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McQuiston: VY & VT

11/15/11 5:55PM By Timothy McQuiston
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(Host)  Whatever the outcome of the legal dispute between Entergy and the State of Vermont about the future of Vermont Yankee, commentator Tim McQuiston points out that some type of ongoing, practical relationship is unavoidable.

(McQuiston)  In 2004, the town of Killington voted to secede from Vermont. It wanted to become part of New Hampshire. This was in reaction to Act 60 that made the average Killington property tax payer look like the lord of the manor. Killington, and other resort towns, felt like they were getting fleeced. But Killington had as much chance of seceding as it did of airlifting Vermont's second tallest mountain across the Connecticut River. The state of Vermont has ultimate jurisdiction over all the towns. Killington, in essence, did not have the legal right to give itself to New Hampshire.

In something of a reversal of fortune, however, the state of Vermont does not have jurisdiction over the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. The federal government reserves that right.

The NRC issues licenses to nuclear plants. In Vermont Yankee's case, the NRC issued a license renewal earlier this year. Vermont contends that it has the right to approve a license renewal. Entergy says it doesn't need the state's approval. Vermont says it has a signed piece of paper from the top Vermont Yankee official agreeing with the state. But in essence, Vermont Yankee, like Killington, does not possess that authority. The NRC is the boss.

Entergy, VY's owner, has sued the state of Vermont arguing exactly that. The judge's ruling is expected at any time.

But what really struck me during the September testimony was this attitude by both sides that was declarative: Vermont doesn't need Vermont Yankee and Vermont Yankee doesn't need Vermont.

No way. Even if the plant actually does close when its license expires next March, its remains will be here for the foreseeable future. All the spent fuel is stored at the Vernon site. There is no other repository for spent fuel anywhere in the country. Not only does the spent fuel need to be maintained because it's highly radioactive, it's also extremely valuable, certainly running into the tens of millions of dollars just in Vermont. The spent fuel can be reprocessed into new nuclear fuel. The state of Vermont will no doubt figure out a way of taxing it. Entergy will be cleaning up and paying taxes on that site for years after it closes, if not decades.

There is also the issue of regulation. Entergy might not need licensing approval from Vermont, and as a merchant plant it might not even sell its electricity to Vermont utilities, but it will always be locally regulated by the Vermont Public Service Board.

For Vermont, it's not just about the relicensing or the spent fuel. The Vermont Yankee plant itself is a giant substation. If it goes off-line, there will be a price to pay in the millions for rewiring part of the grid. There are also the 600 jobs involved.

Maybe Entergy would want to cut ties to Vermont immediately and forever, and vice versa, but there's as much chance of that as Killington winding up as part of the Granite State.



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