Monday, November 9, 2015

Why You Can't Trust the State of Vermont to Oversee the Decommissioning Fund

Crystal ball
The State Foresees the Future and Provides Insults

The State of Vermont insists that it needs to have oversight of Entergy's Vermont Yankee Decommissioning fund. They have often asked for a "seat at the table" when fund disbursements are planned. The state recently petitioned the NRC, asking the NRC to investigate Entergy's finances, and whether or not Entergy would have sufficient funds to decommission Vermont Yankee.  NRC turned down that petition, but the state is back at it.

On Friday, November 6,  groups within the state government (the Attorney General, the Department of Public Service) along with Green Mountain Power, brought a new petition. This new petition to the NRC attempts to limit usage of the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Fund.

While the earlier petition pretty much asked for an investigation, this new petition can best be described as insulting.  Here's a quote from the petition, according to VTDigger's State Ramps Up Pressure on NRC to Review Yankee Spending:

"Considered together, Entergy’s actions threaten to undermine the radiological decommissioning work that is the very purpose of the fund,” the document says. “Unless the commission intervenes, Entergy will divert hundreds of millions of dollars from their intended purpose.”

Wow.  "Entergy will divert." Crystal ball time!  Actually, what Entergy will do is that Entergy will follow all the rules and the guidelines of the NRC. But the state doesn't like that. The state could write: "Hey, NRC, we don't like your guidelines and rules." Instead, the state leads off with an insult directed at Entergy. (Vermont Business Magazine also has a lengthy article on this new petition.)

I Review the Past and Hope the State is Foiled

I found this "[Entergy] will divert millions of dollars" funny, because I have a sick sense of humor sometimes.

Let's say I was required to rank Vermont's ability to oversee projects: say I had to rank Vermont's project oversight on a scale from one to ten.  I would give the state a negative-five rating.  Vermont wants to oversee how Entergy spends its funds?  Is this a joke?

You don't have to dig very deep to come up with huge examples of inadequate project oversight by the state of Vermont. I will give a short list, along with one or two links for each example. Each of these situations has a long and well-documented history.  I could be here for two days, inserting links.

Lousy Project Management by the State of Vermont

Vermont Health Connect

This is the big one. The Shumlin administration wanted to bring single-payer to Vermont, and so it didn't sign up with the federal government for an Affordable Care website. Other states obtained and customized the federal website, and got their Affordable Care websites going fairly quickly, and at reasonable cost.  Vermont decided to build its own software, which didn't work and cost over $200 million.  At this point, we are trapped because, after all, who else can maintain this custom software?

Costs go to $200 Million.  VTDigger.
Trapped in Expensive Quicksand.  John McClaughry of Ethan Allen Institute.

Vermont Public Service Board Commissioners
Margaret Cheny, Chairman James Volz, Sarah Hofmann
Vermont Gas Systems Pipeline

This is big, also.  Basically, Vermont Gas Systems (part of Gaz Metro) proposed a pipeline that was supposed to cost $80 million dollars.  Pipeline technology is comparatively straight-forward: this is not a first-of-a-kind project. The estimated costs have now risen to $150 million, to be paid by Vermont ratepayers.  This cost increase would have put the state Public Service Board  (which approved the project) in a bind where they might have to take some action.  Instead, the administration and Gaz Metro did a de facto end run around the Public Service Board, signing a Memorandum of Understanding and getting the Public Service Board off the hook. AARP is very upset about the effect on ratepayers.

AARP accuses Vermont of End Run in MOU with state. VTDigger

Entergy funds for Windham County Development

This is not so big, but somewhat indicative. In its agreement with the state concerning the last months of Vermont Yankee's operation, Entergy promised to send the state $2 million per year, for five years (total $10 million) for Windham County economic development.  The state has received $4 million of these funds, and I believe is due to receive another $2 million sometime in the next two months.

The state is sitting on most of these funds. So far, it has awarded around $800,000. The Governor makes the final decision on all awards. The Governor says he didn't award the money because the proposals just weren't good enough. If I lived in Windham County, I might find this insulting.

Inadequate project management by the state? Or inadequate proposals? Or the state being comfortable by keeping an extra few million in the bank for a while?  Whatever reason the state has for not-releasing those funds, the funds are currently not-growing the economy of Windham County.

State Reboots Application Process for Entergy Money. Times Argus

My request to the NRC: Please don't let the state of Vermont be the project managers  for the decommissioning funds.

End Note: Project Management and me

I have years of experience and interest in project management. I managed small projects at Acurex, back in the late 70s. In the early 80s, I joined the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), where my title was "Project Manager."  At EPRI, first I managed projects in the renewable division, and later in the nuclear division.  I left EPRI to go into business with a friend. The name of the business was Crescent Project Management.  I think it is still going, but my friend and I went our separate ways, business-wise. Then I started Fourth Floor Databases, Inc. As president of that company, I competed for, won, and managed many projects for utilities. I closed the company after eleven years.  Meeting a payroll in a small business is very stressful.

Nevil Shute
More recently, I have been very interested in the author Nevil Shute. He was a working engineer, a business owner, and an author. In September of this year, I gave a talk at the Nevil Shute Society conference in Oxford. All the talks at the Conference are posted here, and here is a direct link to the audio for my talk: Nevil Shute for Project Managers


Rick Maltese said...

i wanted to add this as evidence of mismanagement

Guy Page said...

Rick and Meredith, Great Points - since when is SOV an expert on actually running big projects at or under budget?