Energy

Vermont Yankee buyer seeks ‘reasonable’ deal with state

Vermont Yankee
Vermont Yankee spent fuel pad. Photo courtesy of Vermont Yankee
VERNON – Last week wasn’t the best for NorthStar Group Services.

First, state officials filed a strongly worded criticism of the company’s plan to acquire and decommission the idled Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

Soon after that, the state Public Service Board issued a mixed ruling on NorthStar’s request to keep two key decommissioning documents “highly confidential” due to the company’s concerns about trade secrets and potential financial losses.

But NorthStar Chief Executive Officer Scott State on Friday said he remains committed to the Vermont Yankee project and is hoping to resolve differences with Vermont regulators.

He did not, however, make that commitment open-ended.

“We’ve engaged in the process,” State said. “We understood there would be these types of activities, and to date, we’re very committed to try to do this. We’ll need to see where a lot of this goes.”

Scott State
NorthStar Group Services CEO Scott State listens during a hearing in Vernon. File photo by Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons
Entergy stopped power production at Vermont Yankee at the end of 2014 and had been preparing the Vernon site for an extended period of dormancy under which decommissioning could take 60 years.

But in November, Entergy announced plans to sell the plant and its decommissioning trust fund to NorthStar. The New York company is promising to clean up most of the site by 2030 and possibly as early as 2026.

There have been many questions, however, about NorthStar’s planning and financial wherewithal. And that skepticism seems to have intensified in recent months as state and federal regulators review the proposed change of ownership.

On Tuesday, state officials told the federal Atomic Safety and Licensing Board that the NorthStar purchase poses “significant risk” to public health and safety.

The state’s biggest concern seems to be that NorthStar might run out of money, leaving Vermont with “a partially dismantled industrial site contaminated with radiological and nonradiological hazardous waste.”

In an interview the day after those filings came to light publicly, State declined to address the state’s specific contentions. He noted that Vermont officials filed their comments in the context of requesting to intervene in the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s review of the sale.

“We don’t see ourselves as a party to the intervention request,” State said.

But, as he has done in past public meetings, State emphasized the company’s expertise and detailed financial planning. And he said NorthStar was working on the Vermont Yankee project long before it was publicly disclosed.

“We’re approaching two years of direct activity,” State said. “We’ve got people on site on a regular basis now. We’re working on various activities that would benefit the accelerated (decommissioning) that we’ve proposed.”

State’s comments also came on the heels of a Public Service Board ruling that could be seen as both a win and a loss for NorthStar.

In the course of the board’s review of the Vermont Yankee sale, NorthStar had requested that two “highly confidential” decommissioning documents be subject to unusual protections that would greatly restrict public access.

The request drew scrutiny from several groups including the Conservation Law Foundation, where an attorney said NorthStar was trying to gain state approval of a “secret plan.”

On Thursday the board issued a split ruling that withheld special protections for one of the documents while finding that “further confidentiality protocols … are warranted” for the other. The board also rejected NorthStar’s plan to provide state entities and nongovernmental groups like the New England Coalition with differing levels of access to the documents.

The board told NorthStar and the interested parties to work together “to develop appropriate protocols” for review of the more confidential document. State said he is “confident that a reasonable determination will be agreed to.”

He used that same word – “reasonable” – several more times to describe ongoing interactions between his company and state regulators. That sentiment may be put to the test as the Vermont Yankee debate turns to sensitive topics like site restoration and NorthStar’s controversial plan to bury rubble on the property.

“We’re continuing to gather information and work on project planning today under the assumption that reasonable agreements can be reached to satisfy the state’s concerns,” State said.

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