Entergy Likely to Cancel Vermont Yankee Deal

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(Host) The Mississippi company that planned to buy the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant wants out of the deal unless regulators reverse a condition that they put on the sale.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The Vermont Yankee sale is in deep trouble. Entergy Nuclear of Jackson, Mississippi was set to pay $180 million for the plant by the end of the month. But on Thursday, Entergy gave the plant’s owners an ultimatum: The deal is off, the company said, unless the Vermont utilities can find a way for Entergy to keep half of the money left over in a fund that’s set aside to dismantle the reactor.

That demand will be extremely hard to meet in the less than two weeks that remain before the Entergy offer expires. State regulators have twice said the money must go back to ratepayers, who have paid into the fund for the past 20 years. By some estimates there could be $100 million left over in the fund.

Entergy Spokeswoman Jill Smith says it’s possible the deal could still happen if the utilities find a way to reward the company for taking the financial risk of decommissioning the reactor:

(Smith) “It would go forward if we can come to an agreement that preserves the risk allocation provisions that we had already agreed to, before the deadline of July 31.”

(Dillon) Public Service Commissioner Christine Salembier, whose department represents ratepayers, says the deal is probably dead for now. Salembier says if the utilities change the deal to satisfy Entergy’s demands – such as agreeing to accept a lower price for the reactor -the entire case has to go back to the Public Service Board for review:

(Salembier) “I don t think the deal will close by the end of the month. The Board has spoken; the Board has stood firm. They have reconsidered Entergy’s request to remove this condition. And I think that if there is any hope to salvage this deal, which Entergy seems to hint at, I think that it would require an entirely new transaction and a new review.”

(Dillon) Salembier was disappointed by Entergy’s announcement, because she says the deal was good for the state s electric consumers:

(Salembier) “In fact, the Board found that the sale provided significant benefits to ratepayers both because there were strong economic benefits to the sale and the fact that we shifted substantial financial risks to Entergy.”

(Dillon) But Yankee opponents say it’s good news for the state if Entergy pulls out. Jim Dumont represents the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution. He says the only way the utilities can satisfy Entergy is to get more money from ratepayers:

(Dumont) “I think most people who live here and who live in our neighboring states feel that accountability and responsibility in owning and operating a nuclear plant is much more important. If Entergy buys that, we’re losing that in a very big way. So this is very good news for the people of Vermont.”

(Dillon) Vermont utilities were stunned by the news and company officials said they were not prepared to comment. The companies say they re now trying to figure out their options to save the deal before it expires July 31.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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