At the close of business yesterday Entergy issued a press release straight out of "Deal or No Deal."
The deal? The company announced that it had completed contract talks with Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC), the state's third largest utility, on a two-year agreement to sell power.
The no deal? That it had failed to find a buyer for Vermont Yankee.
In reality, the proposed deal with VEC is subject to approval by VEC’s Board of Directors, and is contingent on the plant running after March 2012.
Last week, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued VY a 20-year license extension, allowing it to operate until 2032. However, the state Public Service Board has yet to issue a certificate of public good, because the Vermont Senate last year voted to deny VY a license extension. In 2006, when the Vermont Legislature approved the storage of spent fuel in dry casks it also inserted itself as an arbiter in whether VY could remain open beyond 2012.
It is expected that Entergy will file suit against Vermont, arguing that federal law preempts any state decision on the operation of nuclear power plants.
"Of course, we're expecting an Entergy preemption suit, perhaps any day now," Attorney General Bill Sorrell tells Seven Days. Sorrell is continuing to investigate whether Entergy Vermont Yankee officials lied under oath to state regulators about the existence of underground pipes — pipes that later were the source of several leaks of tritium into the groundwater and Connecticut River.
The Agency of Natural Resources, along with Sorrell's office, is examining whether the tritium leak violated the state's new law governing groundwater as a "public trust." The law, passed in 2008, declares groundwater as worthy of protection for all Vermonters, not just the landowners of the soil the water flows through.
Despite the potential legal battles, a top Entergy official said the proposed VEC plan is just one more step in an effort to keep VY up and running beyond 2012.
“Entergy continues to seek successful resolution related to the long-term future of Vermont Yankee to benefit all stakeholders, including the approximately 650 men and women who work at the plant,” said Richard Smith, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities. “Securing agreements with the local electric companies to sell power from the plant at affordable prices is one of the efforts that has been under way for some time.”
Entergy will provide around-the-clock energy and capacity beginning in March 2012 to the Vermont Electric Cooperative, which serves approximately 34,000 people in 74 towns throughout northern Vermont. The power price for the first year of the contract is fixed and will be $49 per megawatt hour, which is below the current market, Entergy said in a news release. That's 4.9 cents per kilowatt hour. Future prices will fluctuate with the market.
VEC's CEO David Hallquist said Entergy's press release was "misleading," noting there is "no agreement." VEC presently purchases 10 megawatts of power from Entergy at a much higher prices than contemplated in the deal.
"Even with this as a backdrop, the VEC Board of Directors is struggling with any decision to take power from Entergy after 2012, even if Vermont agrees to allow Entergy to operate," said Hallquist in a statement. "A number of the VEC Board of Directors have voiced concern with Entergy's poor relationship with Vermont, the fact that the Fukushima reactor in Japan is the same design, and there is one million pounds of radioactive waste at VY with no plans on what to do with it.
The VEC's board will take up this contract again at its April 26 meeting, and it will likely be a topic at VEC's annual meeting in May, added Hallquist.
Entergy also stated that the previously announced process to explore the sale plant has concluded without a sale.
“Although we received interest from a number of companies, the conclusion of the sale process, without a sale, was driven primarily by the uncertain political environment in Vermont,” Smith said. “The plant’s strong operating performance was attractive to potential buyers; the political uncertainty was not.”
A key opponent of their continued operation is Gov. Peter Shumlin. In a statement, Shumlin said he wasn't surprised that Entergy couldn't find a buyer.
“It is not surprising that Entergy could not find a buyer for Vermont Yankee. The plant and its operators have had numerous issues — cooling tower collapses, a transformer fire, leaked tritium, and misinformation about the underground piping — and I have no confidence in the continued operation of the plant or in its owners," said Shumlin.
A change in ownership, along with power deals with Vermont utilities, were seen by VY supporters as key changes necessary to curry favor with Vermont lawmakers in hopes of getting the legislature to take a new vote this session. That remains unlikely.
It also remains unlikely that Vermont's largest utility — Central Vermont Public Service — will sign an agreement with VY anytime soon, either.
"We concluded that there were four conditions if we were to sign a deal: NRC approval of relicensing; the sale of the plant to a new owner; an agreement for Entergy to sell 20 megawatts in Vermont in addition to sales to CV and GMP; and state approval of the decommissioning and any other issues of interest to the state," said CVPS CEO Bob Young. "It has been our position that we would not enter into a formal contract absent a sale and tacit state approval of any proposed deal."
CVPS and Green Mountain Power believe that if VY operates beyond 2012 that Entergy will have to share a portion of any power sales with the two utilities, according to a memorandum of understanding that Entergy signed with the utilities back in 2002 when it bought the reactor. The MOU is not contingent upon a CPG from the state, only if the plant remains in operation, CVPS officials said.