State regulators have granted Entergy Vermont Yankee a permit to operate through December 2014, when the nuclear plant will close permanently.
Friday's decision includes the approval of a Memorandum of Understanding between the state and Entergy Vermont Yankee. It also settles years of litigation between the state and the plant's owners. But not everyone thinks the ruling serves the region’s best interests.
In its decision, the Public Service Board refers to the agreement with Entergy as “the best option for the state under the circumstances.” The deal provides $10 million for economic recovery in Windham County. It sets up a separate fund for restoring the site after the plant’s radiological cleanup is complete.
A separate settlement agreement also goes into effect with the approval of the memorandum of understanding. Chris Recchia is the commissioner of the state Department of Public Service. He says the two documents are equally important.
"The settlement agreement covers broader issues in a contract form between the State of Vermont and Entergy, to cover things we actually think are very important to people," Recchia says. "Things like prompt decommissioning and the management of nuclear fuel, that are not before the board but are important to the state of Vermont.”
Recchia was part of the team that negotiated the agreements. He says the settlement agreement wasn’t submitted for the Public Service Board’s approval because it deals with radiological safety and other federally-preempted issues that are outside the state’s jurisdiction.
The settlement includes a commitment by Entergy to move spent nuclear fuel promptly into safer, on-site storage casks. The company also agrees to start radiological decommissioning promptly once it determines its decommissioning fund is adequate for the job. Opponents say that leaves too much decision-making power in Entergy’s hands.
Federal rules allow operators to mothball nuclear facilities for 50 years before radiological decommissioning begins. Energy says it doesn’t expect to take that long, provided the funds are there. The board's decision says the settlement benefits the state in ways that might not be obtainable by any other means.
Ray Shadis is with the anti-nuclear New England Coalition, one of several intervening parties to the case. He says the board’s decision passes over years of expert testimony and information brought before the Board.
"And that is not reflected in the order," Shadis says. "The Public Service Board makes a really definite point of saying that this (order)... takes all that and throws it out the window, all that we’ve been arguing for the past six years. I think that’s wrong."
Other critics have called the agreement documents vague and unenforceable. The Public Service Board agreed that issues are left unsettled. But it says the agreement sets up a procedure for Entergy and the state to negotiate those decisions when the time is right.
Commissioner Recchia says some issues can’t be decided at this point.
"And we need to review those and assess those and come back to the board,” Recchia says. “But the agreements themselves around the process of how you do that and what the goal is, I think were very clear. And so I think the board got it right, that those are enforceable enough."
In its ruling, the Public Service Board said Entergy had a history of skirting previous regulatory requirements. And the board said that it might have rejected Entergy’s request if the company had wanted a 20-year license extension.
Shadis says his group, the New England Coalition, is considering whether to file a motion to reconsider or amend the decision.