Vermont utility regulators have until March 31 to decide whether to approve a tentative agreement between Entergy Vermont Yankee and the Shumlin Administration.
The pact calls for Entergy to pay $10 million to help with economic recovery after Vermont Yankee closes later this year. But opponents say the state would lose more than it gains if the deal goes forward.
The agreement was hammered out late last year in closed-door meetings between a group of state officials and Entergy Vermont Yankee. It takes effect only if the utility-regulating Vermont Public Service Board grants Entergy a permit to operate for a final year, through 2014.
Administration officials acknowledge that the deal leaves some issues unsettled. But they say Vermont is better off with it than without it. Ray Shadis said the memorandum of understanding and settlement agreement are vague and unenforceable.
"There is no protection in the M.O.U," Shadis said. "Every stipulation is to be determined by Entergy. They are the ones who will determine when there is enough money to begin decommissioning."
Shadis is with the anti-nuclear New England Coalition, one of several groups with party status in the case. The coalition spent years arguing against Entergy’s bid for a 20-year license extension before Entergy announced its plan to close and requested a one-year permit instead. Shadis said the state’s deal bypasses years of evidence and expert testimony in exchange for Entergy’s promise of millions of dollars for economic recovery, green energy and other purposes.
Attorney James Dumont represents the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, another party to the case.
"Nobody disputes that the money is needed," Dumont said. "It’s far more important to the region not to let the plant sit there for 60 years. Not only is it an eyesore but it’s going to discourage other investment in the area, it’s going to discourage tourism, it’s going to be a detriment to the recreational use of the Connecticut River."
One of the state’s priorities has been to get the plant dismantled and the site cleaned up as quickly as possible. Federal law gives the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and plant owners the power to make the decisions about radiological clean-up. NRC rules allow owners to take up to 60 years to decommission a plant. In its settlement with the state, Entergy commits to restoring the site more quickly.
"One of the biggest things that Vermont gets out of this,"said T. Michael Twomey, Entergy's Vice Presdient for External Affairs, "Is our commitment to begin decommissioning and dismantlement activities when there are adequate funds in the decommissioning trust fund."
The decommissioning fund now is worth about $600 million. Costs for the entire radiological cleanup have been estimated at about $1 billion. Twomey said the fund could reach that point through investment income in the next decade. Or, he said, it could take longer.
"Our plans are not to take the full 60 years -- if the decommissioning trust fund is adequate," Twomey said. "I don’t think it’s going to take anywhere near that long."
Critics say there’s no way to enforce Entergy's promise of a prompt decommissioning. Shadis and Dumont said the state would be better off attaching its own conditions to an operating permit and bypassing the agreement with Entergy.
Chris Recchia, the Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, disagrees. He said the agreement addresses aspects of decommissioning that are otherwise outside the state’s jurisdiction.
"I think this contract between us and Entergy is stronger and covers the issues that people are really concerned about, that the board would just not be able to address in their CPG proceedings," Recchia said. A decision is expected by the end of the month.