BRATTLEBORO — Vermont Yankee's current and prospective owners are expanding their quest to keep “highly sensitive” information about their finances and business dealings out of the public eye.
That information newly at issue includes detailed financial data for NorthStar Group Services, the nuclear plant's proposed buyer. It also includes “descriptions of several types of risk” Entergy faces if it continues to own Vermont Yankee.
The state Public Utility Commission's review of the Vermont Yankee sale has produced reams of public documents. But Entergy and NorthStar, in a new filing with the commission, say some information should not see the light of day.
One such decommissioning document “is akin to the secret formula for Coca-Cola, which can never be made public without ruining Coca-Cola's competitive advantage,” attorneys for the companies wrote.
Entergy wants to sell the idled Vernon plant to NorthStar, which says it can decommission and restore most of the site as early as 2026. That's decades faster than Entergy had been planning.
The sale is scheduled to close by the end of next year. But both the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state Public Utility Commission must approve the deal first.
The state's review began last December and is expected to extend into the first quarter of 2018. That process involves the disclosure of hundreds of documents, which the utility commission posts on its website.
But there's an ongoing push-and-pull between the state's public process and two companies that are protective of their business interests. That's especially true for NorthStar, which is not a publicly traded company like Entergy is.
Confidential documents are fairly common in state utility commission cases, but NorthStar earlier this year asked for an unusual level of confidentiality for two documents related to its financial plans for decommissioning. Finances are a key part of the Vermont Yankee case, since some have questioned whether NorthStar has the wherewithal to follow through on its proposal.
The utility commission - which at that point was called the Public Service Board - ruled partly for and partly against NorthStar in that matter.
Now, the issue has come up again. Entergy and NorthStar on Aug. 29 jointly asked for portions of the state Public Service Department's testimony to be filed under seal so that the utility commission can rule on the companies' assertions of confidentiality.
That review process had been set up by previous commission rulings in the Yankee case, so the department complied.
“The commission will have to determine whether the materials, and the portions of the (department's) testimony that reference these materials, are confidential and require protection under the protective agreement,” said Stephanie Hoffman, special counsel for the Public Service Department.
In making their request, Entergy and NorthStar attorneys revealed some basic information about the documents that the companies want to keep confidential. They include:
• An Entergy email “concerning credit assessments of NorthStar and another counterparty that Entergy was considering before it selected NorthStar.”
Entergy administrators have acknowledged that they considered one other company as a potential Vermont Yankee buyer, but that suitor's identity is subject to a nondisclosure agreement. Entergy has received permission to disclose the company's name to the Public Service Department, but the company wants it to go no further.
As for NorthStar's financial information, attorneys say public disclosure “would harm NorthStar's ability to compete in its industry.”
• A PowerPoint presentation created to support Entergy's deal with NorthStar.
The document “contains dollar figures that Entergy has assigned to various risks it would face if it continued to own” Vermont Yankee. Those dollar amounts are “highly sensitive,” attorneys argue, because “potential counterparties on future decommissioning projects at Entergy's other plants could use them to gain an advantage in negotiating with Entergy on such projects.”
Entergy wants the document to be kept under seal until 2030.
• A credit agreement between NorthStar and some of its lenders.
Attorneys again cite competitive reasons for keeping that document confidential. “This document would never be made public in the ordinary course of NorthStar's business, and its lenders would not expect it to be public, either,” the companies' motion says.
As is the case with other confidential documents in the Yankee case, NorthStar noted that it has made a redacted version of the credit agreement available publicly. That, attorneys argue, should be sufficient.
“NorthStar has left in for public review the current terms of its credit, which is the key material that the PUC and parties should be interested in reviewing,” the companies' motion says.