State auditor questions benefits of Yankee uprate deal

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(Host) More questions are being raised about the deal reached by the Douglas administration that may allow the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to boost its power output. Vermont Yankee has promised to provide $20 million in benefits in exchange for the state’s support. But Vermont’s auditor questions whether the state has the authority to enter into the financial settlement.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) For the Douglas administration, the Yankee deal is a win-win. The state gets $20 million in benefits, including $7.8 million for a clean water initiative primarily directed at Lake Champlain. In return, Entergy, the company that owns Vermont Yankee, won the state’s support for a plan to produce 20% more power from the 30-year-old reactor.

(Elizabeth Ready) “We’re kind of left wondering, but for the $20 million payment, is it not in the public interest? And if so, why is not in the public interest?”

(Dillon) State Auditor Elizabeth Ready says the law may not allow the state to strike the deal. She says Entergy/Vermont Yankee must show in detail how the power increase plan satisfies the public interest under 10 criteria in state law.

Instead, she says, Yankee and the Douglas administration’s Department of Public Service reached a side deal that covers other issues.

(Ready) “It’s like, show me the money. It moves away from the 10 criterion into this private deal-making and this ‘show me the money’ kind of attitude.”

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas believes the Entergy payment does meet the public interest test under the law.

(Douglas) “The statute isn’t specific but it seems to me that indemnifying the ratepayers against outages from the uprate, adding additional tax revenues to state coffers, and providing a benefit to clean up the waterways of our state and improve our economic future is a good way to settle this case.”

(Dillon) But some environmentalists argue that those who pollute Lake Champlain should be responsible for its clean up, not Vermont Yankee. Chris Kilian is with the Conservation Law Foundation. He calls the Yankee settlement a deal with the devil.

(Kilian) “It just seems like a convenient way for one polluter to buy its way out of its obligations in return for a fairly minimal contribution to a big problem on the lake.”

(Dillon) Legislators have also questioned the deal. Republican House Speaker Walter Freed and Democratic President Pro Tempore Peter Welch say the Yankee money should be directed to southern Vermont, where the plant is located. Freed says the Legislature may step in and try to spend the money on other projects.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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