BRATTLEBORO -- Could Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant be forced to resort to closed-cycle cooling, even though the plant is due to cease operations in December 2014?

That's the conclusion conveyed by the Environmental Advisory Committee to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources in a letter issued in November 2013.

Upon review of the proposed draft discharge permit, wrote Kelli M. Dowell, assistant general counsel, environmental for Entergy, "All technical experts agree that the draft VANR permit indeed will result in closed cycle cooling for the remainder of 2014 ..."

In addition, wrote Dowell, the proposed language calls for a biological monitoring program that goes significantly above and beyond any program that has been in use "for the past several decades."

"We are aware of no new information prompting such a change from the existing permit language and thus Vermont Yankee's existing operations," she wrote.

To discharge heated non-radioactive water into the Connecticut River, Yankee must have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from the Agency of Natural Resources that complies with the federal Clean Water Act. The plant's current five-year discharge permit expired more than eight years ago. As a result, the plant is operating under a permit that was originally issued in 2001. Entergy's application for a new permit has been under review for nearly a decade, held up by legal hearings before the Vermont Environmental Court and the drafting of new standards from the Environmental Protection Agency.

"We are concerned that Vermont Yankee cannot be operated in a manner to comply with the proposed thermal limits and there is no biological evidence to support the proposed changes," wrote Dowell. "Although Entergy is committed to working with the VANR, we believe the permit should remain unchanged for the remainder of the year."

But according to a response letter by Jon Groveman, ANR general counsel, dated April 8, "Based on its review of available information, and Entergy's application, ANR has determined that the changes ... are necessary to assure compliance with the Vermont Water Quality Standards and the Clean Water Act ..."

Groveman pointed out that the current permit is based on information, studies and data that are between eight and 13 years old, and "a significant amount of new information has been made available since the ... permit was issued by ANR in 2001."

"If the VY station were going to operate for an additional eighteen years, this evidence might cause us to conclude that Entergy VY has not met its obligation to demonstrate that the discharge would not adversely affect the water quality," wrote Groveman.

"ANR now understands that Entergy's long-expired permit, as well as Entergy's pending application to obtain a new permit, do not do what the law requires," stated David Deen, river steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council, in a press release. "Documents obtained from the Agency indicate that they have proposed to eliminate the use of a flawed mathematical formula to measure compliance and instead use actual river temperature as measured at a long-standing monitoring station used by Entergy."

The CRWC and the Vermont Natural Resources Council filed documents with the Vermont Public Service Board during hearings to determine whether the plant should receive a certificate of public good for continued operation, contending the temperature of Connecticut River below Vermont Yankee's pollution discharge is frequently hotter than the current permit allows.

Yankee received a CPG at the end of March, but only to operate until the end of 2014. Entergy was requesting a 20-year CPG, but in August 2013, it announced it was shuttering Yankee due to changes in the energy market, most notably depressed market prices due to the reduced cost of electricity produced by natural-gas-fired power plants.

Yankee uses river water to cool the steam that is produced by the reactor that drives the turbine that produces electricity. During the hottest times of the year, Yankee uses 22 huge cooling fans in two banks to cool the water and doesn't discharge into the river, which is called closed-cycle cooling.

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