Critics accuse Douglas of double standard on energy projects

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(Host) When Vermont Yankee’s license expires in four years, the company won’t have enough money in a special fund to dismantle the plant.

But the state has required wind energy companies to pay up front the full cost of decommissioning their projects.

Wind advocates are saying there’s a double standard here.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) This week, Governor Jim Douglas vetoed a bill that required Vermont Yankee to guarantee it has enough money to decommission the nuclear plant.

The issue boiled down to this: Lawmakers said the decommissioning fund is about $400 million short. So they passed a bill that says before Yankee changes hands in a corporate restructuring, the company has to top off the fund – or secure a line of credit – to pay the entire cost of decommissioning.

Douglas said the additional financial burden on Yankee would raise electric rates.

But the Douglas Administration’s Department of Public Service has a different approach for wind developers.

It says wind projects must cover the full cost of taking down the turbines and returning the site to a pristine state. They want the money secured in a special fund before any construction begins.

(Perchlik) “It’s another kind of ironic policy of the current administration on wind.”

(Dillon) Andrew Perchlik is the director of Renewable Energy Vermont, which supports the wind industry.

(Perchlik) “It’s definitely confusing, and maybe a little bit aggravating that wind has to jump over so many extra hoops, and has to do all this decommissioning up front, where other power generators don’t have to do that. And that’s the disadvantage. It’s not a level playing field. ‘’

(Dillon) State officials say they’ve required decommissioning funds for power plants that are owned by merchant generators and are not part of a regulated utility.

So a wood-fired power plant in Ryegate, for example, had to set up a decommissioning fund. Utility-owned power projects – such as the McNeil wood-fired plant owned by Burlington Electric – did not need a decommissioning fund.

Vermont Yankee – because of the risks involved in handling radiation – was required to have a decommissioning fund, even before the state’s utilities sold it in 2002.

Richard Smith is the deputy commissioner at the Public Service Department. He says the state does not have a double standard when it comes to decommissioning nuclear plants and wind projects.

(Smith) “I understand why they’re trying to compare, but I just don’t think they’re comparable. The decommissioning costs are going to have to be absorbed by ENVY – the owners of Vermont Yankee – and they’re going to have to do it in a way that meets the obligations of both the state and the federal NRC, and do it in a way that’s economic as well.”

(Dillon) But a leading proponent of the decommissioning bill in the legislature says the state is letting Entergy off the hook, while raising barriers for wind projects.

Tony Klein is an East Montpelier Democrat who serves on the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

(Klein) “Absolutely two standards at work. And I don’t know why anybody is not asking them to rectify that and to clarify that. I think it’s ludicrous to require decommissioning funds for renewable energy generation and think it’s okay to not require it for a generator that produces the most toxic waste known to mankind.”

(Dillon) Wind developers say they don’t face the same decommissioning requirements in other states.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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