Officials want Vermont Yankee decision by April 2009

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(Host) The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant wants permission from the state to operate for another 20 years. And it wants the Public Service Board to make that decision by this spring.

Several groups involved in the case are asking for more time. They say that the case is too complex – and the consequences too important – to rush through the review.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Scheduling issues are rarely contentious before the Public Service Board. But much about the Vermont Yankee case is controversial – and the timing of the board’s review is as well.

Here’s the background. The Vermont Legislature may vote next year on whether Yankee should operate for 20 years after its scheduled shutdown in 2012.

The Public Service Board is also reviewing the license extension, but by law it can’t issue a final decision until the Legislature weighs in.

Vermont Yankee and the Douglas Administration want the board to issue a proposed decision by April of next year.

James Moore of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group says that schedule is much too aggressive.

(Moore) "The way that the schedule is put together really doesn’t allow for public participation. There are thousands of pages of technical documents, testimony, and the amount of time given to review those is almost non-existent.”

(Dillon) VPIRG just got permission to intervene in the case, and the current schedule calls for it to file testimony by mid-October. Moore said the group had to raise funds to hire a lawyer and pay for experts. So he’s asking the PSB to extend the filing deadline until February.

(Moore) "The process is supposed to include voices like VPIRG and others. Let’s make sure we can actually do that in a reasonable way.”

(Dillon) The state’s major utilities oppose VPIRG’s request to extend the schedule. So does the Douglas Administration, and Entergy, the company that owns Vermont Yankee.

Steve Wark is spokesman for the state Department of Public Service. He said the state faces a tight timeline to find replacement power if Yankee isn’t relicensed.

(Wark) "I find it interesting that people and groups that would want us to consider other options would want us to delay the fact-finding process. The clock is running not only on Vermont Yankee’s re-licensure request but on how we actually replace the power if it’s decided Vermont Yankee will not be a power partner going forward."

(Dillon) But the Windham Regional Planning Commission, which works on economic development and planning issues for the communities around Vermont Yankee, says more time is needed. Jim Matteau is the commission’s executive director.

(Matteau) "When you’ve got a squadron of consultants to focus on it for you that’s one thing, but when you’ve got life to live and this to do, too, it’s very difficult. And for towns and parties out there, it’s hard. I just think if there’s no real need to do it quickly then it’s a disservice to do it quickly.”  

(Dillon) Yankee’s license expires in 2012. But the utilities want the Legislature to vote on the license extension next year.

Matteau points out that the Legislature – and the Public Service Board – are not required to decide next year. So he said they can take more time if they need it.

(Matteau) "The fact is there is no deadline to finish it by the spring of 2009. So rushing it for I don’t know whose convenience seems wrong.”

(Dillon) Matteau also questions whether the state can finish studies of the plant in time for the PSB to use the information. The state says the studies are on schedule.

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

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