Lawmakers set deadline for Vermont Yankee power deal

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(Host) Legislative leaders have set a deadline for Vermont Yankee to produce a power deal with the state’s utilities.

Lawmakers say they need to know what Yankee will charge for electricity, before they vote on whether the plant should operate after 2012.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Under Vermont law, the Legislature has to vote on Yankee’s request to operate for another 20 years.

But House Speaker Shap Smith said unless there is a deal by November 1st, it will be very difficult to schedule a vote next year. Yankee now sells power at a relatively low price to Vermont companies. Smith said the good deal has to continue.

(Shap Smith) "And that is, from my perspective, one of the only reasons that we’re even having a conversation about the continued operation of Vermont Yankee. And if they can’t show that that’s going to continue to happen – that there will be continued lower power prices – then it’s not clear why we would have the conversation about continuing to operate Vermont Yankee in the state of Vermont."

(Host) Senate President Peter Shumlin said it was important to set a deadline because the Legislature needs time to weigh the pros and cons of the deal.

(Shumlin) "So we want to send in advance a very clear message to VY-Louisiana and the power companies: It is time to arrive at a power purchase agreement if you wish to have the continuing operation of Vermont Yankee considered in the next biennium."

(Host) Yankee has been negotiating with the utilities for more than a year. Larry Smith is a spokesman for Entergy Vermont Yankee. He said he didn’t know when the talks would lead to an agreement.

(Larry Smith) "We’re mindful of the concern of the Legislature to have this important piece of information. The process is continuing. It’s in confidence, so I’m not aware of the status other than the negotiations are continuing and they’re in earnest and we’re in hopes of reaching an agreement as soon as possible."

(Dillon) And Smith said that Yankee offers other benefits besides the price of power.

(Larry Smith) "The $6.3 million in annual state and local tax payments that we make. The reliability of the station, and clean air. Vermont Yankee avoids 2.8 million tons of CO2 greenhouse gases a year."

(Dillon) But the price of power remains an important piece as lawmakers weigh Yankee’s future beyond its scheduled shutdown in 2012. Peter Shumlin:

(Shumlin) "They need to come to us, and tell them what the best deal is. I’m sure Entergy-Louisiana fully understands that to get an affirmative vote out of this Legislature, Vermonters would have to have a very good power price."

(Dillon) The Douglas administration also says a favorable power contract is required for the reactor to continue to operate.

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

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