The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. (AP file photo)
The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. (AP file photo)

BRATTLEBORO -- Despite not reaching an agreement by the self-imposed deadline of Dec. 11, representatives from the state and Entergy, which owns Vermont Yankee in Vernon, continue to discuss how best to transition into a future when the nuclear power plant is no longer in operation.

"Negotiations are continuing and we remain optimistic that we can reach an agreement that is acceptable to the state and Entergy Vermont Yankee," said Jim Sinclair, spokesman for Yankee.

In a letter to the Public Service Board submitted on Dec. 17, Geoffrey Commons, the director of public advocacy for the Vermont Department of Public Service, wrote that discussions continue, "And as reported earlier have progressed. We will update the Board by the end of this week."

In a separate letter submitted on Dec. 16, Commons urged the board to continue with its deliberations over whether Entergy should receive a certificate of public good for continued operation, even though Entergy announced in August that it would be closing Yankee sometime in late 2014.

"The Department appreciates the need to move this proceeding toward conclusion and will update the Board and parties on any developments," wrote Commons.

Chris Recchia, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, told the Reformer on Tuesday that while he couldn't comment on the content of the discussion between the state and Entergy, they have been productive.

"We are not able to say whether they will be successful or not," he said. "But we're still talking."

Recchia has been in discussions with Bill Mohl, the president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities. In addition, Liz Miller, Gov. Peter Shumlin's chief of staff, and the Vermont Attorney General's Office have been participating.

Though Attorney General Bill Sorrell also wouldn't comment on the content of the discussions, he did file a letter on Dec. 13 with Federal District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha, stating his office would be filing a report by the end of next week. Murtha has been reviewing motions filed by Entergy and the state, in which Entergy is asking the court to force the state to pay legal fees for a lawsuit it successfully brought against Vermont. In that case, Murtha ruled the Vermont Legislature had overstepped its bounds when it considered nuclear safety during deliberations over legislation that limited the ability of the Public Service Board to issue a certificate to Entergy. Murtha's decision was upheld by a federal appeals court.

Even though Entergy won the lawsuit, in August it announced it was closing Yankee because it was no longer financially viable due to competition from natural gas. Since then, the state and Entergy have been attempting to rebuild their frayed relationship.

"We are trying to establish a new relationship with Entergy and Vermont Yankee in light of the closure announcement," said Recchia. "It's in everybody's best interests to make this transition as smooth as possible."

The Department of Public Service has recommended the PSB issue a new certificate, but with conditions that include Entergy creating an economic development fund and site restoration fund that are separate from the decommissioning fund. As of Nov. 30, the decommissioning fund is just a few dollars short of $606 million.

Recchia said he could not reveal whether the conditions his department recommended to the PSB are under discussion in the closed-door meetings between the state and Entergy.

"I can say the governor is very concerned and wants to make sure there is as good support as we are able to provide to make a transition to a sound economic future for the region," said Recchia.

Entergy has indicated it will take advantage of SAFSTOR, which under Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines, could allow them to delay full remediation of the site for up to 60 years.

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