Monday, January 23, 2012

Beyond the Federal District Court Decision. Guest post by Howard Shaffer

When it bought Vermont Yankee in 2002, Entergy agreed to apply for Certificates of Public Good from the Public Service Board. It applied for and received certificates for a power up-rate and for used fuel storage in dry casks. It also applied for a certificate for operation after March 21, 2012.

The Public Service Board held hearings on the certificate for continued operation, and these hearings were apparently completed. Thus, the Board is ready to either issue a certificate or refuse one. I expect the Board will not act until the Attorney General reviews the District Court decision and officially advises the Board what actions it may take. Then the Board would either issue a Certificate of Public Good, issue one with conditions, or refuse to issue one.

There are a number of factors the Board may consider while deliberating on whether to issue a certificate. Let us evaluate some of these.


One thing the Board cannot consider is safety!!

The environment

The plant has a forty-year record showing no negative effect on its environment, as is required by its license. No basis here for "not in the general good."

The water quality permit

The Public Service Board and plant opponents are suing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission claiming that its extension of Vermont Yankee’s license was invalid because the application did not contain proof of compliance with the Clean Water Act. The plant currently operates under an extension of its water quality permit from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

To us non-lawyers, this is a murky business. If the plant’s current permit is not valid, why does the State let the plant operate? On the other hand, if the plant does have a valid permit, why sue the NRC? Moreover, if the claims in the suit are valid, how come there was no action on this during the five years the NRC was considering the license extension? In the end, it is difficult to see why this is the business of the Public Service Board rather than of the permit issuer, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

If the suit fails, there is no basis for a negative finding because the plant is still required to obey the terms of the permit without any Board intervention. If the suit succeeds, then the status of the water quality permit becomes irrelevant.


Vermont utilities will be buying no power directly from Vermont Yankee after March 21, so the price of its electric power is irrelevant. The price of electricity for Vermont rate payers will be based on the wholesale market rate determined by the grid operator. Part of this grid power will be from Vermont Yankee, and its wholesale price will be higher than the contract price paid before March 21. Vermont utilities have made no new contracts with Vermont Yankee, apparently expecting the plant to close down.

Vermont ratepayers may, however, benefit from the agreement made at the time Entergy purchased the plant. Vermont utilities will get half the profits realized at any wholesale price above 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

Vermont Yankee has a large payroll and purchases many services in Vermont. In addition, the plant pays a large part of the cost of the Emergency Plan for the area around it. Brattleboro and neighboring towns are required to have a plan because of the railroad, among other things. It seems the Board could find that the economic impact of Vermont Yankee is positive.


The plant has been very reliable. Reliability affects the price the plant has to charge, and this affects profits. Lack of profits would mean that the revenue expected from the above 6.5 cents sales would not be received. It would seem that possible lack of expected, but not guaranteed, revenue is not a basis for a finding of “not in the general good.”


There have been no complaints of noise or other esthetic problems. The plant erected a fence to hide the Dry Casks from being seen from the river, the far shore, or the field north of the plant. It does not seem there is a basis for finding negative esthetic effects.


The history of actions and legal obstructions by plant opponents may cause the Board to require improved communication with the public as a condition of granting a Certificate of Public Good.

Examining the Court’s Decision

The news has carried stories since the District Court decision reporting that State agencies are researching ways to prevent plant operation. It remains to be seen what “rabbits will be pulled out of what hats.”


Anonymous said...

VY should be relicensed and the State of VT Should use t he 20 years to get serious about renewables so we don't end up in the same place in another 20 years.

Anonymous said...

No matter how "serious" you get about renewables, you can't beat the laws of physics. Sources like wind and solar are limited by their physical nature. It gets dark at night, and not every day, especially in places like VT, is a sunny day. The wind doesn't always blow. Those are diffuse energy sources. You have to build an enormous number of structures to gather them in sufficient quantities to be of use. And even when you do, all you've got is an intermittant, variable energy source that will not be there when you need it more so than it will. A poor investment all around.