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PSB grants Vermont Yankee certificate of public good

State license, long bitterely fought, permits Entergy to operate the plant legally through the end of 2014

BRATTLEBORO—Despite detailed misgivings, the Vermont Public Service Board has granted Louisiana-based Entergy Corp. a required Certificate of Public Good (CPG) to continue operating its Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon until the end of the year.

“In its 12 years of operating in Vermont, Entergy VY has failed to comply with numerous Board orders and statutory requirements,” the board said in its March 28 ruling.

In its 98-page final order, the three-member PSB board wrote that granting the nuclear plant the CPG it needs to operate until the end of 2014 is in the state’s best interest “under the circumstances.”

The ruling contained multiple paragraphs outlining Entergy’s misconduct and the board’s reluctance to trust the company.

“The Company has engaged in unacceptable conduct that erodes public trust and confidence in its capacity to act in good faith and to engage in fair dealing,” the board wrote.

Moreover, the board wrote, “The Company’s sustained record of misconduct has been troubling to observe over the years and has continued to trouble us as we determine whether to grant Entergy VY a license to operate.”

Entergy’s intention to operate the plant in Vernon only for the remainder of this year, coupled with the benefits outlined in an agreement reached with the state in 2013, tipped the board in favor of approval.

Granting the CPG solidifies a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and settlement agreement reached between Entergy and the state last December. The agreements were contingent on VY receiving its CPG.

In its ruling, the board wrote that the MOU and the settlement agreement would benefit Vermonters in ways “otherwise unattainable through federal or corporate pathways.”

Along with the agreements came promises from Entergy to drop ongoing legal proceedings against the state.

Entergy pledged $10 million toward economic development and an additional $5.2 million toward renewable energy projects for Windham County. The company agreed to move nuclear waste from the reactor’s spent-fuel pool to onsite dry-cask storage as quickly as is feasible.

The PSB amended an earlier MOU with Entergy to allow the dry-cask storage of spent nuclear fuel created through the end of this year. An older MOU only authorized storage of fuel created up to March 2012, when the plant’s original operating license expired.

Site restoration and a quicker decommissioning process are also part of the agreement. Decommissioning will occur when the decommissioning trust contains “sufficient” funds. Entergy has said it will deposit $25 million over a number of years into a separate site restoration fund.

In its ruling, the board outlined its limits in regulating VY:

“The Board has heard from many members of the public urging us to direct the closure of the VY Station, on the one hand, or asking that we preserve the benefits of the power it generates, on the other.”

“However, by law, this regulatory review necessarily focuses on the more narrow question of whether granting Entergy VY continued authority to own and operate the VY Station through the end of 2014 would promote the general good of the state.”

The PSB said it did not consider issues such as the arguable merits of nuclear power or potential radiological safety concerns when deciding whether to grant a CPG.

When Entergy announced last year it would close VY this year, the company said it based its decision on financial factors such as the low cost of natural gas and wholesale energy prices, and the high cost of running a single-reactor nuclear plant.

Entergy’s announcement came days after it received its federally issued 20-year operating license. The company had taken the state to court, arguing the legislature stepped into the federal government’s territory when it tried to regulate the plant.

Many, including Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, are hailing the board’s decision as great news.

Shumlin said in a press statement that, “I am pleased that the Board agreed this MOU and the overall Agreement we reached with Entergy [are] the best path forward.”

He continued: “The decision provides certainty and predictability for the hard workers at the plant, over $10,000,000 of economic development funding for the region, and lets us focus on the important work of transitioning to a future after Vermont Yankee.”

Shumlin added that, “Our energy future relies on a different path than the past, one of sustainable renewable energy choices that Vermonters embrace and are already seeing the success and benefits of, and I look forward to continuing to move that effort forward.”

Vermont Energy Partnership President Brad Ferland said in a statement, “This is good and important news. For years Vermonters have sought a win-win agreement between Vermont Yankee and the State of Vermont. Today’s decision to approve Vermont Yankee’s Certificate of Public Good will help provide significant statewide economic and environmental benefits.”

As well, the anti-nuclear group Citizens Awareness Network (CAN) lauded the board’s ruling and held it aloft as a call to hold Entergy accountable.

“While many have serious concerns about Entergy and its ability to live up to its commitments, the settlement reached between the state and Entergy is precedent-setting,” said Deb Katz, CAN’s executive director. “It is now up to the corporation to live up to its commitments and work constructively with the state of Vermont to achieve a safe and responsible decommissioning of the plant.”

Katz praised the MOU and agreement for mitigating the effects of the plant closure on VY workers, and the company’s swift removal of waste from the plant’s spent-fuel pool.

“With closure the fuel pool remains the most significant safety-related issue facing the community,” said Katz.

But she said serious questions remain concerning the adequacy of the decommissioning fund, and called for the creation of a citizens’ advisory board “to create as democratic and transparent a process as possible for ongoing decommissioning activities.”

In a joint statement, the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) and Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) noted that the PSB acknowledged concerns with VY’s thermal discharge into the Connecticut River and its effects on aquatic life.

The groups said, “Updating VY’s discharge permit is long overdue, and we call on the ANR [Agency of Natural Resources] to swiftly implement a revised discharge permit that protects the ecological health of the Connecticut River.”

Other groups took a stronger stand. VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns said that if the board felt the company did not deserve a CPG to operate the plant long-term, then the certificate shouldn’t have been granted.

“It’s clear from the Board’s final order that our concerns about Entergy’s terrible track record were heard loud and clear,” said Burns. “But the order sends a troubling message, suggesting that a company with the worst kind of record of misconduct could still merit a CPG. It does nothing to discourage that kind of behavior from Entergy or any other company in the future.”

Burns continued: “It’s only right that Entergy offer some financial cushion to Windham County, and VPIRG is glad to see Entergy’s dollars going to this purpose. But Entergy is no more trustworthy today than it was six months ago.”

Raymond Shadis, pro se representative and technical advisor for the New England Coalition (NEC), reacted sharply to the board’s CPG ruling, saying his initial read of the order revealed “numerous legal and factual errors.”

He said NEC is weighing its options, two of which are filing motions to reconsider or amend “in seeking a more just outcome — one more protective of the environment and more responsive to community sentiment.”

Shadis added that the board needed to hear fairly and judge the testimony and evidence of all parties.

“NEC did not enter into this Amended CPG for VY Application process, two dockets, six-plus years, and more than $200,000 ago with the understanding that a pretty much unadorned offer of money (and little else) from the applicant to the regulators could moot the whole thing,” he said.

He concluded that, “except for the money — which once spent is spent, the MOU leaves Entergy entirely in charge, and its conclusions and determinations entirely without acceptable standards.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #248 (Wednesday, April 2, 2014). This story appeared on page A1.

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