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State demands more info on VY trust-fund spending

Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is asked to require more information about Entergy’s expenditures

BRATTLEBORO—State officials are demanding more-detailed information about how Vermont Yankee owner Entergy is spending cash from the nuclear plant’s decommissioning trust fund.

In documents filed Oct. 2, Vermont asked the federal Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to require the company to “provide the state all supporting documentation for specific expenses” from the trust fund — a request that applies both to past and future expenditures.

Last month, Entergy agreed to continue providing notices to the federal government 30 days before making fund withdrawals. But state officials now say that’s not good enough, arguing that the company’s bare-bones notifications don’t provide any details.

Allowing Entergy’s current practice to stand “would injure the public by preventing disclosure of the most basic information about how Entergy is actually spending money from the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Decommissioning Trust Fund,” the state claims.

The issue arose as Entergy, which ceased power production at the Vernon plant on Dec. 29, 2014, has sought to make a variety of changes in its operations.

One of those changes had been elimination of the 30-day notifications, which give the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a heads-up when Entergy intends to make withdrawals from the trust fund.

The plant’s trust fund is critical, as the value and growth of its investments will determine how long Vermont Yankee decommissioning will take.

The project is expected to take decades and cost $1.2 billion, and the fund currently holds about half that amount.

Entergy’s advance notices to the NRC consist of a short letter listing the maximum amount it intends to withdraw from the trust fund during a specific time period. While NRC staff had approved elimination of the advance-notice requirement, state officials had argued that such notices allow the government and the public to scrutinize fund spending and challenge any improper withdrawals.

Less than a month after the state had been granted a hearing on the matter, Entergy on Sept. 23 announced that it was dropping the request and would continue to provide the 30-day notice, labeling it a “manageable administrative burden.”

Concurrently, the company asked the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board for permission to withdraw its license-amendment request “without conditions, and to dismiss this proceeding without prejudice.”

State weighs in on amendment withdrawal

Obviously, state officials aren’t opposed to Entergy continuing its 30-day trust-fund notices. But in documents filed Oct. 2, the Vermont Public Service Department and the state attorney general’s office say the matter shouldn’t be dismissed without the federal government first imposing some conditions.

First, the state wants the board to preserve portions of rulings already made in the case — specifically, the fact that the state had made two admissible arguments and had been granted a hearing.

Allowing Entergy to withdraw the matter unconditionally “is inappropriate here because it would allow Entergy to resubmit its [license-amendment request] next month, next year, or even 59 years from now, and all parties and this tribunal would be starting over again from scratch, without the benefit of the large amount of resources expended in this proceeding,” state documents say.

Second, the state wants the licensing board to impose a condition requiring Entergy to hand over details of its trust-fund spending in the past “and continue to provide that information for future withdrawals.” Such information “is critical given that many of the state’s concerns over the [trust fund] relate to whether the fund will be solvent many decades from now,” Vermont’s filing says.

“The condition the state requests — providing information about what expenses Entergy is withdrawing from the [trust fund] — is nothing more than what Entergy should have been doing all along,” state officials argue.

Entergy already has argued that Vermont has no legal standing to request that any additional conditions be imposed as the license-amendment case is withdrawn.

The state would need to show “legal injury” or even “bad faith on the part of the applicant,” and it cannot do so, Entergy argued last month in documents filed with the ASLB.

“The [license-amendment] withdrawal effectively imposes the very remedy that the state requested in this proceeding — that Entergy continues to be bound by its current license conditions regarding the decommissioning trust,” the company wrote. “Placing conditions on the withdrawal would be contrary to established commission precedent.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #327 (Wednesday, October 14, 2015). This story appeared on page B1.

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