales sometime around late 2008. Yes, the plant made money once or twice during that period; the fact remains that it lost more than it made and that Entergy (and everyone else) could read the writing on the wall.

          Regardless of all your theories as to WHY market prices were too low for VY, the fact remains that they WERE too low for the plant to operate profitably. Another way of saying that is that other market suppliers were undercutting VY’s prices by selling power to the market at prices less than it cost VY to make it, which is what you denied above.

          I would suggest that a significant drop in electricity demand, due to the double whammy of economic recession and significant investment by New England and the federal government in energy efficiency as a response to the recession combined with the huge drop in the prices of natural gas due to the fracking boom (and to some extent, to the same drop in energy demand) had a great deal more to do with VY’s problems (which are mirrored by quite a few old US reactors in various regions) than most of the issues you raise. But this is not the place to debate energy market analysis.

          Finally, it is also noteworthy that not one of the items on your excuse list pertains to Vermont; these are all impacts from either federal policy or ISO policy, not Vermont policy.

          • Do you have a source for your assertion that Vermont Yankee was losing money other than general corporate statements? Have you reviewed the accounting records? My contention is that the plant was not losing money, but that it was not making enough money to make it worth keeping with known future costs like repairing the condenser and making whatever upgrades the NRC decides to require in response to Fukushima.

            Though I did not mention it above, some of Entergy’s extraordinary expenses for VY included state imposed actions. Entergy had to pay all of the costs of the review board that paid Gundersen $300 per hour for inaccurate information.

            Entergy spent tens of millions to clean up a tiny quantity of tritium that was roughly 1/100th of the amount that is contained in a lighted exit sign diluted by 150,000 liters of water.

            Entergy spent an unreported number of millions on lawyer fees to defend itself against various actions by the state.

            The state imposed targeted tax increases that only affected Vermont Yankee and essentially extracted tribute in the form of money to clean up a distant lake in return for reluctantly granting Entergy permission to locate a new back-up diesel generator on the site. That generator was made necessary by a change in the operational status of a hydroelectric dam. I think that decision was either a state, local or competitor decision, not a federal decision.

          • John Greenberg

            Rod Adams:

            “Do you have a source for your assertion that Vermont Yankee was losing money other than general corporate statements?”

            I don’t know what you mean by “general corporate statements.” Each quarter, Entergy management has an earnings call with financial analysts. Management makes presentations and then takes questions from the analysts. These calls are then transcribed and posted on the internet. The statements I mentioned above on which I’m relying on come from these meetings – where VY was often a topic of interest.

            I’m also relying on what I could glean from Entergy’s annual reports, from my knowledge of the finances of the old VYNPC, for which I constructed a spreadsheet years ago based on roughly 10 years of audited financial statements, on conversations and reports with financial analysts, and on testimony from Entergy officials in federal court. (My recollection is that most, if not all, of this testimony came during the injunction phase of the proceedings, and was in testimony from John Herron.)

            I mention the VYNPC reports and conversations with analysts, because I did my utmost, putting all this information together, to estimate VY’s costs of production, which from everything I can tell were in the 5 cents range. Given the statements to financial analysts, there is a small range around that figure, but certainly not a large one, unless Entergy management outright lied to the analysts.

            To the best of my knowledge, at least, Entergy does not file or reveal financial details for each of the plants it owns; or to be more precise, I have never found any such filing. Publicly available filings show the merchant nuclear group as a whole, whether they’re in annual reports, the Enexus docket filings, etc.

            To see the sales side of the equation, go here:, go to the VT tab and look at column O starting in 2008. (I started in August) through December of last year. Market prices for the whole period averaged exactly 5 cents during that period. But a closer look reveals that MOST of the time, prices were below that, often well below that, and that on a few occasions they rose enough to bring the averages up. And returning to the original statement I questioned in this discussion, the fact these prices were, at times, in the 2-3 cents range, shows clearly that other producers WERE producing (or voluntarily selling) power at lower prices than VY a great deal of the time.

            If you want to be very precise, then you’d need to compare VY’s costs (to the extent you can figure them out exactly) to the contract prices for the years 2008 through 2012. From March 2011 to March 2012, VY received 4.5 cents for its power. Each preceding year was .1 cents less (for an average of around 4.3 cents). After March 2012, you would then use the market price, which averaged 5.4 cents for just those 2+ years.

            Unfortunately, my filing system for these things is not at all organized, so finding links to the evidence I have for you would take me basically as long to reconstruct as it would take you to construct in the first place.

            You’ve been a loyal Entergy supporter. Why not just call the corporate offices and ask them? If they contradict my statement above, or if you can provide links to show that it’s wrong, please feel free to present your evidence.

            All that said, I am willing to concede that it is possible that, rather than losing money, Entergy was breaking even over a 6-year period, although, finally, if I’m not mistaken, Entergy detailed its losses soon after closing the plant when it wrote down several hundred million dollars on its books. That should be in an SEC filing, if I’m not mistaken.

            The precise figures – which I don’t have and have never purported to — don’t change things much at all, since in addition to the expenses you mention above for post-Fukushima repairs (and others), Entergy also faced hundreds of millions in repairs for VY’s condenser and transformer, if VY were to keep operating. It testified to those in Docket 7440 at the PSB.

            So unless the ISO-NE wholesale market took a sharp swing upward, what had been a break even proposition was exceedingly likely to become a losing proposition. Worse, there’s a futures market for natural gas prices for the next 10 years, and futures prices are not predicting any such marked upward movement.

            In other words, exactly when Entergy lost money in the past few years is less germane than the bigger picture: the plant was NOT making money (except at market peaks), faced growing expenses, and therefore had little prospect of making money in the foreseeable future.

            Frankly, to me, the mystery has always been why Entergy management didn’t see that much sooner than it did. It was, in fact, pretty obvious well before Entergy sued the State over preemption, for example.

            In the meantime, I’d point out that my summary agrees with Entergy’s stated rationale for closing the plant. It also jibes with the statements from OTHER nuclear operators as to why they either have closed or are considering closing old plants.

            As to your latest list of costs, please correct me if I’m mistaken but any funds spent cleaning up tritium were spent either at the behest of Entergy management or of the NRC. The State of Vermont has no authority to order such a cleanup, and as far as I’m aware, did not attempt to do so.

            Entergy spent $4.5 million on legal fees suing the State of Vermont in federal court. Court fillings show that. How much the company spent on the appeal and the several other lawsuits the company initiated, I can’t say. Every court action brought was initiated by Entergy, not Vermont. Not only did no one put a gun to the head of any of Entergy’s managers to force them to sue, but it’s worth noting that, at least in the case of the preemption lawsuit (the one they won), the company had previously agreed NOT to raise the issue in the first place, and furthermore to take any dispute arising from the MOU to the PSB. So again, Entergy management decided to spend these funds, not Vermont.

            The decision about the dam was made by TransCanada, not Vermont. The diesel generator requirement is an NRC mandate. Again, nothing to do with Vermont. Going by memory, the CPG for the diesel generator was NOT contingent on or in any way related to any financial contribution of any kind from Entergy. I could be wrong about that, but that’s my recollection. You can certainly look it up on the PSB website if you’re interested in fact-checking.

  • ‘“Vermont Yankee is its own entity. It’s a non-operating facility generating no money,” Cohn said.

    That statement should be taken as a clear warning regards the future for Vermont according to Louisiana’s Entergy.

  • bob zeliff

    I am most worried about the decommissioning fund!
    Concerned that Vermont tax payer will be left with a bill of hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up Entergy”s mess.

    The fund is now $600 million short. Entergy has put NO money in the fund for atlas 10 years. Skimming profits.
    The cost of decommissioning is estimated to be $1.2Billion…do we really think that estimate is accurate? that it will not cost more?
    Big business always underestimates cost to the public. Look at Vermont GAS and the pipe line…the estimates of that have doubled in 2 years.

    It is imperative that the State and Federal Government hold Entergy accountable.

    • Bob:

      I agree with you that there is a real danger that the decommissioning fund may be inadequate and the entire matter is definitely an embarrassing mess.

      However, it is Peter Shumlin who needs to be held accountable for the decommissioning fund problem.

      Despite whatever Entergy did or failed to do, the short fall in the fund was well known when Mr. Shumlin first lead the charge to close VY. Driven by anti-nuclear ideology, pressure from the wind and solar industrial and his failure to think ahead, he ignored the decommissioning fund problem.

      Instead of working constructively with Entergy to resolve the decommissioning issue when he had the leverage, Mr. Shumlin and his allies in the legislature spurred on by the anti-nuclear activists elected to go to war against them. This decision by Mr. Shumlin to fight instead of working cooperatively is the root cause of the problem facing Vermont today. At this point, Mr. Shumlin has lost any leverage he may have had to fix the problem.

      Entergy may owe the money, but the responsibility for today’s problem resides squarely with Mr. Shumlin. Again, clearly demonstrating the high costs related to a “Ready, Fire, Aim” mode of operation.

      • John Greenberg


        Please explain how Peter Shumlin — or for that matter anyone else in Vermont “had the leverage” “to resolve the decommissioning issue.”

        Decommissioning is, and always has been, federally regulated. There was never a moment when Vermont officials had “leverage” over the issue as a whole, starting in 1972 and continuing to the present.

        Moreover, your statement appears to assume that allowing the plant to continue operating would have resolved the issue, but that’s totally false as well.

        When it bought the plant, Entergy inherited a decommissioning fund from the plant’s previous owners, which, on a rough and ready basis, had about ½ the money in it that was then expected to be required for decommissioning. Entergy ran the plant for about 12 years after that, never adding a dime to the Fund. When it closed, although the figures for both the fund and decommissioning were both higher, the ratio between them was about the same: the Fund held roughly ½ the amount required. Entergy made it repeatedly clear that it was not going to add to the fund in the future either.

        Despite the history just mentioned, Entergy’s theory, in PSB testimony and elsewhere, has been that “next time will be different.” To hear Entergy’s witnesses tell it, the Fund is going to grow so much in NEXT 20 years that the gap will magically close. The salient point about this theory is that it does not require continued operations at all, only more time. As noted, there will be no additions to the fund from the outside.

        But that means that whether the theory is correct or not, continuing to operate the plant has NOTHING to do with the future growth of the Fund. It also means that if the theory is correct, there is no crisis, and if it’s not, operating the plant would not have resolved anything.

        The only aspect of decommissioning over which Vermont has ever had ANY control or leverage is the portion which pertains to NON-radiological cleanup: essentially, restoring the site to usable status once the NRC has released it from its radiological license. That portion will require, by Entergy’s estimates, somewhere between less than about 5% and about 15% of the total needed ($50 million out of $600-1200 million or so).

        Interestingly, since post-2012 operations DID require a CPG from the PSB, even after Entergy had decided to shut the plant down, the Shumlin administration did have a TINY bit of leverage to use vis-à-vis Entergy. It used it to negotiate an MOU with the company, in which the owners agreed to put $25 million aside for this purpose in an escrowed fund, and the State agreed not to oppose the grant of a CPG for the remaining period of operation. (There were other provisions as well) In other words, the one time, during 40+ years that the State DID actually have leverage, it used it and it hit the target. It happens that, at that one moment, Peter Shumlin was the Governor of Vermont.

        • John:

          Leverage is present in negotiations when one party wants something and another party has some real or perceived control over what is wanted.

          Going back to around 2010, VY wanted to continue operating. Although the final regulatory approval resided with the NRC, Shumlin had a choice to work cooperatively with VY or fight them tooth and nail, he chose the latter.

          Knowing that VY wanted to continue operating, he could have agreed to support continued operations with conditions tied to time frame, dealing with the decommissioning fund shortfall or any other matters. His willingness to work cooperatively, as opposed to fighting, with VY could have been used as leverage to obtain his ultimate object of getting the plant closed, while gaining contributions to the decommissioning fund and defining a mutually acceptable decommissioning time table.

          With VY now closed and Entergy licking its wounds from the beating taken from Shumlin, they have little reason to do anything more than the absolute minimum in dealing with the decommissioning of the plant. Shumlin now sits nearly helpless. He can try jawboning Entergy or costly litigation, but whatever leverage he had is now long gone.

          When someone wants something and you have some control over that person obtaining it, you have leverage. Shumlin had leverage and failed to use it to obtain the best possible out come for the state.

          • John Greenberg


            “Going back to around 2010, VY wanted to continue operating. Although the final regulatory approval resided with the NRC, Shumlin had a choice to work cooperatively with VY or fight them tooth and nail, he chose the latter.”

            There are numerous problems with your scenario.

            First, 2010 is the end of the story, not the beginning. Entergy applied to both the PSB and to the NRC for re-licensing in 2007. It also began negotiations with Vermont utilities (in their guise as the owners of VYNPC, the old owner of the plant) around that time.

            In 2008, I had meetings with Peter Shumlin, other senators, key House members, representatives of several VT utilities, and many others concerning this issue. The expectation on all sides was that Entergy would make the utilities a great contract offer, at prices well below market, for VY power, and that re-licensing would proceed smoothly in Vermont on that basis.

            That expectation was so strong that you, James Conca (a source you cite in a comment below), and many others believe to this day that it actually happened. But it never did.

            Instead, on the day when Entergy and the utilities were to present their proposed PPAs to the PSB as part of the ongoing CPG case in December of 2009, it became apparent that negotiations had failed and that no contracts had been signed. More pointedly, Entergy revealed two points which sealed its fate in the Vermont senate: namely, 1) its contract offer was completely unappealing (and has since proved to be far worse than anyone realized back then) and 2) the offer was contingent on Entergy’s proposal to spin off its old nuclear plants into a new company called Enexus: precisely so the company could avoid its decommissioning liabilities.

            The following January, the tritium leaks were discovered, which also proved that Entergy officials had misled both the PSB and the legislature about the existence of underground piping.

            The Senate vote took place in late February of 2010.

            Second, you simply assume that, as majority leader of the Senate, Shumlin was somehow in an all-powerful position and able to represent not only his own body (in which there were 2 other powerful senators opposing him for governor and other senators who supported his opponents), but also the whole State, including the sitting governor Jim Douglas, who clearly supported Entergy.

            You conveniently ignore the articulated positions of a variety of members of the Senate, which included several ardent supporters of VY who, in the end, voted AGAINST the plant. More than a few expressed considerable concern about the pending Enexus deal, months before the senate vote, precisely because they understood it would make the decommissioning issue substantially riskier. The Thayer letter ends with the sentence: “The contracts [that Entergy was offering in the letter] will be subject to several conditions, including consummation of the transaction pending in Docket No.. 7404.” Docket 7404 was the Enexus deal.

            In fact, a month before the Senate vote, Senator Illuzzi (a Republican, by the way) wrote an op-ed in the Rutland Herald (1/28/10) SUPPORTING re-licensing AS LONG AS the decommissioning issue could be resolved by taking the Enexus deal off the table. As things worked out, Entergy refused to do that, and Senator Illuzzi voted AGAINST re-licensing. I can think of at least 3 other senators, including 2 other Republicans and 1 Democrat who agreed with Senator Illuzzi’s position on both points: that is, they WANTED to support re-licensing, but thanks to Entergy’s intransigence (not Shumlin’s), they ended up voting No when the time came. There were plenty of other senators concerned about Enexus as well as these, but for these 4 (and perhaps others) it was one of the deciding issues.

            It’s amusing that you frequently claim that Shumlin is now a total bungler who can’t manage his way out of a paper bag, but apparently back when the VY issue was on the table, you believe he had superhuman powers to control not only all his own party members (though as noted 2 ran against him in the gubernatorial primary and others did NOT support him), members of the opposing party (who certainly felt free to oppose him on all sorts of OTHER issues) AND the administration, which was in the hands of the opposing party. In other words, on every issue but VY, Shumlin is an incompetent hack, but on VY he has total political control. An interesting theory.

            Third, as you so graciously articulated for us, “Leverage is present in negotiations when one party wants something and another party has some real or perceived control over what is wanted.” The problem here is that it’s not at all clear what Shumlin could have offered Entergy (even assuming he were in a position to do so), but it’s perfectly clear what Entergy could have offered the utilities and the senators whose votes they wanted.

            I was not privy to whatever behind-the-scenes negotiations there may have been between these parties, though there probably were plenty of them, but the public record speaks loudly and clearly about both the pricing and the decommissioning issues.

            There were numerous legislative hearings in which committee members made clear their opposition to the Enexus deal and their concern about decommissioning. Entergy never budged. AFTER the vote, Enexus was taken off the table by state regulators in NY and VT, and only then did Entergy abandon the idea.
            The whole Vermont political scene – including the legislature, PSB hearings, and the media – was chock full of discussions about VY and cheap power for YEARS leading up to the Senate vote, yet, in the end, Entergy offered a contract which can only generously be characterized as mediocre. In retrospect, we can now see that the contract Jay Thayer offered would have cost Vermonters several hundred million dollars in higher rates just in the first few years. But it was apparent, even back then that, as Mary Powell put it: “Candidly we were never able to get a contract we thought was a good value,” she said.”
            Unbeknownst to most Vermonters, the Douglas administration, which ardently supported VY, actually opposed the grant of a CPG until and unless favorable contracts were brought forward. They never were. The utilities took the same position.

            In other words, Entergy knew perfectly well what it had to put on the table to get a favorable vote from the Vermont Senate, but chose to stonewall instead, both on pricing and on the very point which you tell us – completely gratuitously – Shumlin could have negotiated with all his supposed “leverage.”

            A final point. The only leverage anyone in Vermont had over Entergy in regards to re-licensing was due to a 2006 law, which passed both houses of the legislature overwhelmingly and was signed into law by then governor Jim Douglas, requiring Entergy to get legislative approval before it could obtain a CPG from the PSB. That law had nothing to do with Peter Shumlin, who was not in the legislature when it passed.

            But Entergy knew that this “leverage” was contingent on the 2006 law being upheld. Having previously promised never to do so (and to settle any disagreements it might have had in front of the PSB), Entergy sued the State in federal court, successfully as it turned out, and thus entirely removed Shumlin’s supposed “lever.” The knowledge that they were going to sue anyway probably influenced Entergy’s decision as to how much to concede to Vermont senators in order to gain their votes. After all, why conceded what you can win anyway? No one but Entergy could have known about their strategy.

            In short, Entergy knew what the stakes were and freely chose to “negotiate” by simply ignoring the wishes of the senators whose votes they needed. Put more generously, they correctly realized that, in the end, they didn’t really need those votes after all, and they calculated that they’d rather have higher prices for their energy and retain their scheme to unload the plant than to obtain the votes of recalcitrant senators.

            This approach worked until it didn’t. It ultimately backfired, because their refusal to offer a generous contract price ended up putting them at the mercy of the open power markets. Meanwhile, market prices went into sharp decline due, I believe, to a double whammy of sharply reduced demand and sharply increased supply of natural gas. The very same forces are making it difficult for nuclear power plants all over the country: several have closed; others are under threat of closing. That suggests that your fantasies about Vermont negotiations really have nothing to do with the matter.

            In sum, you’ve concocted a lovely fairy tale here, but the facts just don’t support it. If Entergy had offered the utilities “good value” as Mary Powell put it, their contracts would have insulated them from the vagaries of the power markets and they would probably still be operating today.

            Nonetheless, as I pointed out in my previous comment, nothing would have resolved the decommissioning issue anyway, which Entergy has never shown even the slightest interest in conceding. Why should they? They hold all the leverage; the State has none. That’s true now, just as it always was. It’s one of the consequences of the federal preemption doctrine for nuclear power plants.

          • John:

            The fact remains that VY is closed and the state is exposed because of an inadequate decommissioning fund and other difficulties……and that’s a real problem.

            Your view of history has little to do with the simple point that I have made: Mr. Shumlin, as head of the Senate and later as Governor, had the leverage to affect a more positive outcome for VY and the state.

            Leverage doesn’t mean having the muscle to force Entergy to do anything. It means using the power of his office and government to work constructively toward a mutually acceptable solution as opposed to a ham handed forced closing of the plant. This would have taken leadership to bring diverse interests together guided by foresight that recognized problems to come with an ill-timed plant closing.

            Mr. Shumlin failed and now the state has an assortment of problems related to his position as the chief elected opponent of continued VY operations.

            All of the historical minutia you have presented is nothing more than defensive talk for a failed effort.

          • John Greenberg


            You repeatedly claim that Peter Shumlin had “leverage.”

            Prove it. At least present SOME evidence for your contention. Repeating the assertion is not evidence for the claim.

            All the facts I’m aware of fail to support your fantasy in any way. You can belittle
            “your view of history.” “all of the historical minutia you have presented,” “nothing more than defensive talk for a failed effort” but your assertion still stands with not one scintilla of evidence to back it up.

            Don’t like my “view of history?” Fine. Discard everything I said.

            You’re the one making the assertion, so tell us YOUR view of history. Specifically, tell us where the “leverage” you’re claiming is to be found. Your phrase “work constructively toward a mutually acceptable solution” sounds wonderful. But what exactly does it mean in the context of what was available to the players on the ground?

            I’ll tell you exactly what it means to me. Nothing. It’s meaningless boilerplate.

            I’ve already spelled out why. Neither Peter Shumlin nor Vermont ever had any lever, and there was no “mutually acceptable solution.” Entergy made its position quite clear, repeatedly and in multiple forums. Moreover, it won its case in court. So much for what looked like it MIGHT have been Vermont’s “lever.”

            If I’m wrong, please explain with some specificity exactly where this famous leverage you keep talking about lies, and what “a mutually acceptable solution” could possibly have looked like.

            Otherwise, I’ll conclude – as I already have – that you’re just talking through your hat here. Alas, that would be nothing new.

          • John:

            Instead of focusing on me, you would be better served if you concentrated on the real problem at hand: the deficit VY decommission fund and Mr. Shumlin’s failure to effectively deal with it when he had a chance.

            You appear to not understand what leverage was available and how it could have worked in this matter. Above you say: “The only leverage anyone in Vermont had over Entergy in regards to re-licensing was due to a 2006 law”. This is wrong. The 2006 law was not leverage to do anything other than to exacerbate the problem and satisfy the anti-nuclear ideologues.

            Leverage had to come from using the Governor’s and state’s power to bring VY and the utilities together for longer term power contracts to include some mechanism for dealing with the decommissioning fund. A major obstacle precluding the utilities from entering contracts with VY was the high level of uncertainty surrounding its ability to continue in operations because of hostile actions by the state.

            In May of 2011, Mary Powell of Green Mountain Power is quoted in the Burlington Free Press as saying: “Right now, they (VY) are not viable for long term power contracts……however, if the plant is able to continue operating, Green Mountain Power would discuss buying power from the plant again”.

            At the time Powell made this statement the price of power offered by VY and NextEra, the New Hampshire nuclear plant that replaced VY, were only pennies apart. The opening contract prices at that time from both providers were around 5 to 6 cents a Kwh. Compare this to the 15 to 30 cents per Kwh that is now being paid for industrial wind and industrial solar.

            Thus, there was a real opportunity for Gov. Shumlin to facilitate a deal between VY and the Vermont utilities as Mary Powell indicated she was willing to talk. Even if the price was some what higher than the 5 to 6 cents to provide contributions to the decommissioning fund, it would have been significantly less what is now being paid for wind and solar.

            Gov. Shumlin failed to deliver an outcome that could have dealt with the decommissioning problem, averted hundreds of job lay offs, precluded negative economic consequences for southeastern Vermont and maintained tax revenue that is now dearly needed by the state.

            He missed his chance to constructively leverage the power of his office to avert the problem and instead created a worse situation for the state. Instead, he chose to pander to the hard far left anti-nuclear activists, which made finding a mutually acceptable solution impossible.

          • John Greenberg


            1) “… you would be better served if you concentrated on the real problem at hand: the deficit VY decommission fund and Mr. Shumlin’s failure to effectively deal with it when he had a chance.”

            I’ve already answered this at least twice. Mr. Shumlin DID deal with it effectively when he had the only chance that was ever offered to him: he negotiated a $25 million deposit in a fund for site restoration. The rest of the issue was and is federally preempted.

            2) “Leverage had to come from using the Governor’s and state’s power to bring VY and the utilities together for longer term power contracts to include some mechanism for dealing with the decommissioning fund.” There are three problems here.

            a) As I explained in detail above, the utilities DID negotiate with Entergy for roughly 2 years. During that time and for a year afterwards, Jim Douglas was governor. My understanding is that DPS (under David O’Brien, Douglas’s appointee) was not involved in, but was kept apprised of, these negotiations. (I could be mistaken; I have no direct knowledge of that or documentary evidence for it).

            O’Brien’s DPS DID try to use whatever leverage it had at the PSB to demand that Entergy offer Vermont utilities a favorable contract; DPS briefs opposed the granting of a CPG without such contracts. No dice.

            b) To my knowledge, decommissioning was never on the table during those talks, since it’s not an issue for the utilities. They discharged any responsibility they had for decommissioning when they sold the plant to Entergy. I’m not pulling this out of the air, by the way; there’s testimony and documentation in the PSB CPG dockets.

            c) Governor Douglas had no leverage to negotiate with Entergy over decommissioning, any more than VY-supporting Vermont senators did. I’ve asked you repeatedly to tell us where the leverage that you believe these folks has actually lies. You keep responding with repetitious bland generalities.

            3) “A major obstacle precluding the utilities from entering contracts with VY was the high level of uncertainty surrounding its ability to continue in operations because of hostile actions by the state.” The negotiations failed in 2009. As previously noted, Jim Douglas was governor. Please articulate what “hostile actions [were taken] by the state.” Since you’ve dismissed the 2006 law as “not leverage to do anything other than to exacerbate the problem and satisfy the anti-nuclear ideologues,” please explain what “high level of uncertainty surrounding its ability to continue in operations” there was. The Mary Powell statement you quote concerns the period AFTER the senate vote, which never would have taken place without the law whose importance you’ve just dismissed. And by the way, guess which governor signed that bill into law?

            4) “ … the price of power offered by VY and NextEra, the New Hampshire nuclear plant that replaced VY, were only pennies apart. The opening contract prices at that time from both providers were around 5 to 6 cents a Kwh.” One penny, at those prices, is a difference of 20%, and we’re talking MAJOR blocks of power. The Seabrook contract was around 20-25% cheaper than VY (going by memory) and did not require Vermont utilities to buy power from VY at night, when it’s not needed and when it can be obtained for much lower prices if it should be needed. In short, it was a considerably better deal for Vermont ratepayers. Again, Jim Douglas was governor at the time.

            You appear to be suggesting that, along with its higher price offer, Entergy was going to put money in the decommissioning fund. Not only is that not true (or more precisely, there isn’t a scintilla of evidence for it), but as I noted above, Entergy’s offer as of December, 2009 was actually contingent on the Enexus deal, which would have unloaded VY (and its fund) into a far riskier company: Enexus.

            You’re just making it up as you go along.

            5) “Gov. Shumlin failed to deliver an outcome that could have dealt with the decommissioning problem, averted hundreds of job lay offs, precluded negative economic consequences for southeastern Vermont and maintained tax revenue that is now dearly needed by the state.”

            First, you’ve got the wrong governor. Prior to January 2011 (which is when all the negotiating took place), Jim Douglas was governor. Entergy sued Vermont less than 4 months after Peter Shumlin became governor.

            In addition, I’ve repeatedly asked you for ANY evidence that there is ANYTHING on the record to support this statement. For all the reasons I’ve explained previously, I don’t think there’s anything Jim Douglas could have done that he didn’t do. But since you don’t believe me, I keep asking you to present some version of the facts which justifies these vapid generalizations. I’m still waiting.

            Shumlin may have “chose[n] to pander to the hard far left anti-nuclear activists,” but Jim Douglas didn’t.

            So here we are again: tons of rhetoric; lots of bland generalities and pious incantations, and not a (correct) fact to be seen anywhere in these rants.

        • John:

          Jim Douglas wasn’t trying to close VY down, Peter Shumlin was.

          Good match…..time to move on.

          • John Greenberg


            “Jim Douglas wasn’t trying to close VY down, Peter Shumlin was.”

            That’s absolutely correct.

            And yet, according to your now-obviously-spurious theory, they both “had the leverage to affect a more positive outcome for VY and the state.” Worse, Douglas held the lever roughly 30 times as long as Shumlin before Entergy sued the state: 8 years vs. 4 months. And to make matters worse, Douglas signed a law which you characterize as “not leverage to do anything other than to exacerbate the problem and satisfy the anti-nuclear ideologues,” while Shumlin was not in the legislature.

            Surely, if your theory has any merit — which it doesn’t – then you should be aiming far sharper critiques at Douglas than at Shumlin: he held the non-existent lever for far longer and then, worse still, “exacerbate[d] the problem.” Yet, you’ve never even mentioned his name, while repeatedly attacking Shumlin.

            Thank you for providing the reductio ad absurdum for your own argument. Well done!

            After all this huffing and puffing, all you’ve proven is that you don’t approve of Peter Shumlin as governor and don’t know much about Vermont Yankee. Not that we didn’t know either of these things before.

  • Ed Letourneau

    Somebody please explain how deregulation of the utilities and power system was suppose to work? Would this problem exist if we still had investor owned utilities?

    • John Greenberg

      Ed Letourneau:

      Your question is very much on point.

      In the old days, decommissioning was regulated by FERC as part of the plant’s regular rate cases. The old owner, the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation (VYNPC) submitted its decommissioning (and other cost) estimates to FERC, which allowed it to charge its owners (all regulated utilities) their proportionate shares. These, in turn, were passed through to the utility ratepayers and could not be challenged or modified by state regulators (federal preemption). As was explained to me by a VY VP for finance at the time, decommissioning wasn’t just a contract, it was a FERC rate and was totally enforceable by FERC. (Had there been a shortfall, the contract language specified that VY’s owners – the utilities – would have been on the hook).

      Put differently, that meant that decommissioning funds were effectively isolated from the price of power in electricity markets. Customers buying VY power had no choice BUT to pay their share. Had the old regime been in place, the Decommissioning Fund would have grown, because ratepayers would have continued contributing to it until such time as it appeared to be sufficient to do the job.

      When Entergy bought the plant, VY moved from this kind of strict regulation to being “regulated” by the markets as a “merchant generator.” That change had 2 unforeseen consequences.

      Because 10 year contracts were part of the sale deal, the financial implications of SELLING power at market rates didn’t actually hit VY until 2012, and that’s what brought it down. If the plant were still regulated as it used to be back when, it would almost certainly still be operating.

      But also, for the same reason, Entergy could NOT collect money for decommissioning from ratepayers any more, at least not directly as before. The company would have had to put money into the fund voluntarily: either from its profits on revenues, or from shareholder equity. Entergy made it clear from the beginning it wasn’t going to do either.

      As a result, electricity consumers have been buying power for the last 15 years without having to pay a dime for decommissioning. It was “free.” Remember that the next time you get a “free” offer. Sometimes, they’re VERY expensive.

      So here we are.

  • You would have thought that Vermont’s regulators and administration would have had all these details worked out by now. No such luck as usual. My bet is in the long run Vermont will be subsidizing the safe clean up of this facility, that’s the way it works in Vermont, don’t sweat the details, like Washington simply kick the can down road and hope for the best. Or hire more attorneys and sue.

    • John Greenberg

      Kim Fried:

      “You would have thought that Vermont’s regulators and administration would have had all these details worked out by now.”

      Perhaps YOU would have, but those who follow these matters understand that these “details,” as you term them, are regulated solely by the federal governmen. Vermont officials can intervene in federal proceedings (which is precisely what they’ve done), but are preempted from regulating them on their own.

    • Thomas Clegg

      Vermont legislations made sure that Lake Champlain was cleaned up before VY decommission fund was up to date . Even thought Lake Champlain is on the other side of Vermont. Now this is Bull Sh#t . Indian Point makes almost 1 billion dollars a year profit if any of you anit -nuke idiots bothered to do real researchers you would know this. But fear is much better than fact. So Entergy is a stable company and can afford the decommissioning cost. HOW MANY OTHER COMPANYS MOVED OUT OF THE UNITED Communist republic of Vermont. That left you high and dry. Years from now when your paying high taxes and high electric bill to pay for subsidizing projects that are pie in the sky and a waist of tax payers dollars are you going to wish that VY was still open.

  • Yep, John just like the Health Care “project”.

    • John Greenberg

      No, Kim: It’s not ” just like the Health Care “project”.”

      The State is NOT preempted from regulating health care. In fact, it actively does just that.

      The State IS preempted from regulating nuclear decommissioning (except for the portion dealing with the restoration of the site AFTER all radioactive materials have been removed, and that’s a TINY portion of the problem that the State HAS, in fact, begun to deal with, thanks to the recent MOU with Entergy).

  • We are now hearing from so many sources that the state MUST rush ahead with it’s energy plans.

    The Vermont House is rushing forward at break neck speed with H.40, an extremely complicated renewable energy bill, which will impact the state for decades to come. In a vtdigger commentary today we hear from Chris Granda that if we don’t rush ahead with renewable energy the results will be catastrophic. And the howling to rush ahead continues to come from many other quarters along with warnings of dire consequences.

    So the mode du jour thinking with energy policy in Vermont continues to be… RUSH, RUSH, RUSH. But what are the consequences of rushing? How about taking VY as a prime example of the negative consequences that come with rushed action.

    Let’s be honest, we have a big mess and a worrisome pile of long term concerns with VY that are a result of rushing. If Governor Shumlin, the legislature and the instigating anti-nuclear forces hadn’t rushed to close VY and thought through the consequences of what they were doing, many of the issues now hanging overhead could have been averted.

    A plan mutually beneficial to the state and Entergy could have been worked out that could have gone a long way in avoiding the financial and safety concerns now being expressed. Instead of negotiating a well thought through closing plan, Gov. Shumlin rushed ahead and induced a crash landing closing of VT that has alienated Entergy and taken away any incentive to anything beyond the minimum with the plant closing.

    Vermont’s attitude toward VY was so off base that it prompted an article in Forbes Magazine entitled “Who Told Vermont to be Stupid”.

    The Forbes site was originally offered by Willem Post.

    Based on the VY experience, it would seem that our leaders in Montpelier would want to slow down and be more deliberate with energy policy thinking. This however, doesn’t seem to be the case as the cry to rush ahead gets louder and the policy makers accede to the call.

  • Thanks Peter, this is what Mr. Greenberg doesn’t seem to understand. Good planning, especially on critical issues such as VY pays off. Rushing to make decisions to satisfy a political position will result in trouble down the road. Our administration has to slow up and start doing things in a more deliberate way. The turtle wins the race, our Montpelier rabbits are doing us no favors.

    • Kim:

      Its difficult to understand and appreciate the value of sound planning when it is viewed through a filter of ideology based on emotion and fear.

  • CAN is advocating that during fuel transfer from the pool to dry cask storage, the emergency planning zone remain in place.This would cost $2 million a year for 5 years.

    NRC’s representative Mr. Watson described at a CAP meeting that moving fuel is a “fairly high risk activity”. The$10 mil needed should not come from the decommissioning fund, but from Entergy’s parent corporation, which committed to both the NRC and the state of Vermont that it would cover financial shortfalls.

    Regarding the two elementary schools- CAN advocates that the children are relocated to others schools during the transfer of fuel. We are not advocating any limitation on timing (only in the summer) for the fuel transfer to occur.

    Again, the costs for the relocation should be born by Entergy’s parent company; it should not be withdrawn from the decommissioning fund.

    Entergy’s parent company should also be responsible for funding the guarding of the high level waste at the site. This guarding of millions of curies of waste will continue for decades if not longer. Entergy wants to withdraw monies for this from the decom fund; this would deplete the fund by $50 mil if not more, delaying cleanup.

    Entergy’s parent company needs to honor the monetary commitments it made when it purchased Vermont Yankee; in abdicating its responsibility, it undermines a safe, thorough and timely decommissioning of the site.

  • Leslie Sullivan Sachs

    NRC published their annual assessments on operating nukes. 75% “met NRC regulatory safety and security objectives in 2014. ” Only two of Entergy’s plants – Indian Point I & II and Grand Gulf, got top marks.
    Of the 19 reactors which didn’t meet the criteria, 7 are owned by Entergy.
    4 have issues, Pilgrim was degraded and Arkansas I & 2 had safety findings of substantial significance.
    So 7 of Entergy’s 11 reactors are under additional scrutiny by the NRC. No wonder we are concerned about their financial stability, their ability to keep the plants running safely, and whether the decomm trust fund will be raided.