Yankee decommissioning bill gets preliminary approval

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(Host) The Vermont House has given preliminary approval to a bill that would modify how Vermont Yankee pays for decommissioning the plant. The vote was 95 to 47.

Opponents of the bill say it’s unethical and will result in higher electric rates.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) According to recent estimates, it will cost roughly 900 million dollars to fully decommission Vermont Yankee whenever the plant closes.

But over the past year, the clean up fund has suffered dramatic losses. At the beginning of 2008, its value was approximately 440 million dollars – but because of the decline in the stock market, the fund has lost about 100 million dollars in the past 14 months.

Backers of the bill are concerned that Vermont taxpayers could be left with a huge part of these costs and they’re worried that the owners of the plant might take up to 60 years to clean up the facility to allow the fund to grow. 

So the legislation calls on Vermont Yankee’s owners, the Entergy Corporation, to make four payments into the fund of 114 million dollars each, over a 9 year period. 

If the plant is re-licensed these specific payments would be cancelled but lawmakers could require Entergy to make some additional contributions into the fund as part of any re-licensing agreement.

House Natural Resources chairman Tony Klein urged his colleagues to support the bill:

(Klein) "Therefore Vermonters best interests need to be protected and that is the very goal of this legislation. Our choice should be to protect Vermont and Vermonters protect Vermont or protect a business plan of a 33 billion dollar out of state corporation your choice should be easy."

Ripton Rep. Willem Jewett supported the bill because he said it’s critical to make certain that Entergy lives up to its financial obligations:

(Jewett) "This debate is all about corporate responsibility, corporate fiscal responsibility. Now if the members didn’t learn from WorldCom, if you didn’t learn from Enron, and if you didn’t learn from AIG by all means vote no."

Patti O’ Donnell represents Vernon, the home of Vermont Yankee.  She says the bill breaks an agreement between the state of Vermont and Entergy that was reached in 2002 when Entergy bought the plant. She says that agreement allowed Entergy not to make any additional contributions to the decommissioning fund in return for lower electric rates:

(O’Donnell) "And we say oh wait a minute we don’t like this deal any more we like the money it saved us over the last 7 years but we don’t like the deal anymore now we want you to put the money into the decommissioning fund that’s a heck of a way to do business you want people to want to come to Vermont you want them to bring their businesses here how about we start being honest as to who we are." 

The legislation faces an uncertain future because it’s very similar to a bill that Governor Jim Douglas vetoed last year.

Douglas has indicated that he’ll probably veto it again, if it wins approval in the Senate.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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