BRATTLEBORO -- The Vermont Public Service Board denied a request on Thursday to amend an agreement reached between the state and Entergy regarding the closure of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.
New England Coalition, which has opposed the power plant's operation since it began producing power in 1972, had asked the PSB to make the agreement "more just and equitable, to clarify and make more accurate the Board's discussion of (NEC's) issues and position, and to restore confidence in the hearing process by amending the Board's bases for reliance on the (memorandum of agreement)."
"The Board's 10-page order was entirely predictable and not unexpected, except for its nuanced directions that the concerns we raised may still be raised again in proceedings going forward and the very strong claims that the Public Service Board may withdraw its certificate of public good or impose other penalties and conditions on Entergy if the company proves to be an unfair partner for Vermont or in other ways misbehaves going forward," wrote Ray Shadis, NEC's technical director, in a press release.
In its petition to amend the agreement, NEC contended that the board's conclusion that Entergy can be a fair partner was "premature." NEC also claimed that by accepting the agreement, the PSB had settled with only three of the parties to the case and had terminated the rights of other involved parties, such as NEC.
In August 2013, Entergy announced it was closing Yankee because it was no longer financially viable due to the lower market value of electricity produced by natural gas. Until that point, Entergy had been seeking a 20-year renewal of its operating certificate from the Public Service Board. Instead, Entergy asked the board to issue a certificate valid until the end of 2014, when it plans to cease operations. In return for the CPG, Entergy agreed to a number of conditions, including $10 million over five years for economic development in Windham County, the release of more than $5 million held in escrow for the Clean Energy Development fund, half of which is targeted for the county, and that it would begin cleanup of the site as soon as the decommissioning fund achieves the level necessary to commence with the work, rather than allowing the plant to stand idle for up to 60 years.
In its motion to amend, NEC contended the process that developed the memorandum of agreement, and the PSB's approval of it, was unfair. NEC also asked the board to require the establishment of a community decommissioning advisory panel and require the creation of a river restoration fund that could be used to improve fish stock in the Connecticut River. In addition, NEC wanted a community discussion on future uses for the site.
"New England Coalition filed its Motion to Amend not to 'reopen the hearing' ... but to give the Board the opportunity to consider the possibilities of amending its Order so as to offset (without disturbing) provisions in the MOU that effectively surrender all operation and maintenance of Vermont Yankee through 2014 and all determination of the vital details of decommissioning and site restoration to the discretion and ‘good faith' attempts at compliance of Entergy VY and Entergy Nuclear Operations," wrote Shadis.
In its response to NEC's motion, Entergy contended NEC was attempting to relitigate issues the board dealt with in its March 28 order approving the agreement. The Vermont Department of Public Service also responded, contending "NEC's general request that the board make the order more equitable without specific suggestions is not a proper basis for amendment."
"The Department points out that NEC had ample opportunity to present proposed conditions ..." wrote the board.
In its order issued on Thursday, the board stated NEC "continues to mischaracterize the actual legal posture of this proceeding ..." Additional hearings were conducted to allow the proponents of the agreement to justify their acceptance of the MOU, noted the board. NEC failed to provide any new testimony that would have "supplemented that extensive record already developed ..."
"We are satisfied that the record of this proceeding shows that the Board reviewed NEC's evidence and arguments in good faith but simply found them to be unpersuasive," wrote the board.
The board admitted its conclusion that Entergy can be a fair partner going forward could possibly prove to be wrong, but if Entergy does transgress, the state can enforce the provisions of the March 28 agreement and revoke the CPG, but "NEC does not tie any of (its) proposed conditions to any specific flaws in the Board's findings, analysis, and conclusions ..."
"We expect that keeping its options open is likely the primary reason that Entergy structured its payments over time, well into the shutdown period, and beyond the anticipated conclusion of its heated litigation over relicensing and once-through-cooling with the state of New York," wrote Shadis. "In any case our advice to the public service over the years has proven to be sound and in some instances prescient ... What we are saying now is, trust if you must, but trust and verify."
NEC has 30 days to file an appeal to the board's order.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.