BRATTLEBORO—The Agency of Natural Resources has issued a two-year thermal discharge permit for Vermont Yankee — a permit that, according to ANR, makes the nuclear power station subject to more stringent seasonal temperature limits.
The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) thermal discharge permit, issued Oct. 13, governs all manner of water discharged from the plant. Most discussions about the permit have focused on from where in its cooling system VY can return heated water to the Connecticut River, and how hot that water can be.
Until this week, VY had operated under an expired thermal discharge permit. The plant submitted a renewal application on Sept. 30, 2005, according to the ANR in a press release.
VY uses water from the river as part of its cooling system. The plant has the option to discharge water directly from the plant or divert it to cooling towers.
Opponents have advocated for the plant to use its cooling towers more, while Entergy, the plant’s owner, prefers to use more direct discharge. ANR has allowed for a hybrid of direct discharge and cooling towers.
The thermal discharge permit ensures “that water quality and fisheries in the Connecticut River are protected as the company enters its final phase of operation,” ANR wrote.
The plant is scheduled to stop generating power by the end of 2014.
ANR’s new permit expires Dec. 31, 2015. The two-year time limit allows ANR to adjust the permit as the plant enters different phases of operation and decommissioning.
“We received the notice today and are evaluating its impact,” said Martin Cohn, senior communications specialist with Entergy.
“This would be the final permit for the plant before shutdown,” he wrote in an email. “There are other permits/certificates we are awaiting concerning decommissioning [like a second pad to hold dry casks].”
The new permit represents a shift for ANR, which has imposed more stringent environmental requirements than the previous permit. The agency has indicated that the new requirements would have been even stricter were the plant not about to stop producing power.
According to the agency’s summary of its responses to public comments, early in the renewal process, it took issue with VY’s compliance with water-quality standards for the discharge set by the federal Clean Water Act.
According to the agency, it granted VY a variance to these standards in its previous permit.
Companies can request wiggle room on water quality standards if it can prove those standards are too restrictive.
In 1991, VY made such a case and was granted a variance to discharge water that was hotter than the standards normally allowed, said Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, and river steward with the Connecticut River Watershed Council.
Opponents to the provisions of VY’s previous discharge permit argue that water temperatures from the plant were set high enough to harm the river’s ecosystem. Some aquatic species, like the American shad, migrate and spawn based on water temperatures.
ANR denied Entergy’s request for the same variance in the new 2014 thermal discharge permit. Instead, the agency imposed new temperature and seasonal caps.
According to ANR, “The two-year permit properly addresses the discharge from the facility while it is generating power, allows the company time to establish a post-closure operation regime, and allows ANR time to evaluate and permit the facility’s post-closure discharge.”
“In issuing this permit, the agency’s responsibility to address Vermont Yankee’s thermal discharge has been met,” said ANR Secretary Deb Markowitz.
“We appreciate the feedback we received from Vermont Yankee, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Vermont Law School, Vermont Natural Resources Council, and interested members of the public on Vermont Yankee’s draft thermal discharge permit,” said Markowitz.
ANR’s press release noted the Memorandum of Understanding reached between the state and Entergy last year.
In the memorandum, Entergy and ANR agreed to “continue to pursue issues related to Entergy VY’s thermal discharge through ANR’s NPDES permitting process, in accordance with state and federal law.”
When asked to comment on the new discharge permit, Deen said, “I have a small list of what we [at the CRWC] don’t like and a small list of what we do like — where would you like to start?”
On the “don’t like” list, Deen said, the CRWC finds ANR doing away with the Environmental Advisory Committee “problematic.”
The group was comprised of representatives from environmental agencies in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Connecticut River Anadromous Fish Program.
This committee could have directed studies that collected data on how the river responded to once VY stopped pumping hot water into it, said Deen.
“We don’t see any reason [for them to have removed] it,” said Deen of the committee.
CRWC felt not enough evidence existed to justify keeping the winter temperature cap at the same level as prescribed in the previous permit. Also disappointing, he said, was ANR not requiring updates to VY’s intake system, which relies on studies from 1974.
Deen added that he didn’t understand why ANR issued a two-year permit when one ending in June 2015 would have sufficed.
He praised ANR’s new temperature caps and changes in the dates defining the spring, summer, and fall seasons. The agency also added a “fall II” season.
The new permit also requires VY shut down for 24 hours if the plant exceeds temperature caps, said Deen.
The best part of the new permit, he added, was the axing of “Equation 1.1,” a contentious, one-size-fits-all mathematical formula that VY used to calculate the river’s temperature.
Rather than relying on a mathematical model from the 1970s, he said, ANR now bases compliance on “real-time temperatures.”
In 2012, CRWC presented a study into water temperature data above, at, and below the plant.
Consultants Ken Hickey and Peter Shanahan, Ph.D., P.E. with Massachusetts-based Hydro Analysis, reviewed five years of temperature data gathered by VY. They also reviewed actual temperature readings from the river.
The consultants reported that the actual temperature readings consistently read higher than the data spit out by Equation 1.1.
“The use of Equation 1.1 to compute the temperature rise as a surrogate for the actual, readily available temperature rise measurements has resulted in the river routinely experiencing temperature increases [in waters] below the Vermont Yankee Power Station that are far greater than those specified in the permit,” the two wrote in their report.
Deen has taken Entergy representatives to task about its asserting that the state and river advocates must prove that VY’s discharge harms the river before making changes to the plant’s thermal permit.
Referencing ANR’s response summary, the agency and the Public Service Board, however, have stated the opposite: that Entergy must prove it’s not harming the river.
Of the new permit, Deen said, “This is a much better permit.”
“It does away with a bogus Equation 1.1,” he added.