The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. (AP file photo)
The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. (AP file photo)
Monday March 18, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The New England Coalition and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group were granted intervener status in Entergy's petition to install a new diesel generator at its Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

The permission was granted by Lars Bang-Jensen, the hearing officer appointed by the Vermont Public Service Board to oversee the process.

Entergy is requesting a certificate of public good to install the generator because it is losing its ability to use the Vernon Dam as a backup source of power.

Late last year, ISO New England, which is responsible for overseeing the sale of wholesale electricity in the region, announced it was changing its System Restoration and Planning Service, now called Blackstart Service, which designates specific generators that will be called upon to re-energize the transmission system after a systemwide blackout.

The former plan called for the startup of smaller generators, such as the Vernon Dam, first, but the new plan calls for the biggest generators to get online first.

Because Yankee can no longer rely on the Vernon Dam for initial power restoration, Entergy had to determine how best to supply those needs. It settled on the installation of a diesel generator.

But to do so, it needs a CPG from the Public Service Board.

The PSB is now in the process of reviewing that CPG application and is also reviewing Entergy's CPG application for the continued operation of the power plant.

"We are satisfied that the board has confirmed we have an interest in the docket," said Brice Simon, who, with Jared Margolis, is representing NEC in both dockets.

Simon said he was also pleased that Bang-Jensen didn't limit the scope of NEC's intervention, meaning it can pursue matters it feels are relevant to the procedure.

But Simon said NEC has asked the board to consolidate the diesel generator docket with the extended operation docket. Without approval for extended operation, there is no need for backup power, he said.

"The board should either deny the application outright or consolidate them," said Simon.

ISO New England has indicated the Vernon Dam will no longer suffice as a Blackstart generator in September. The PSB has indicated it hopes to issue a decision in the extended operation CPG in August.

Bang-Jensen noted that the PSB hasn't even concluded whether it "can or should" grant a CPG for the diesel generator "on any schedule." The diesel generator application is being processed on the assumption that it will not become effective unless the extended operation CPG is approved, he wrote.

Simon said he doesn't know why Entergy didn't just amend its CPG for extended operation, rather than apply for a separate CPG for the generator. That could be because preparations have to be made, such as building a concrete pad for the generator and purchase of the generator itself, in advance of its installation.

Simon said he was also at a loss as to why Entergy even needed to file for the generator's CPG because it contends the generator is needed for safety and Vermont has no say over the safe operation of the plant; that's under the sole purview of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"I wonder if they will just go ahead and install it," said Simon. "We'll need to keep watch and see what Entergy does next."

Evidence that was presented at recent PSB hearings included instances when Entergy had begun site work at the plant without state authorization, resulting in sanctions and fines.

In a separate filing, Simon questioned whether Yankee is even needed to meet the present and future demands for electricity in the region, "which could not otherwise be provided in a more cost effective manner through energy conservation programs and measures and energy-efficiency and load management measures ..."

"(T)he VY Station is not required to meet the need for present and future demand for service," wrote Simon, "and therefore the subject diesel generator is unnecessary."

Even if the station doesn't continue operating, Entergy might still request installation of the generator to meet NRC requirements, he noted. In that case, Entergy should be required to explain what it would be used for, wrote Simon.

Entergy had no comment on the matter at this time.

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