House committee set to vote on Vermont Yankee decommissioning bill

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       (Host) Despite warnings from the Douglas administration, lawmakers are moving ahead with a bill that forces Vermont Yankee to set aside more money to dismantle the plant.

Governor Jim Douglas vetoed similar legislation last year, and the administration says this year’s version could force Yankee to close the plant.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Lawmakers say the goal of the legislation is to guarantee there’s enough money to dismantle the plant after Yankee’s license expires in three years.

So the bill requires Entergy Vermont Yankee to set aside about $114 million a year for four years.

East Montpelier Democrat Tony Klein chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.

(Klein) “The bill is needed because we are moving ahead with two known hard core facts as they exist right now. You’ve got a decommissioning fund that is woefully deficient. It is not growing. It is shrinking.”

(Dillon) Klein says the second reason for the bill is that Vermont utilities don’t yet have a contract with Vermont Yankee to buy power after the plant’s license expires in 2012.

Yankee wants to extend that license for another 20 years. But Klein says the lack of a power contract makes it possible that Yankee will close without enough money to decommission the plant and clean up the site.

(Klein) “And we are stuck there with radioactive waste. I am not talking about the spent fuel rods at that point. I am talking about radioactive buildings, for 60 years. That’s ridiculous and unacceptable.”

(Dillon) David O’Brien is the commissioner of public service, the Douglas administration’s point person on energy issues.

O’Brien says the bill changes the rules for Entergy Vermont Yankee. Seven years ago, the state agreed to give the company 60 years to build up the decommissioning fund before dismantling the plant.

(O’Brien) “You pass this legislation, you’re basically saying that previous agreements and commitments by the state aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.”

(Dillon) And O’Brien warns that Entergy could just decide to close the plant early – which he says would leave the state utilities scrambling to buy more expensive replacement power.

(O’Brien) “If they don’t get an extension on the license for an additional 20 years, and they’re facing these payments, my guess is they’re going to seek to either stop operating the plant or they’re not going to perform under their contract on the basis of a breach of contract by the state.”

(Dillon) Under Vermont law, the Legislature has to vote on the license extension. The decommissioning bill says that if Yankee wins a new license, it is not required to make the additional decommissioning payments.

However, lawmakers suggest that a condition of a new license would be for the company to put more money into the fund.

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

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