PSB Approves Vermont Yankee Sale with Conditions

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(Host) State regulators Thursday approved the sale of Vermont’s only nuclear power plant to a Louisiana-based energy company for $180 million. But the Public Service Board imposed several conditions on the deal that it said would protect Vermont electricity consumers.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The Public Service Board’s decision is big, both in its importance for the state’s energy future, and in the sheer volume of words. With its appendices and footnotes, the decision weighs in at 171 pages. But the gist of the ruling is this: the Board says that the Entergy Corporation of Louisiana should be able to safely operate the Vernon reactor. And the Board found that under most scenarios, the sale will benefit Vermont ratepayers.

The PSB says that the Entergy proposal is much better than an earlier deal that it rejected 16 months ago. And it says the sale will transfer many of the risks of operating an older reactor away from the Vermont companies and to Entergy. The PSB says, “these findings lead us to conclude that the sale will promote the general good.”

The ruling came out late Thursday afternoon and officials from Vermont Yankee or Entergy would not comment in detail. Jill Smith is spokeswoman for Entergy’s nuclear division:

(Smith) “Entergy is very pleased that the Board approved the sale and now all parties will have evaluate the conditions that impact the Board’s order.”

(Dillon) Some observers say the conditions the Board imposed will ultimately determine whether the sale goes through as planned in late July. That’s because the Board didn’t approve the deal in full as Entergy and Vermont Yankee wanted.

Under the Entergy and Yankee plan, Entergy would have kept any money left over in a fund that’s set aside to dismantle the reactor when it shuts down. There’s expected to be tens of millions of dollars left over in this decommissioning fund. The PSB said that money has to go back to ratepayers and can’t be used by Entergy.

The sale deal also includes a contract that locks Vermont utilities into buying power back from the Yankee reactor until 2012. The Board says the contract should bring lower rates. But the PSB refused to along with a request by Vermont utilities that would guarantee them the right to charge customers for costs associated with the Yankee deal. The Board called this request extraordinary, since it differs from longstanding legal precedents.

Mark Sinclair is a lawyer for the Conservation Law Foundation. He’s disappointed in the ruling, but Sinclair says he’s pleased that the Board imposed conditions on the sale and the power contract:

(Sinclair) “The ratepayers may not end up paying for all the costs of the power contract that is tied into this sale. The shareholders of the utilities may have to pay for some of the economic losses, if there are some. Secondly, I do applaud the Board for these conditions. They recognized that the decommissioning trust fund, which is a $300 million fund, belongs to ratepayers. And if there’s any excess money, that money should come back to ratepayers and not be basically stolen by Entergy. So those are two conditions that protect ratepayers. And I’m not sure that our utilities or Entergy will go forward with the sale under those conditions.”

(Dillon) The Public Service Board also said it will review Entergy’s plan to operate the reactor beyond it scheduled 2012 shutdown date.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon

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