Prettyfying the Porker

Brad Ferland has been, and I assume still is, a paid lobbyist for Vermont Yankee; so it surprised me to find his opinion piece occupying the paper’s editorial position in the Weekend Messenger.

Be that as it may, Mr. Ferland raises the question of why more members of the public did not show up for the January 14 Public Service Board Hearing on Vermont Yankee.   Mr. Ferland seems to think that the forty citizens who did testify represents a negligible number; but be that as it may, I know why I did not, so I can hazard a guess why others did not as well.

The hearing was held on a Tuesday at 7:00 PM.    Leave aside the fact that it was a work night for most of us, and the driving conditions were less than ideal, many people had other meetings and obligations on the night in question. That is why the PSB collects statements through a link on their website, from people who are unable to be physically present.

Mr. Ferland fails to mention that one of the key issues under consideration by the PSB, is the fact that Vermont Yankee prefers to save itself some money by not using the facility’s cooling towers in order to bring its water discharges to a temperature that will not harm aquatic life in the Connecticut River.   Continued operation by VY under these circumstance, even for a year, has an impact on our already fragile river resources.

The settlement that Mr. Ferland refers to so glowingly, may not be all that it’s cracked-up to be.  Much of the supposed “benefit” to Vermont comes from a chunk of cash that is supposed to be used to promote economic development.  “Economic development” funds often find their way into already well-lined pockets, and seldom seem to reach the folks who are most in need of help.

When this veil is stripped away, Vermont really does come out on the distinctly losing side of the bargain.  And the potential for that loss grows even greater the longer that Entergy postpones decommissioning of Vermont Yankee; because the parent company is not as robust as one might hope for an entity that must be trusted decades ahead of time to finish the job properly in our childrens’ lifetime.

Entergy’s quality and safety control reputation has suffered numerous blows over the past couple of years, but none more spectacular than when they blacked-out last year’s Super Bowl Game!

And we are counting on these folks to keep a lid on the pressure cooker at VY far into the distant future?  If I were a betting woman, I would put my money on Vermont Yankee slipping out from under that obligation with some kind of sleazy financial sidestep.  

Talk about allowing Entergy time to grow the decommissioning fund makes me laugh.  They’ve had forty years of extremely profitable operation in which to cultivate that fund.  All that remains fairly certain is that the taxpayers of Vermont will, inevitably, be stuck with much of the bill for cleaning-up what Entergy leaves behind.

“Economic development” funds?  Chump change.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

29 thoughts on “Prettyfying the Porker

  1. to becoming weary of all things nuclear which is why I admire those still bringing to the forefront these issues. Thanks Sue.

    Fukushima is a disaster of such epic proportions it is heartbreaking to even think about. Children will suffer harm they do not even know about. Suffering Japanese ppl just like us cannot speak publicly of the reality of what is taking place. Physicians are gagged along with everyone else. Whenever a personal crisis hits it becomes the straw. It’s depressing to say the least.

    I think of the hard work of those fighting the good fight —  ed,, Deb Katz (was privileged to give her a big hug at a rally — we were just leaving as we walked by I just felt compelled to give her a hug & personally acknowledge & thank her her contribution & sacrifice for the hard work & contribution to all of us she has made. She is a great speaker & hard dedicated worker, Bob Stannard made excellent points & also was a dedicated voice, Gary Sachs, & Ray Shadis, NECP who has been on the job since before VY opened I believe. There are so many more including the dedicated writers here at GMD esp Julie, and of course Maggie & Arnie — now world renowned nuclear experts.

    As soon as I wrote the diary about Entergy (supposedly?) throwing in the towel I had this thought — if Entergy cannot be believed or trusted how the hell do we know if they do indeed plan to close the plant at all — or are simply buying time until the artificially propped up fracked gas industry — the reason which appeared hastily cooked up —  finally succumbs to the forces of the “free market” as they are making zip for profit. Another great reason to pull subsidies from the carbon industry. A well known Vernon resident has made the comment also in letters to editors.

    I have heard of mothballed plants with another newer plant operating on the same site. Patty O’Donnell once said that the site was originally planned for two plants.

    Unsure of who made this point but antinuclear groups such as NECP & the one Deb Katz is involved with “CAN” had asked NRC to investigate Entergy’s ability to be sufficiently funded for its operations & they quickly announced their intentions to fold ’em. Hmm.

    Soo, if they get a CPG to operate until what, a few months or a year or so from now can it be used to make a case to reopen & start all over in one form or another?

    We don’t know — we don’t really know anything. I do not trust some of the actors in this drama even those who negotiated the “deal” as it gets smellier each time someone pro or con remarks on the issue.

    Vt. Yankee parties can pull out of decomm. agreement if March deadline not met  

    Jan 03, 2014, By Susan Smallheer

    Staff Writer Rutland Herald, (here)  

    MONTPELIER — The state of Vermont or Entergy can walk away from the $70 million decommissioning agreement reached two days before Christmas if the Public Service Board doesn’t make a decision on Vermont Yankee’s future by the end of March.

    paywalled but can be read here:

    PSB member questions Entergy exec’s credibility


    February 01,2014

    MONTPELIER – A member of the Public Service Board asked a high-ranking Entergy Nuclear executive a question Friday that, he said, dozens of Vermonters had asked him last week.

    “You’re asking us to trust you again,” said outgoing PSB member David Coen. “Why should we?”


  2. this debacle

    added emphasis:

    Entergy’s quality and safety control reputation has suffered numerous blows over the past couple of years, but none more spectacular than when they blacked-out last year’s Super Bowl Game!

    While watching it all from their “mink lined sky box” at the game thoroughly debunking the “safe, clean reliable meme forever.

  3. I spent seven hours, Thurs & Fri last week, at the Public Service Board, listening to cross examination of representatives from Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee (ENVY), Vt Dept of Public Service (DPS) and Vt Agency of Commerce/Community Development (VAC) concerning a new Memorandum of Understanding and Settlement Agreement (MOU & SA) relating to the closing, radiological decommissioning & storage of spent-fuel (DECON), site restoration (SR) of Vermont Yankee. (PSB docket #7862.)

    This MOU was negotiated during late Autumn without the involvement of several groups (intervenors) that have been party to the last five years of testimony and discussion concerning these matters. Vermont Public Interest Group (VPRG), New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution (NEC), Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC), Windham Regional Commission (WRC), Conservation Law Center (CLC) and Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance (VYDA) were excluded from the negotiations — you could say those groups understood themselves to have been blindsided when they received notification of the new MOU in late December, as the MOU Agreement cover letter from the PSB to the PSB clerk dated December 23rd explicitly notes:

    “The Department has notified the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the Windham Regional Commission, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Vermont Natural Resources

    Council/Connecticut River ‘Watershed Council, and New England Coalition of this development.

    Copies of this letter, the MOU and the Settlement Agreement are being served on each party identified on the Service List.”

    During the last two years, the PSB had been considering a conditional Certificate of Public Good (CPG) to ENVY to allow continued operation of the nuclear station at the end of its previously-scheduled shutdown, beginning March 12, 2012. Vermont Yankee has of course been operating continuously since that date, with intermittent shutdowns for repair and/or maintenance without having ever having received that conditional CPG – activity which can certainly be seen as out-of-bounds operation under the terms of the original MOU of 2002, if not, according to some, illegal under Vermont state statute. (Entergy had agreed, in an MOU with the PSB negotiated at the time of purchase, not to operate beyond the plant’s original license [March 12, 2012] without a new CPG in place.)

    The new MOU (link below) has all the appearance of an all-or-nothing  deal, with a zero tolerance of “material alteration” for change or fine tuning on the part of the PSB. It reserves to ENVY the option to walk away from the MOU should the PSB place any performance benchmarks on the corporation, for example, the PSB might place on the CPG. Testimony by Mr Toomey (ENVY) gave the PSB fair warning that if the MOU was tampered with in any “material” way, the company would exercise its legal right to appeal — which would easily take all participants through the scheduled end of operation (12/31/14) and well into what should be the beginning of DECON activity. Pre-emptive issues which none of the intervenors nor the PSB are or will be allowed to address include: permit application to the NRC to commence DECON and SR; removal of spent-fuel currently held in wet storage to dry-cask storage; and construction of a second facility for the additional spent-fuel to be withdrawn from the reactor at the end of power generation. (There are currently over 900 tons of spent-fuel on site.)

    Activity of this sort has been a consistent characteristic of ENVY’s behavior as a so-called “Fair Partner” of the State of Vermont since the issue of extended-life operation of the plant was first proposed. The slow dance between ENVY, PSB & DPS continues as it began — in an MOU of 2002, Entergy agreed not to seek to extend the life of the VY past its mandated close date of march 12. 2012.

    Three major areas of concern are involved:

    1) The MOU indicates ENVY and no other entity will conduct a radiological site survey, possibly beginning next summer, to be commpleted on or about December 31 2014, in order to assess the extent and estimated cost of DECON.

    The urgent need for an independent radiological site survey and DECON evaluation, rather than allowing ENVY to conduct its own survey per the new MOU, has been urged on the PSB by numerous witnesses during the Jan interactive television event as well as by the intervenors last week, each of whom noted that there has been no indication, given past behavior and performance, that a survey done by ENVY would be either complete or entirely trustworthy.

    2. The requirement that ENVY begin shutdown with the decommissioning fund (estimated at $600-800 million) be completely full and liquid within a 120 days of close of operation so that a permit request to the NRC for DECON can be made.

    Unfortunately, the PSB and (DPS) gave Entergy permission at the time of purchase to allow the DECON fund to accrue value through investment rather requiring Entergy to contribute to the fund over the lifetime of operation. In return, ENVY assumed responsibility of 100% of the decommissioning costs.

    In 2014, the fund is woefully short, by many millions of dollars, of the amount needed for even the initial phase of DECON. As far back as 2009, the PSB articulated serious concerns about the relative financial strength of the shell company, Enexus Corporation, o which Entergy had proposed transferring control of operations and eventual DECON of Vt Yankee. The US Department of Energy (DOE) is technically responsible for costs associated with storage and handing of nuclear fuel in all stage of its life. The DOE has been sued by every nuclear facility in the country for recovery of such costs over the past fifteen years and has yet to make good on its reimbursement obligations.

    According to the new MOU, ENVY will be the sole abiter as to the suitability of DECON funds and will base its decision regarding when a permit for DECON will be filed with the NRC on internal (and therefore completely opaque) financial considerations of the corporation. Any attempt by PSB to attach conditions or oversight on that internal decision will be considered by ENVY to be a “material alteration” to the MOU.

    3. The Agency of Natural Resources, in concert with a several other environment oversight groups, recommended in the strongest terms last August that that the Vt Yankee follow a mode of thermal cooling by closed-cycle circulation for the duration of its final year– meaning no further intake and discharge of river water — a cessation of the plant’s thermal pollution of the Connecticut River which has had a documented damaging effect on aquatic biota.

    (Doing so would likely have been a deal-breaker for Entergy as the cost of using the cooling towers exclusively for the next twelve months, even at the reduced rate of generation at which Mr. Toomey said the plant would be operating, has been estimated at $22 million.)

    According to the MOU, the issue is not up for discussion. It was very clearly a point of concession granted by the ANR and DPW during closed-door negotiation.

    Time and time again during the two days, Chris Recchia of the DPS plaintively insisted that as disadvantageous as the MOU may seem, “It’s better than the alternative.” It took nearly three hours for someone (Dumont of VPRG) to finally ask, “What is the alternative?” Mr. Toomey said the same in his turn, but put the sentiment more in the way of a promise, let us say.

    The alternative is nothing. No semblance of cooperation or “fair partner” conduct. ENVY holds all the cards. They will play the end game according their rules and evolving business plan. The PSB, on behalf of the state of VT, really hasn’t a pot to piss in with regard to enforcement of the terms of the MOU. I noted visible disgust reflected in the faces of two of the commissioners at times during Mr. Toomey’s cross examination.

    links below to MOU, SA and appropriate pre-trial testimony concerning docket #7842 can be found here:

  4. for elevating this rather limited diary with a comment stream that is so rich in pertinent information that it quite outshines the original thought.

  5. was touched upon at the end of a back & forth Dumont of (VPIRG) had with Toomey (ENVY) last Friday.

    (The following line of questioning is not verbatim — for that you need to visit the PSB and take a look at the official transcript, once the court stenographer has submitted it.)

    Dumont: Paragraph 5 of the MOU speaks to the matter of “Good Faith,” yes?

    Toomey: Yes, with regard to DECON and site restoration.

    D: In your opinion, does “Good Faith” entail any legal obligation?

    T: “Good Faith”…does not have a legal basis. It is our intention, however, to follow the terms of the MOU.

    D: Does an “intention” entail an “obligation?”

    T: Not necessarily.

    D: Do you think it would be reasonable for the Board (PSB) to include benchmarks for the [Site Assessment and application for DECON permit] process and consequences for non-compliance or belated progress?

    T: Not necessarily.

    D: Paragraph 7 talks about “objective standards.” Would you have an objection to an amendment which would require binding arbitration in the case a disagreement arose between the Board and ENVY at any point regarding “objective standards?”

    T: No. No amendment to the MOU is acceptable. It is complete as it is. Any amendment [concerning arbitration] would not be consistent with public interest.

    D: Is it your opinion that if Board insisted on, for example, arbitration, it might enter into the area of pre-emptive issues.

    T: It’s likely.

    D: Would you agree to a clause allowing the State to appeal to the NRC in the event the State disagreed with ENVY’s Site Assessment — in the event the state felt that the Site Assessment was not proceding in a timely manner [and so delaying application to NRC for DECON]?

    T: No. No “free floating” conditions would be acceptable. ENVY is the sole licensee — it [ENVY] will be the sole party involved in making application for DECON.

    D: Mr Toomey, are you an employee of Entergy Corporation?

    T: I am an employee of Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee and of Entergy Wholesale Operations.

    D: You are officer of ENVY and of EWO, right?

    T: Yes.

    D: Does that make you an employee of Entergy Corporation?

    T: I don’t know.

    Later, Shaddis (NEC) and Toomey had the following exchange:

    S: Will money for post-operation [after closure] management expenses come from the DECON fund?

    T: Yes.

    S: Isn’t there a law concerning unjust or unreasonable compensation to the trustee of a trust?

    T: Yes. But ENVY is not the trustee.

  6. Check out the column by Richard Davis on Vernon’s running to the legislature for help with its tax rate. Davis writes about something others have been too polite or afraid to say publically: Vernon is a greedy town. Excellent commentary. Deserving of its own GMD post.

    PS I’d add to his comments the fact that VELCO continues to pay even more property tax to Vernon than VT Yankee did. See Windham Regional Commission Post-VY Resiliency Action Plan, page 4.…  

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