PSB Asks Utilities to Reexamine Vermont Yankee Deal
02/26/02 12:00AM By John Dillon
(Host) It's decision time once again for the owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Last summer, the Vermont utilities that own the reactor agreed to sell it to a Louisiana energy company for $180 million.
But utility regulators recently asked them to re-evaluate that decision in light of new forecasts that show lower prices for power in New England. On Monday, the regulators again asked the utilities to slow down on the deal.
VPR's John Dillon reports.
(Dillon) The Yankee deal requires utilities to buy back the power for 10 years. But new forecasts show prices may drop as other power plants come online. The studies have raised questions about whether it still makes sense for the companies to lock into that long-term Yankee contract.
Earlier this month, the Public Service Board, which regulates power companies, told the utilities to reconsider the sale. The PSB wants the utilities' boards of directors to study the latest data and reconsider whether the sale and the power contract are still good for the state's ratepayers.
New testimony was due Monday in the case. If the sale was no longer a good idea, the companies would have to tell the PSB in its testimony.
But Steve Costello, a spokesman for Central Vermont Public Service Corporation, says that the company's Board didn't have time to study all the latest information by Monday's deadline:
(Costello) "They were briefed this morning during a regular board meeting and got a lot of information. But because there's just volumes of information and vast amounts of information, they weren't prepared to make a decision and will reconvene on Friday after they've had some time to deliberate and look at the information in depth. And at that time, they'll make a final decision."
(Dillon) It's unusual for the Public Service Board in the middle of a case to ask power companies for such a fundamental reexamination of the issues. PSB Chairman Michael Dworkin told the utilities to look at the new data and make "a real business decision" about whether the deal was still worth it.
James Dumont, a lawyer for anti-nuclear groups, says the PSB order is unusual, but appropriate. Dumont says the utilities also want something unusual out of the PSB. He says the companies are asking for a legal ruling that says costs from the 10-year power contract can be passed on to ratepayers:
(Dumont) "What the companies want from the Board is extraordinary - it's unheard of. ¿ And the Board is simply responding to this extraordinary request from the utilities. What the utilities are saying is that they're not going to go forward unless the Board guarantees them in the future that they're going to get all their costs back from ratepayers in rates that have to do from this sale."
(Dillon) Hearings on the Yankee case are scheduled to resume in March. Meanwhile, the state agency that represents ratepayers and the utilities are negotiating on a possible settlement.
For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon.