Lawmakers want Yankee to guarantee a decommissioning fund

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(Host) Federal regulators say the state Legislature can force Vermont Yankee to set aside more money for dismantling the plant in 2012.

But a Vermont Yankee executive told lawmakers the company can’t afford to guarantee it will have $600 million in three years.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Lawmakers are concerned that Vermont Yankee doesn’t have enough money to dismantle the plant when its license expires in 2012.

Decommissioning the reactor and restoring the site along the Connecticut River is estimated to cost more than $900 million . Yankee has about $372 million set aside for the job, and the fund has declined in recent months.

So the House Natural Resources and Energy committee has drafted legislation that requires Yankee to show it has $990 million on hand. The money can either be in cash, bond or a line of credit.

The committee wanted to know if the legislation conflicted with federal law or rules issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

NRC lawyer Steve Crockett testified by phone.

(Crockett) “The NRC has recognized over the years, including in the context of decommissioning, that the state has reserved to it certain economic questions and the case law confirms that.”

(Dillon) While the NRC didn’t throw up any legal roadblocks, Yankee and its lawyers objected strenuously to the bill. Attorney John Marshall represents Entergy Vermont Yankee.

(Marshall) "Entergy VY opposes the legislation because it believes it’s a material, unilateral change to the agreement it had with the state for operation of the plant until 2012.”

(Dillon) Marshall says a 2002 order from the Public Service Board allows the company to put the plant in mothballs for up to 60 years – a procedure known as Safestore. Marshall said the legislation was of — quote "questionable legality" because he says it changes legal conditions set by utility regulators.

Lawyer John Matthews also told the committee that the decommissioning fund would be safe, even if the company filed for bankruptcy.

But Matthews also said that ratepayers or taxpayers did end up paying to close other financially troubled plants.

That statement provoked a strong reaction from St. Albans Democrat Jeff Young.

(Young) “I must say, listening to you today, you just destroyed any confidence I had in Entergy in making this work. I just can’t believe you sit here and told us that we’re stuck with the bill…. You proved our case that we’re trying to make here.”

(Dillon) But Entergy Vermont Yankee vice president Jay Thayer said ratepayers in Vermont would not get stuck with the decommissioning bill.

The plant wants to extend its license for another 20 years after 2012. And Thayer said he can work with the state on a plan to have enough money to decommission the plant after 2032. But he ruled out more decommissioning money by 2012.

(Thayer) “I cannot today have a rational discussion with you about how I can ensure that happens in 2012, because it’s so far outside the business case that I have to operate with right now. I honestly can’t make it happen.”

(Dillon) But committee members pointed out that Entergy’s parent company had $33 billion in revenue last year. With that much money, they said, the company ought to be able to guarantee the decommissioning fund.

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


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