Douglas vetoes Vermont Yankee decommissioning bill

05/07/08 5:50PM By John Dillon
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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas has vetoed a bill that would have required Vermont Yankee to guarantee there's enough money to dismantle the nuclear plant when it shuts down.

Douglas said the legislation would have forced Yankee to charge more for electricity.

But Democrats pounced on the veto, and accused the governor of protecting Yankee's out-of-state owners.

VPR's John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Democrats in the Legislature worry there won't be enough money to safely dismantle Vermont Yankee.

But Douglas says it's not their role to intervene.

In his veto message, the governor said the legislation was irresponsible because it could result in higher electric rates. He said he heard that message loudly and clearly from major businesses in the state.

(Douglas) ``We have agreements now that will carry us for the next few years. But it's naïve to think that this additional obligation wouldn't be passed along to consumers at some point in the future.''

(Dillon) The Legislature stepped into the Yankee decommissioning debate after lawmakers learned of a corporate re-restructuring under way at Entergy, the Louisiana based company that owns the plant.

Entergy wants to set up a new, limited liability company that would own Yankee and other Northeast nuclear plants.

The Public Service Board is reviewing the company's proposal. And Douglas said the Legislature let the board do its work.

(Douglas) ``It's wrong for the Legislature to impose itself during the middle of a regulatory proceeding. There's an open docket at the Public Service Board now. And we should let the PSB handle the very intricate details of the proposal to sell the plant.''

(Dillon) But lawmakers said they were concerned that the corporate restructuring could leave Vermonters on the hook for the cost of decommissioning the plant.

The decommissioning fund now has about $425 million. The cost of decommissioning is expected to be more than twice that amount.

Tony Klein is an East Montpelier Democrat who supported the decommissioning bill.

(Klein) ``Vermonters need to know that decommissioning fund will be whole. That does not mean that we are requiring the company to put up cash. It just means that they have to show us a financial instrument that makes us comfortable that those finances are there if and when they are necessary.''

(Dillon) And Democrats disputed Douglas's argument that the bill would lead to higher rates. Senate President Peter Shumlin said the veto could end up hurting consumers.

(Shumlin) ``It really does mean that ratepayers and taxpayers are going to get stuck with a $400 million to $500 million bill once the governor has left office. And he is allowing a Wall Street scheme, and a very wealthy Wall Street corporation, to break a promise they made when they bought the plant.''

(Dillon) But Douglas said a Public Service Board order from 2002 protects ratepayers from paying for any increased cost of decommissioning. The board also allowed Yankee to mothball the plant until the fund accumulates in value to cover the cost.

The governor's veto is his third this year. Earlier, he vetoed a campaign finance bill and legislation allowing instant run-off voting. Last year, he also vetoed a bill that would have raised taxes on Vermont Yankee.

Douglas is not shy about using his veto authority. He's rejected eight bills since becoming governor in 2003. But former Governor Howard Dean holds the record, with 21 vetoes in his eleven years in office.

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


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