Consultant says NorthStar's spending on track
VERNON — NorthStar Vermont Yankee LLC is on target for completing the decommissioning project with the available funding, according to a consultant hired by the state to evaluate the financial aspect of the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant.
Four Points Group of Chantilly, Va., which was hired last year, reported to the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel this week that the work completed so far at the Vernon reactor was "reasonable" and on target.
"NorthStar is on course to complete the project with available funding," Nicholas Capik of Four Points told the panel, which was meeting via teleconferencing.
Four Points visits the decommissioning site in addition to analyzing the required North Star and Vermont Yankee financial reports.
According to the agreement the state reached with Entergy Nuclear and NorthStar over the 2019 sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar, the state's consultant is evaluating NorthStar's financial health, particularly cash flow, to "assess the viability of financial resources" necessary to complete the decommissioning project.
Four Points, which is doing similar work on the Indian Point 2 reactor for the New York State Public Utility Commission, is also assessing the San Onfre nuclear power station in California, which is also shut down.
Capik told the panel that the work performed so far by NorthStar was "reasonable and consistent" with the millions of dollars of withdrawals from the plant's decommissioning trust fund.
Whether there is enough money in the trust fund to complete the decommissioning is a big worry on the part of state officials. Before the sale from Entergy to NorthStar was completed, the state required additional financial guarantees that if the project went over budget, NorthStar had the funding to cover the costs. The regulators and NorthStar and Entergy reached a compromise, which didn't completely erase the state's concerns, state officials said late last year.
The decommissioning trust fund is currently at about $425 million, down from a high of about $700 million when Yankee first shut down five years ago.
NorthStar makes monthly withdrawals from the decommissioning trust, which was funded by ratepayers of the original owner of Vermont Yankee - the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp., a consortium of New England utilities. Entergy Nuclear, which owned the plant from 2002 until January 2019, never made a contribution to the decommissioning trust.
NorthStar's withdrawals since it started decommissioning in January 2019 have ranged from a high of $12.5 million last August, to a low of $5 million in March 2020, according to the Four Points report to the panel.
NorthStar has to make a detailed report to the state by the end of March every year.
In addition to the decommissioning trust fund, the site restoration fund was at $64.3 million as of the end of March, up from $62.3 million at the end of December 2019. According to Capik, only $23.2 million will be needed to complete the site restoration, once the nuclear reactor is demolished and cleaned up.
Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Windham-Bennington and a member of the panel, asked Capik what would be potential "red flags" that the finances of the multi-million dollar deconstruction project was falling behind.
He said that "changes in schedule" of certain activities is an area to watch.
Capik said during the first 15 months of the decommissioning, Four Points estimates that 15.5 percent of the entire project was completed, while NorthStar puts it at 17.3 percent.
But he stressed that so far NorthStar was on course "to complete the project with available funding."
At one point Capik said "the financial situation has improved" but when Bill Irwin of the Vermont Department of Health asked about the financial reports, Capik acknowledged they were submitted to the Department of Public Service - and to his group - under confidential seal.
Capik told panel member Emily Davis of Brattleboro that Four Points had given NorthStar "some push back from us" over NorthStar's practice of keeps funds in an contingency account.
Contact Susan Smallheer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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