The owners of Vermont Yankee say the plant can’t operate under the state’s proposed conditions for releasing heated water into the Connecticut River. A leading environmentalist counters that the plant’s thermal discharge harms the river’s migrating fish.
Entergy Vermont Yankee uses the river to cool its reactor. It’s been releasing heated water into the Connecticut under an expired permit for at least eight years. But a new permit is expected to include more stringent standards on how much heat the plant can add to the river.
The company objects to the potential restrictions. In a letter to the state, Entergy attorney Kelli Dowell writes: "There is no biological evidence to support the proposed limits." The letter was written on the day state regulators issued a permit for the plant to run through the end of 2014, when it plans to shut down permanently.
State Representive David Deen says that’s upsetting.
"We‘re concerned because they assured the Public Service Board that they would be a good neighbor and that they would enter into the discharge permit process with an open mind," says Deen. "And the very first response that they send back to the agency is, 'No, we’re not going to do that.'"
Deen is a river steward with the Connecticut River Watershed Council, which was involved in the state’s review of Entergy’s permit. He says plenty of scientific evidence was presented in the state proceedings.
"We refuted their science in front of the Public Service Board that the discharge level was not being computed accurately and that it was high enough to negatively impact fish and in particular migrating fish," Deen asserts.
Entergy says the new standards will require on-site cooling of the water now being released into the Connecticut. That alternative, called closed-cycle cooling, uses large fans, is energy-intensive, and reduces the amount of power the plant can sell.
In her letter to the state, Entergy attorney Dowell says the existing, expired discharge permit should remain in place during the plant’s final year. A letter in response from the Agency of Natural Resources, says the proposed new standards are necessary to comply with state and federal water quality laws.
But Deb Markowitz, the Secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, says the conversation with Entergy is still ongoing. And she says that discussion might be very different if Entergy planned to keep operating beyond the next eight months.
"We’re hoping to work out some sort of compromise that would be reflected in the permit, " Markowitz explains. "Something that they could live with, understanding that they’re closing down. So this is a very temporary issue -- while not creating a precedent that would be problematic for some of our neighboring power plants who are engaged in this same task."
Entergy Vice President T. Michael Twomey said in an e-mail to VPR that the company is engaged in "appropriate and ongoing" discussions with the Agency of Natural Resources regarding the pending permit, but declined to comment further. ANR Secretary Markowitz says a draft permit will be released for public comment in the near future.