Entergy and state reach grand bargain
That was perhaps the most important part of an agreement reached between the owner of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon and the state of Vermont, announced during an afternoon press conference in Montpelier on Monday.
The decommissioning process will begin 120 days after it has been determined there is adequate funding, said Governor Peter Shumlin.
"We believe decommissioning should be able to happen, not withstanding unforeseen developments, a lot sooner than 60 years," said Shumlin, perhaps before the end of the 2020s.
Currently, the decommissioning fund rests at approximately $606 million. Entergy believes it could cost up to $825 million to fully decommission the site, which includes the cost of moving fuel out of the reactor building and into dry casks. While the federal government gives Entergy up to four years to determine the total costs for decommissioning, Entergy has agreed to have the study done within the next year.
Entergy also agreed to start moving nuclear waste out of the plant's spent fuel pool immediately following shutdown and place it into dry casks outside of the reactor building, a process that should take about seven years.
Entergy has also agreed to set aside $2 million for the each of the next five years for the purposes of economic development in Windham County and release $5.2 million it has held in escrow. Half of that money will go to clean energy jobs in Windham County and the rest to state of Vermont.
"This agreement presents a real opportunity for Vermonters to see economic development in Windham County and have the resources to make it happen," said Shumlin.
Entergy said it would start a seed fund for site restoration, starting with a $25 million deposit and a $20 million parental agreement. "The parental guarantee will bolster the money as it grows," said Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service. "Once it gets to $60 million, the parental guarantee will go (back to Entergy)."
"We have an obligation to do site restoration," said Mike Toomey, vice president of utility strategy for Entergy Services. "It was an obligation we undertook when we bought the plant."
"Clearly this is really good news for us in Windham County," said Pat Moulton Powden, the director of workforce development for the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation. On Jan. 1, Powden takes over from Jeff Lewis as the BDCC's executive director. "Entergy and the state recognized the impact closure will have and Entergy has clearly ponied up resources to help us weather the transition."
Powden said BDCC is very pleased with the amount of funding Entergy has promised to provide for economic development.
"I don't know that we have ever seen this much private sector money allocated to this type of fund," said Powden.
The $10 million will be allocated by the Legislature to the Agency of Commerce, said Powden.
"We will be working with the agency with specific requests that have a heavy emphasis on projects, specifically actions that help create jobs," she said.
The agreement also calls for the state and Entergy to put aside all of their outstanding legal disputes, which includes Entergy's attempt to recoup more than $5 million in attorneys' fees for its successful federal lawsuit against the state.
"It's good news for Entergy, good news for Vermonters, but not such good news for the lawyers," said Shumlin.
The agreement means the state won't appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a decision in Entergy's favor made by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. However, an ongoing dispute over a tax levied by the Vermont Legislature on Yankee will be heard by the Vermont Supreme Court.
"But," said Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell, "this agreement represents a significant step toward resolution. We've been fighting in federal courts and state courts for years. I am so pleased today that we are able to declare peace."
Bill Mohl, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, attributed the change in the tenor of the conversation between the state and Entergy to a change in leadership at Entergy.
"As a group we made a commitment that as we do business, we consider all of our stakeholders," he said, and that includes Entergy's shareholders, its employees and the members of the community. Mohl said the agreement, as it stands now, sets the foundation for a stronger and more constructive relationship.
"While we certainly have had our differences in the past and went through an extensive amount of litigation, it became very clear, when we made the decision to shut down, that we really needed to take a step back and understand and be thoughtful about how we approached this," he said.
"I want to personally thank Entergy for coming to the table and putting aside our differences from the past," said Shumlin.
For its part, the state will recommend that the Vermont Public Service Board issue a certificate of public good allowing the plant to continue to operate through the end of 2014.
"Right now, we think that the plant will go down a glide path and actually cease operations in December," said Mohl.
While Mohl admitted Entergy and Vernon are still in talks about the tax valuation of the plant when it ceases operation, he said he couldn't release any details. At this point, said Mohl, Entergy has no plans for what it might use the site for -- if at all -- once decommissioning is complete.
He also said on Aug. 27, when it announced the plant was closing, Entergy provided incentive packages to all of Yankee's employees, encouraging them to stick around through the end of the operating cycle.
"Some will stay at the site as we go through decommissioning," said Mohl. "We are putting a plan in place to provide every opportunity for our Yankee employees to go to work at other Entergy sites, depending on the needs of the company."
Not everyone was happy with the agreement. In a press release, the Connecticut River Watershed Council stated it was disappointed that the agreement didn't call for the plant to go to closed cycle cooling for the remainder of its operation, rather than using the Connecticut River as a means of cooling down the plant.
"CRWC is not satisfied that the thermal pollution continues just because there is only one year left for the plant operation. Entergy has fought tooth and nail to hide behind their flawed science and cherry-picked modeling results in order not to have to stop discharging thermal pollution to the river. We think it is a shame the Shumlin Administration folded on this issue in the face of continued legal bluster by Entergy."
"There are still a number of challenges ahead of us and issues to be resolved," admitted Toomey. "But just because we couldn't agree on everything, it doesn't mean we can't agree on things where we find common ground. We intend to be part of the community here in Vermont. As we transition from an operating plant to a decommissioned plant, we plan to participate in the community in a meaningful way."
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.
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