Federal application filed for Vermont Yankee sale

VERNON – A New York company has taken another big step toward purchasing Vermont Yankee.

NorthStar Group Holdings has filed an application with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to acquire the license of the shut-down Vernon plant. The request was filed jointly with Entergy, the facility’s current owner.

Encompassing more than 200 pages, the application is a comprehensive attempt to persuade the NRC that NorthStar has the expertise and the financial wherewithal to clean up the plant decades earlier than Entergy had planned.

Vermont Yankee 2010

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

The bottom line, administrators contend, is that “this transfer is desirable and of considerable benefit to the citizens of Vermont.”

Entergy stopped producing power at Vermont Yankee more than two years ago and had planned to put the plant into an extended period of dormancy under which decommissioning and site restoration might not have been finished until 2075.

By contrast, NorthStar has pledged to clean up most of the site – with the exception of a spent fuel storage facility – by 2030 and possibly as early as 2026.

NorthStar wants to close on the purchase by the end of 2018. The transaction would include the primary economic engine behind the project – Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning trust fund, which stood at $561.6 million at the end of 2016.

The companies need a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board. That review kicked off in December and will include two public hearings in Vernon this year.

The NRC’s approval is also needed. The application filed by NorthStar and Entergy, dated Feb. 9, asks the federal agency to act by Dec. 31.

The document has several key points:

• The companies provide an accounting of the corporate entities involved in the transaction, including those that will control the plant after the sale.

As it now stands, Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee is the licensed owner, and Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc. is the operator.

If the deal goes through, NorthStar Vermont Yankee LLC will be the licensed owner, with a company called NorthStar Nuclear Decommissioning Co. LLC acting as the licensed operator. But NorthStar Group Holdings – the company that’s been publicly identified as the buyer – will remain the “ultimate parent holding company” of those entities, the filing says.

• To bolster his company’s case, NorthStar Chief Executive Officer Scott State frequently has cited the experience and expertise of three proposed partners in the Vermont Yankee job. Those are Kansas City-based engineering company Burns & McDonnell; Paris-based AREVA; and Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists.

The NRC application takes that corporate partnership a step farther by pledging that a top administrator from each of those four companies will form a special board for the Vermont Yankee project “in order to provide experienced strategic and technical oversight” of decommissioning.

• NorthStar provides the NRC with detailed financial information including a cost breakdown for the Vermont Yankee project.

The figures echo previous disclosures: License termination is expected to cost $498.45 million, while site restoration will cost $25.3 million. There are separate trust funds for each of those tasks.

Also, long-term spent fuel management at Vermont Yankee is projected to cost $287.8 million. NorthStar, however, has proposed a “revolving” mechanism whereby no more than $20 million from the decommissioning trust fund will be tied up in spent fuel management at any given time.

• The company reiterates its financial position, including expected assurances and bonds to be provided for the Yankee project.

Overall, the NRC application says, “NorthStar has annual revenues of more than $600 million and has obtained more than $250 million in performance bonds since 2014 to provide additional assurance of project completion when required. It has completed more than $5 billion in projects since 1986.”

• Some “off-site assets and real estate” owned by Entergy Vermont Yankee are excluded from the sale to NorthStar, the NRC application says.

The document specifically mentions administrative offices and off-site training facilities. That’s a reference to Entergy’s corporate complex in Brattleboro, which the company has put up for sale.

• NorthStar plans to retain the small number of Vermont Yankee employees that will be needed after the site’s spent fuel is loaded into dry casks.

The NRC application says approximately 15 such employees will be offered jobs with NorthStar. It also notes that NorthStar expects to keep the plant’s current security contractor.

Mike Faher

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