(AP Photo/Vermont Yankee Corporation)
(AP Photo/Vermont Yankee Corporation)
Thursday January 3, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- In an order filed on Dec. 27, the Vermont Public Service Board reaffirmed its conclusion that Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is operating in violation of requirements in existing orders and certificates of public good.

"Condition 8, of the Docket 6545 Order, which prohibits operation of the VY Station after March 21, 2012, absent Board approval, remains in effect," wrote the board. "The same is true of the Board's Order and CPG in Docket 7082 (in which the Board approved construction of a dry fuel storage facility), both of which contain a similar prohibition against operation."

Docket 6545 authorized the sale of Yankee in 2002 from the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation to Entergy.

On Sept. 7, 2012, Entergy applied to the PSB for a CPG to install a 3,000-kilowatt diesel-driven electric generator to serve as a source of electricity in the event of a station blackout. The power would be used to operate the plant's safety systems to keep the reactor from overheating.

The diesel generator is meant to address safety concerns that arose following the disaster at the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear power plant complex.

However, the PSB questioned whether Entergy had actually made "the required showing that installation of the generator is needed as required" by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"NRC rules appear to require that the VY Station have blackout power available, but do not appear to mandate that Entergy VY install the generator," wrote the board.

Entergy's request for a CPG to install the new generator was a result of changes initiated by ISO New England, the independent, not-for-profit organization responsible for overseeing the wholesale side of the electricity industry in New England.

Last summer it announced it was shifting its system restoration from a "bottom up" to a "top down" hierarchy.

The process, formerly known as System Restoration and Planning Service and now called Blackstart Service, designates specific generators that will be called upon to re-energize the transmission system after a system-wide blackout.

Approved Blackstart generating units are able to start without an outside electrical supply. The current plan calls for smaller generators, such as the Vernon Hydro Dam, to go online first. The new plan calls for the biggest generators to startup first. Yankee's current Station Blackout AC power source is the Vernon Hydro Dam.

Station Blackout refers to the loss of all off-site power sources, which is what occurred at Fukushima.

"Vermont Yankee will need a new AC power source in order to continue to meet the NRC requirements for coping with a Station Blackout condition," said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan in August 2012.

Though Vermont Yankee received a new 20-year operating license from the NRC in March 2011, it has yet to receive a CPG for continued operation past March 21, 2012. The Public Service Board put the review of Entergy's application for a new CPG on hold after Entergy sued the state when the Vermont Senate refused to allow the board to issue the CPG. Entergy contended, and a federal district court agreed, that the Vermont Legislature, when drafting legislation giving itself the authority to intercede in the PSB's process, crossed the line between state and federal authority when it considered safety during its legislative deliberations. The state has appealed the district court's decision and oral arguments are scheduled for later this month.

In addition, the New England Coalition, which opposes Yankee's continued operation, has filed a complaint with the Vermont Supreme Court, asking it to shut down Yankee because it is in violation of Condition 8 of the sale agreement.

The Public Service Board expressed concerns that if it opened hearings into whether to allow a new diesel generator onsite, Entergy might conclude it has permission to continue operating the plant.

"Entergy VY stated that Board action would ‘recognize only that the VY Station is presently operating pursuant to an NRC license' and that consideration of the petition would have no effect on the contractual commitments Entergy VY made to the Department and certain other parties in Docket 6545," wrote the board in its Dec. 27 order. "Entergy VY also stated that a condition requiring an express statement from Entergy VY that consideration of the petition does not recognize a right to operate the VY Station after March 21, 2012, was unnecessary, but that Entergy VY did not object to such a condition. Entergy VY provided such a statement."

Normally, the board would not consider a petition from a company that is not in compliance with existing PSB orders, unless that company also demonstrated an intent to come into compliance, noted the board.

"Entergy VY has not indicated such an intent here," it wrote. "Nonetheless, the Board has decided to initiate a proceeding to consider Entergy VY's petition."

But before doing so, the PSB ruled Entergy must submit a statement proposed by the Vermont Department of Public Service reading "Entergy agrees that the Board's consideration, review or approval of the Generator CPG Petition does not in any way recognize the right of Entergy to operate the VY Station after March 21, 2012, nor ratify its continued operation thereafter. Entergy shall not reference, cite, or use in any manner a decision of the Board to consider, review, or approve the Generator CPG Petition in any other proceeding related to the VY Station."

The PSB also notified Entergy that it intends to appoint a hearing officer who "may request parties to examine the question of whether (i) the Board can and should grant permission for Entergy VY to install the generator when Entergy VY is not in compliance with existing Orders and CPGs and has not demonstrated that it is willing to comply with orders of this Board and (ii) whether Entergy VY can make the required demonstration of necessity before a new or amended CPG for the operation of the VY Station is issued."

A prehearing conference is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 17, in Montpelier.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.