Thursday, April 10, 2014

PSB and the Certificate: Powerless and Petulant

Spillway at HQ dam
Vermont's source of electricity
On March 28, the Public Service Board (PSB) issued a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) for the final year of operation of Vermont Yankee. I quickly posted a preliminary review of the ruling:  Board Issues CPG to Vermont Yankee through 2014.  In that post, I noted that I had not yet read the entire 97 page document.

So now I have read it.  I think it was an appalling document for a "quasi-judicial" body to issue.  Feel free to read the nearly-100-pages yourself, especially if you want to go through a document page by page, rebutting half the sentences.

The Board Admits to Being Powerless

In August 2013, when Entergy announced it would close Vermont Yankee, many people noticed that the Public Service Board had just lost most of its power over the plant.

Opponents urged the PSB to put as many constraints as possible on the final certificate because it would be the state's last chance to regulate the plant.   Similarly, Vermont Business Magazine wrote that decommissioning of VY was a federal issue, and the state might have very little to say about it. This editorial suggested that a willingness to deal with Entergy in earlier days might have led to a better outcome about decommissioning. (My blog post Looking Back Toward Decommissioning covers this.)

Time went by, and in December 2013, the state and Entergy reached an agreement about the final year of Vermont Yankee's operation and about some aspects of decommissioning.  The agreement was  embodied in the Settlement Agreement and the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). The PSB needed to accept or reject this agreement by the end of March, or the agreement would no longer be valid. (Reasons the Public Service Board  Should Approve the CPG for Vermont Yankee.)

On March 29, the PSB ruled. In its ruling,  the PSB admitted it was pretty much powerless to change the end date of plant operation, anyway. On page 4 of the ruling:  The value of these benefits [benefits of accepting the Settlement and MOU] is complemented by the short duration of the permission we are granting Entergy VY. This limited period of time is likely not longer than the interval of time we would have allowed Entergy VY for winding up its operations had we decided, in the absence of the MOU, to deny the Company's request to extend its time for operating in Vermont.

In other words, the PSB would have to grant VY about the same time to wind up operations whether the PSB ruled for or against the MOU.  So the PSB figured they might as well rule for the MOU, because the MOU included cash benefits to the state.

The MOU specified many payments from Entergy to various funds in the state of Vermont. Shortly after the Board issued the CPG, the first of these payments from Entergy arrived: two million dollars for community development to the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

Powerlessness Turns the Board Petulant

In my opinion, the ruling has many examples of petulance. My paraphrase of the ruling: "They ran that plant and they made power and they paid their taxes and everything....but they did us wrong.  They didn't play fair.  They are not fair partners. They didn't always give us the right information.  No they didn't.  Not every time. Okay, we know, they DID make power, but so what, huh?"

As Will Darlymple at Nuclear Engineering International said: this order was grudging at best, scathing at worst. In contrast, plant opponents were delighted with the tone of the order, as you can read in an opponent op-ed in The CommonsWhat was surprising is how loathe the Public Service Board was to grant Entergy “fair partner” status, as has been widely reported in the press.

The ruling is amazingly repetitive on the theme that Entergy is not a "fair partner" for Vermont.

Page 5 refers to the  The Company's sustained record of misconduct has been troubling to observe over the years and has continued to trouble us as we determine whether to grant Entergy VY a license to operate. If Entergy VY were planning to operate the VY Station for another twenty years as originally requested, its track record may well have led us to find that ownership and operation would not promote the general good.

This focus on Entergy "misconduct" continues on pages 31 to 44. These pages explain that Entergy cannot be a Fair Partner to the state. The "Fair Partner" section is by far the longest section in the ruling, including (page 41) the statement that  This history is troubling and falls well below the level of conduct the Board expects of utilities authorized to conduct business in the State.

In other parts of the ruling, brief sections mention that Entergy paid taxes, made power reliably, gave the state Nuclear Engineer access to the plant, etc.  But the longest section is about "Entergy was not a fair partner."

Not a "Fair Partner" or a Petulant Board?

Well, did the Board have good reason to believe Entergy was not a fair partner?  Or were they just being petulant, as I claim?

The Board's reasons for saying that Entergy was"not a fair partner"  were basically wrong. Entergy was not perfect, but "not a fair partner" is an over-the-top judgement for the flaws that Entergy had. However, it will take at least one more blog post to show this. You can't answer 97 pages in a short blog post!

My follow-on posts are partially drafted.  But like the Board ruling, this present post is....long enough.

UPDATE:  Howard Shaffer has just posted a more complete assessment of the ruling at ANS Nuclear Cafe: A Pyrrhic Victory in Vermont for Nuclear Power?   I encourage you to read it!

1 comment:

Howard Shaffer said...

Great post. The Board was angry. I don't understand their comment that they would have allowed the plant just about as much time to wind down as they asked for.

Technically, the plant can stop any time, and never operate again. How much this costs with operators remaining etc. is a reason to do it in an orderly way.

As I read between the lines, Entergy bought their way out, and got the biggest dollar item: decommissioning only when there is enough money in the Fund. Also, waiting until the plant is officially in decommissioning means to me that moving fuel to Dry Casks will come out of the Decommissioning Fund.