Vermont Yankee — Hanging by a Thread

Sandy Levine | @CLFLevine

photo courtesy of Shannon Henry @ flickr.com

The past few weeks have not been kind to Vermont Yankee or its owners. Investment analysts continue to raise doubts about Yankee’s economic future. It is costing more to run the plant and its future looks bleak.

In Vermont, hearings began last week before the Public Service Board on whether state approval should be granted. Entergy’s four – that’s right, four – law firms are packing the hearing room, but the plethora of high-priced lawyers are having a hard time showing that Vermont will be better off to keep the plant running. Much of their time is spent raising objections and claiming nearly every matter is out of bounds, and cannot be considered by the Board.

The Board must decide if continued operation is in Vermont’s best interests. Matters of radiological safety cannot be considered by the state board, but matters of economics, power supply and the environment are fair game.

During the first week of hearings, Vermont Yankee’s witnesses were on the stand. It was an impressive collection of corporate executives, economists, professors and power professionals. Their testimony had been previously submitted in writing. The hearings allowed the Board and the parties to ask questions.

Just like the tired old plant, the questions revealed real cracks in Vermont Yankee’s claims. One of Entergy’s top executives acknowledged “very serious issues” regarding “misinformation” about the existence of underground pipes at the plant in 2010. He also acknowledged a number of past incidents where penalties had been imposed for failing to follow required rules.

On power supply, the plant is not needed for reliability. The lights will still stay on without Vermont Yankee. There is an excess of power available in New England and the growth in renewables alone over the next decade is greater than the total output of Vermont Yankee.

When asked about environmental problems at the plant, Entergy’s executive confessed he is not an expert on environmental law noting he took that class “Pass/Fail” in law school. Too bad. Vermont deserves better.

Hearings continue February 19 at the Vermont Public Service Board, and are expected to finish February 25. The Board has asked for additional Entergy witnesses to explain how it has complied with prior commitments and also about events that happened in 2010. The State of Vermont, Conservation Law Foundation and the other parties will then make available their witnesses who will answer questions about power supply, the environment and economics.

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