Legislature considers decommissioning fund

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(Host) During this legislative session, the Vermont Yankee power plant will be heavy on the minds of lawmakers.

One big issue has to do with decommissioning.

Lawmakers say they may require Yankee to set aside enough money to completely dismantle the plant when its license expires in 2012.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Yankee wants to extend its license for another 20 years. And a legislative vote on whether it should operate after 2012 will take place next year. But interest in all things Yankee is already very high at the Statehouse.

First, there’s the issue of the decommissioning fund. Senator President Peter Shumlin – whose Windham County district includes the 36 year old reactor – said he was shocked to learn recently that the money set aside to dismantle the plant will not be enough to do the job when the plant’s license expires in four years.

(Shumlin) "I almost fell off my chair when I suddenly learned that in fact that the carcass of the plant will have to sit on the banks of the Connecticut River for 10, 20, 30, 40 years while we wait for enough money to build up in the fund to take it away."

(Dillon) The state and Vermont Yankee say the Legislature shouldn’t be surprised by the decommissioning timetable.

Sarah Hofmann is the public advocate at the Department of Public Service, which represents ratepayers.

She told the Senate Finance Committee that when the plant was sold in 2002, the Public Service Board recognized that it could be mothballed for years before it was actually taken away. The option is know as "Safestor."

(Hofmann) "It’s in the sale case where it first becomes almost the assumption that the plant will be `Safestored.’ It’s interesting because my memory is very different from Senator Shumlin’s. But we’re at very different places. I’m in the hearing room."

(Dillon) Entergy, the company that owns Vermont Yankee, has not put any money into the fund since it bought the reactor. The fund now has about $440 million dollars. The cost estimate for the full decommissioning is now about $1.7 billion dollars.

Entergy executive Jay Thayer told the Senate Finance Committee, that the plant could be safely mothballed for years while the fund builds up in value. He was asked by the committee if it could be 60 years before the plant is taken away.

(Thayer) "That’s really the outside of the envelope. It’s a case of having enough money in the decommissioning fund – having the decommissioning fund grow to the point that it could support full dismantlement – having a waste disposal facility available to Entergy at the point in time of decommissioning."

(Dillon) But Bob Stannard, a lobbyist for the anti-nuclear group Citizens Awareness network, said the legislature should force Entergy to put up another $1.6 billion this year to pay for decommissioning.

(Stannard) "Right now, they’re being blackmailed if you will — that you can do Safestor after 2012, or you can let us run it for another 20 years, and let us generate the money after the fact. That’s bad bargaining, bad-faith bargaining from where I sit."

(Dillon) Lawmakers are also investigating Entergy’s new corporate structure. Entergy wants to set up a new company that would own some of its nuclear assets. The spin off has been called Spin Co. – or New Co.

Thayer used a white board to sketch out the various changes. But lawmakers – including Rutland Senator Bill Carris – pressed him to answer why the change was planned.

(Carris) "I’m still confused as to why.The only reason I keep asking is I think that would help as far as then understanding the obligations here."

(Dillon) Thayer eventually said the restructuring was designed so Wall Street would have an all-nuclear company in which to invest.

But he said nothing would change for Vermont Yankee.

(Thayer) "Their organization name will change. But their responsibilities, their obligations, their liabilities will be exactly the same."

(Dillon) Entergy has asked state and federal regulators to approve the new corporation.

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

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