VY’s New Discharge Permit: An Artful Dodge

After a long and challenging examination of the question, Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources has issued what seems to be the final  thermal discharge permit of Vermont Yankee’s operating life.

The decision navigates a narrow ledge of compromise, recognizing the flaw in the existing formula, which has allowed Entergy to represent themselves as compliant when they have not always been, but not replacing it entirely for the brief duration of VY’s operating life.

even though the agency concluded that the formula submitted in support of Entergy’s 2005 application was inadequate, because the plant will be closing at the end of the year, it will allow the plant to operate under the assumptions of the formula, but with conditions.

To put it simply (and I’ll leave it to the scientists to give a more accurate explanation) Entergy has been allowed to extrapolate an “average” water temperature from deep areas in the Connecticut River to represent VY’s overall discharge temperature.

Of course, shorelines, where the richest systems of life tend to be active, are also the shallowest areas.   Thermal discharges to the river in general would result in increases to the temperature of those shallower and more biologically active regions that would exceed the temperature measured in a deeper zone.   The difference might be as much as five to seven degrees, which is highly significant to sensitive river populations.

The ANR is acknowledging the error in Entergy’s thermal discharge model,  but allowing it to remain in place for the remaining months until VY’s planned shutdown.

Entergy had requested that the limits established in its discharge permit be modified so that it might avoid the expense of powering its cooling towers.  The ANR permit is tailored to give both sides of the argument a margin of victory.

New conditions of the permit included changes in allowable water temperature increases due to plant discharge in the spring and the fall… The summer limits were not changed, said (ANR Secretary) Markowitz.

She says that, under the circumstances, it is unlikely that Entergy will be forced to use its cooling towers; but the overarching verdict on the company’s science is clear:

“The draft permit upholds the Connecticut River Watershed Council’s contention that bad science underwrote the thermal discharge limits in the previous permits,” stated a press release issued on Wednesday.

It looks like the decision may be one that both sides can live with.

Though no one is saying so, faced with the likelihood that getting Entergy to do the right thing on decommissioning will be a long and expensive legal process, it appears that ANR is already shrewdly picking its battles.  

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This seems like an appropriate time to announce to my friends at Green Mountain Daily that, as of this month, I have the pleasure of becoming a part of  the Fairewinds Energy Education team.  I will continue writing on all kinds of topics on Green Mountain Daily; but, when I write on the subject of nuclear energy, I will be sure to remind my readers of that association.

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.

6 thoughts on “VY’s New Discharge Permit: An Artful Dodge

  1. all covered quite thoroughly during two days’ testimony at the PSB, this spring.

    In August ’13, ANR had recommended in the strongest terms that Yankee follow a mode of closed-cycle circulation to cool the plant for the duration of its final year– meaning no further intake and discharge of river water; a complete cessation of the plant’s thermal pollution of the Connecticut River, for which there is ample documention concerning the damaging effect it has had and continues to have on aquatic biota.

    According to testimony given by Mike Twomey, ENVY VP of external affairs, at that hearing, the issue of closed-cycle circulation is simply not up for discussion. It was very clear, during that testimony, that closed-cycle circulation had been a point of concession granted by the ANR and DPS during the closed-door negotiation of the MUO last autumn. This smiley-face statement by Ms Markowitz is meaningless.

    I use the word “concession” advisedly. There was no real give and take on that or any other aspect of operation & decommissioning that I could discern. The answer by Mr. Twomey to any question “what-if” by ANR, DPS or VPIRG was basically a shrug and a warning not to monkey around the with the MUO or else all bets were off.

    As I noted here in April, under the MUO there are no alternatives (to this and sundry other issues). ENVY will continue to play the endgame according their own rules and evolving business plan.

    (n.b. according to Fairewinds, agreeing to closed-cycle cooling would likely have been a deal-breaker for ENVY as the cost of using the cooling towers exclusively for the plant’s last year of operation, even at the reduced rate of generation, had an estimated cost of $22 million.)

    by the way, congratulations, Ms Prent!

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