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January 27, 2010

Entergy Tells Miffed Regulators: "This Company Gets It"

PSBHearing The state's top utility regulators — the three-member Vermont Public Service Board — took the unusual step today at a hearing of expressing strong displeasure with Entergy for providing incomplete information and misstatements to the board, the state, the legislature and the public.

"I know Entergy has heard this already, but they should hear it anyway — such conduct is unacceptable," said PSB Chairman James Volz, who read a prepared statement at the onset of the hearing.

The PSB has several requests, including one by the state's public utility watchdog, the Public Service Department, to reopen Entergy's case to relicense Vermont Yankee beyond 2012, owing to recent revelations that Entergy lied to regulators under oath.

Volz said it appears as if Entergy has "provided false information for an extended period of time."

"I, and the other two members, are deeply concerned by the accuracy of the information Entergy has provided," said Volz.

Entergy's misstatements to the PSB and others, coupled with the current tritium leak, raise questions about operational reliability, the cost and timing of decommissioning Vermont Yankee, the adequacy of the decommissioning fund and Entergy's managerial and technical competence.

"This board is dependent on Entergy providing timely and accurate information," said Volz.

PSB member David Coen told Entergy that one of the major claims supporting VY's relicensure — an economic benefit to the state — was severely undermined by the allegations of misleading the public, coupled with the coinciding tritium leak.

"There is a sense of insecurity and no confidence," said Coen. "So keep that in mind. There is no price that is high enough for the trust of Vermonters."

An attorney for Entergy, John Marshall of Downs, Rachlin and Martin, said top officials at the company are being kept closely apprised of all regulatory proceedings — and will be given a transcript of today's hearing.

"This company gets it; it knows it's on the line here, and it is determined to get to the bottom of what happened," said Marshall.

He said when Entergy completes its review of what is causing the tritium leak, and also of what led the company to mislead regulators last year about the existence of underground pipes, it will make the findings public.

"The company understands that its credibility and trust is in question, and that is why they have ordered a thorough investigation," said Marshall.

Entergy also disclosed to the PSB that, before the recent revelations of the tritium leak and its misstatements, it was preparing to file a revised power purchase agreement with several of the state's utilities. That filing is now on hold, said Marshall.

The PSB will require Entergy to re-examine all transcripts and filings connected to its request to operate VY beyond 2012 and file a complete list of inaccuracies and corrections. The company will also be asked to file a list of corrected or amended statements to replace the previous comments.

When Entergy provides that list, the board will set aside time for the parties involved in the case to examine the replacement language and ensure that Entergy's proposed corrections are accurate.

Several parties to the case wanted to ensure the PSB would give them time to review Entergy's proposed corrections.

"We can't keep relying on information provided by Entergy," said Jared Margolis, the attorney for the New England Coalition. "We want to be sure there is full opportunity for discovery and cross-examination."

The Conservation Law Foundation reiterated its call for Vermont Yankee to prove to the board why it shouldn't shut down immediately, given its current problems.

Marshall countered that, if Entergy was a threat to the public's health and safety, state or federal regulators would have called for it to be shut down by now — and none of them have made that call.

The hour-long conference included attorneys for Entergy, the Department of Public Service, the New England Coalition, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Central Vermont Public Service, Green Mountain Power, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, and a representative from the Windham Regional Planning Commission.

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