Friday, April 26, 2013

Earnings, Lawsuits, NRC Meeting: Playing Catch-up

So much action, so little time!  In the past few days or coming up soon:
  • Entergy filed its first-quarter earnings report.
  • Entergy sued about the state delaying permission for Vermont Yankee diesel generators.
  • Yearly NRC meeting on Vermont Yankee is scheduled for Tuesday, April 30 in Brattleboro.  
Frankly, each of these could be its own blog post, but that is not going to happen very quickly.  So here's a little catch-up!

More catch-up soon on Howard Shaffer's presentation yesterday to the legislative committee, but that will be its own blog post. His presentation went very well.

First Quarter Earnings

In late March, I wrote a post about Vermont Yankee Financial Analysis: The Write-Down and More.  In this post, I noted that Entergy had taken a "write-down" (decreased the official valuation) on the Vermont Yankee power plant in April 2012, and that an analyst report said that the plant was quite likely to be closed by Entergy.  However, that same report considered the rise in natural gas prices to be "recent rally" caused by some kind of "perceived supply constraint."  The report claimed that this natural gas supply constraint would be easily remedied by FERC and ISO-NE actions. 

At the time, I wrote that I didn't see anything in the Entergy's reports or the analyst report that showed the merchant-generator nuclear plants to be operating at a loss.  Also, I said I didn't believe the rising price of natural gas was a "recent rally" that would be easily fixed. In other words, I believed that the merchant plants were running profitably 

Well, yeah.  I was right.  (Note. I am not in the stock-evaluation business. I just like to boast when I'm right.) 

 The Entergy press release on its first quarter earnings show that earnings went from  $0.44 a share first quarter last year to $0.94 cents a share first quarter this year.  The press release also mentions Vermont Yankee's breaker-to-breaker run.  

Lots more information is available in the earnings report and the earnings call transcript at Seeking Alpha.  The regulated utility business earned $0.69/share (as-reported figure) and the merchant plants earned $0.46/ share. In other words, the merchant plants made a very significant input to Entergy's profitability.

Basically, the rise in gas prices led to these increased profits. Nationwide, gas prices doubled this year: gas prices went from below $2 MMCF in April 2012 to above $4 MMCF in April 2013. Also, there were local supply constraints (very few pipelines). During the cold weather, pipeline constraints led to amazingly high local natural gas prices, and therefore to high grid prices and high earnings for the merchant plants.  No surprises there.  

Most of the earnings call ignored the merchant plants (except for discussing the tragic accident in Arkansas and its implications). The call focused on a planned merger or spin-off or something (I didn't follow it) of part of Entergy's regulated transmission business in the South.

New Lawsuit

Vermont Yankee and Vernon Dam
Also in March, I wrote about Vermont Yankee's need for a new diesel generator: Black start, Intervention and some links.  Vermont Yankee needs the generator in  order to meet the NRC's black start requirements when Vernon Dam is no longer considered a black start facility. (Black start facilities are charged with re-energizing the grid after a major regional power outage.) Vermont Yankee applied to the Vermont Public Service Board for permission (Certificate of Public Good) to install this generator.  I wrote that intervenors had been allowed on the docket, and were complicating and delaying the granting of this certificate.

Well, on Wednesday, the PSB issued a scheduling order which showed that the docket will not be resolved until considerably AFTER the date that Vermont Yankee needs to begin constructing the pad for the diesel. On Thursday (yesterday) Vermont Yankee sued the state in federal court. Entergy said that the PSB was interfering with nuclear safety, a federal mandate. Andrew Stein of Vermont Digger has a good article on this issue: Entergy files new lawsuit against Vermont, this time over diesel backup power permit. 

Update: The Digger article now has a link to the Entergy filing.  Interestingly, Entergy asked TransCanada to keep Vernon Dam as a blackstart facility.  That is, Entergy asked TransCanada to contract with Entergy to keep the dam blackstart-ready (Entergy would pay for this, no doubt). However, TransCanada refused to make this contract.  This info is on page 15 of the document linked above.

NRC Meeting

On April 30, at Brattleboro Union High School, the NRC will hold its annual meeting to discuss its Vermont Yankee safety assessment. The meeting will begin at 5:30 with an open house and follow with a question and answer period. Here's the NRC announcement.

Last year's NRC meeting was very unpleasant, in an atmosphere close to mob rule.  I wrote about it at ANS Nuclear Cafe, with the title NRC Meeting in Brattleboro: The Politics of Intimidation.

Yes.  I am going again this year.  I believe in showing up.
NRC leaving meeting, 2012
Police protecting them from protestors
that had surrounded their seats at the
front of the room

The opponents will show up also, I am sure.  Or not.  I am not so sure. A letter by Nancy Braus in The Commons (Brattleboro newspaper) claims the NRC doesn't listen and is "not our voice."   It claims we have wasted our time preparing questions and sharing our education with  the NRC. The letter is described as follows: This letter is written on behalf of the Safe and Green Campaign, an antinuclear organization comprised of people who live in the evacuation zone around Vermont Yankee.

Personally, I can assure you that the NRC listens to everyone--the letter-writer here seems to think that "listen to us" means "obey us." Oh well.  

Anyhow, the fact that the letter was written "on behalf of" the major local anti-nuclear campaign makes me wonder whether some of them will boycott the meeting, and maybe there will be less intimidation this year.    I hope so.

Update: Whoops. I was wrong. It's the opposite of a boycott.  I just looked at my home-town paper, and the campaign is running a carpool from White River Junction to Brattleboro for the meeting.  So I expect a big opponent presence at the meeting. There may have been carpools other years, but if so, the carpools weren't announced in my local paper. 

1 comment:

Mary Gerdt said...

Thanks for keeping us on top of things. Sad the NRC needs security guards. There is a framework of laws in the U.S. precisely because there is so much extreme emotion about Nuclear power. An Anti Nuclear Campaign cannot supplant legal and statutory rules and statutes.Be careful. Mary