Yankee decommissioning bill moves ahead in legislature

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(Host) The Legislature is moving ahead on a bill that requires the owners of Vermont Yankee to set aside more money to dismantle the plant.

The bill has already passed the Senate, and was voted out of a House committee this afternoon. But a coalition of business groups is lobbying hard against it. They say it could force Yankee to charge more for its power.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The legislation was prompted by a corporate restructuring now underway at the Entergy Corporation. That’s the parent company of Vermont Yankee.

Entergy wants to create a new, limited liability, corporation to own its nuclear assets in the Northeast.

But lawmakers are concerned that if something happens – an accident or a business default – the new company would not have enough money to decommission the plant.

Sarah Edwards is a member of the Progressive Party, and represents Brattleboro in the Legislature.

(Edwards) "We have to have assurances, especially in light of the possibility of the spin-off, that we have that money now, because we don’t know that the entity will be able to fund this going forward."

(Dillon) The decommissioning fund now has around $425 million. It’s dropped in value recently because of declines in the stock market.

Yankee recently told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission it will cost around $728 million to decommission the plant when its license expires in 2012. Lawmakers want to force the company to cover the full cost of decommissioning once the corporate restructuring goes through. So the legislation could end up costing Entergy several hundred million dollars.

That’s real money – and business organizations lobbying on Yankee’s behalf say consumers could end up paying.

(Smith) "It could be last straw. I mean, how much longer will Yankee put up with these kinds of attacks on the power production."

(Dillon) Tim Smith is the executive director of the Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation. His group and others took out a full page ad Friday in Vermont newspapers criticizing the bill.

Yankee provides relatively low cost power and meets about a third of the state’s energy needs. Smith says the legislation could force the company to raise rates.

(Smith) "Ultimately it’s not good for the Vermont economy. We’re struggling against New York every day when it comes to power costs. And then to add this on top of that."

(Dillon) Bob Stannard is a lobbyist for the anti-nuclear group Citizens Awareness Network. Stannard told the House Commerce Committee this week that the bill simply addresses the question of who should pay the full cost of decommissioning. He said the legislation protects the public.

(Stannard) "It’s going to go back on taxpayers. Or the company that raised $7 billion dollars off the creation of a new company, Spin Co., pays for it. And at that point in time, the company that made the money, pays the bill."

(Dillon) Meanwhile, there are questions about just how much decommissioning will actually cost. The Windham Regional Commission – which represents 27 towns in southern Vermont – says Yankee’s projects may be overly optimistic. The commission has asked state regulators to force Yankee to come up with a new cost estimate.

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


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