Yankee Settlement Questioned at Hearing

03/12/02 12:00AM By John Dillon

(Host) Vermont utility regulators have tough questions on the proposed sale of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Last week, the agency that represents ratepayers said new conditions added to the sale will protect consumers.

But on Monday, the independent Public Service Board laid out a series of detailed questions it wants the state and the utilities to answer before it rules on the deal.

VPR's John Dillon reports.


(Dillon) The Public Service Board is a three-member panel that acts like a judge on utility cases. On Monday, the Board called in the lawyers involved in the sale of Vermont Yankee and gave them some homework for the week.

Board Chairman Michael Dworkin said he wants detailed answers to questions about the settlement reached last week between the state, the owners of the Yankee plant and Entergy, the Louisiana company that wants to buy it.

Up until last week, the state had raised serious questions about the sale. Now it says its concerns have been addressed. The state filed a memorandum of understanding ¿ called an MOU ¿ that outlines the settlement. Dworkin said he wants everybody to explain how the MOU will work:

(Dworkin) "I want to be clear that one of the reasons that we want to ask at this stage is because we do not want to be in a situation where there are mixed understandings of what the MOU means amongst the signatories. Therefore if there are any misunderstandings in terms like these, we want to find out early rather than late."

(Dillon) The MOU promises a $60 million financial guarantee from Entergy in the event that the plant has to shut down early.

Yankee's federal license expires in 2012 and Entergy has said it wants to squeeze more life out of the aging reactor. But under the new deal with the state, the company would have to get approval first from the state Public Service Board. Entergy has also agreed to share any profits from power sold after 2012 with Vermont ratepayers.

Christine Salembier is the commissioner of the Public Service Department. She says Entergy made some major concessions. She denied charges from environmental groups that the Dean administration had given in to utility lobbying on the Yankee deal:

(Salembier) "Absolutely not. This was a very tough negotiation. We laid out some concerns at the beginning of the case. ¿ And essentially that was a public invitation to Entergy to negotiate with the state. If they we were willing to negotiate and willing to move toward meeting our concerns, we said right from the get go that this was a deal we could support. Because quite frankly there are very real benefits to transferring the risks associated with continued operation of the plant."

(Dillon) Environmental groups that oppose the deal before the Public Service Board say not much has changed with the new settlement.

Mark Sinclair of the Conservation Law Foundation said the state was aggressively raising questions about the sale. Now, he says, the state backs the deal, but has little to show for it.

On Monday, Sinclair asked the Public Service Board to appoint an independent advocate to represent the public. Sinclair said the state agency that is supposed to represent the public has sided with the power companies:

(Sinclair) "The Department has dropped a lot of major concerns about the economics of this deal without getting anything for it. So when I look at that, it means to me there was a deal was cut with the utilities. The Dean administration has a history of giving the utilities what they want."


(Dillon) At the end of Monday's hearing, Public Service Board Chairman Dworkin ruled that the Board would not name an independent advocate to represent the public. But Dworkin said that the parties in the case should be allowed to question the department closely about why it changed its mind.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.
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