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February 23, 2010

Nuclear Showdown in the State Senate

VermontYankeeNPP Don’t expect a giant mushroom cloud to appear over the golden dome in Montpelier tomorrow when the state senate debates a measure allowing for the relicensure of Vermont Yankee beyond its scheduled closing date of 2012.

Check out Seven Days' recent news package examining the Vermont Yankee debate.

It's likely that the senate will vote down the measure, but not before taking up a motion to send the bill back to committees for further review of the economic impact of shutting down the plant in 2012.

In short, though the senate will probably vote against relicensure, I don't suspect this issue will go away anytime soon.

Besides, it's not as if the plant has to shut down tomorrow. In fact, its operators plan to replace roughly 120 fuel assemblies in April. Each assembly lasts as long as four-and-a-half years. Despite the senate vote, which could call into question VY's future, the refueling will go ahead as scheduled.

"The refueling outage will not be affected by the legislative vote," said VY spokesman Larry Smith. "Refuel outage will not be affected by the tritium leak if we do not find it and stop it before that. The plan is to find it and fix it before the outage."

By its own admission, Entergy's drop-dead date for a decision on relicensure isn’t until April 2011. That’s an eternity in politics, and Entergy knows this is not a short-term fight. Vermonters' trust will take months to regain.

It's also a possibility that a negative decision could end up in court.

A WCAX poll last week proves how far Entergy has to go: Nearly half of 400 Vermonters polled say VY should be closed in 2010, with another quarter not sure and only a quarter in favor of giving it another 20 years to operate.

Even if no other measure is taken up in this legislature, another vote could occur in 2011. That’s when a new legislature will be seated, along with a new governor and lieutenant governor.

Hmm ... think this will be a campaign issue?

Backers of both sides of the issue have been stepping up public and media pressure in recent days, as a recent story on Vermont Public Radio noted.

But, right on schedule, VY and its owner, Entergy, proved to be their own worst enemies in the days leading up to the vote.

Yesterday, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission revealed that, in fact, a whistleblower's claim last week about a previous tritium leak was accurate. It's investigating further, as is the state Public Service Department, to determine what other documents on file say about the leak and its repair.

Not only did the leak occur, but it happened in the very spot thought to be the source of the current tritium discharge — pipes in a 3-by-4-foot concrete trench known as the advance off-gas system.

The previous leak occurred in 2005, four years before Entergy officials told the state they had no knowledge of underground pipes.

The report of the leak was contained in a “plant condition report,” said Neil Sheehan, an NRC spokesman.

The whistleblower claimed the leak was temporarily fixed with a sealant until the plant was shut down during a refueling to allow a more permanent fix.

In an effort to stave off the bad press, Entergy released a new energy offer in a last-ditch attempt to sweeten the deal for some of Vermont's utilities. Entergy agreed to provide 2 percent of the state's power needs, or 25 megawatts of power, at the current rate of 4 cents per kilowatt hour for the first three years of its new license. It would provide the remaining power — up to 15 percent of the state's needs — through Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service at 6 cents per kilowatt hour.

Senate leaders said the offer does not answer other concerns about the health of the decommissioning fund or the plan to spin off ownership to a new company.

Among pols, the move to go ahead with the vote is largely backed by Democrats, with one notable exception.

Sen. Susan Bartlett (D-Lamoille) is the only one of the five Democratic candidates for governor who said the legislature should take more time before voting. That said, she still thinks the plant should be closed in 2012 — it's just too soon to vote.

Her four counterparts — led by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin — disagree. Both Secretary of State Deb Markowitz and former State Senator Matt Dunne have been arguing for weeks that the legislature should vote sooner rather than later — and vote to shut VY down. State Senator Doug Racine, too, said the state needs to take action and help VY workers plan for the future, as well as some of Vermont's utilities.

Meanwhile, two Republicans running for lieutenant governor, Sen. Phil Scott (R-Washington) and Mark Snelling, are both urging the legislature to take more time to review the decision. That's the same tack taken by Gov. Jim Douglas and Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie.

The Vermont Senate vote tomorrow on whether to relicense VY for another 20 years is making international headlines.

The UK Guardian has a story on its website today titled "Obama's nuclear vision suffers setback as Vermont plant faces shutdown."

President Barack Obama recently announced billions of dollars in loan guarantees to build new nuclear plants in the United States. The first two are likely to be built in Georgia.

Late today, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Len Britton said he agreed with Rep. Patricia O'Donnell (R-Vernon) that the state should seek federal funding to build a state-of-the-art reactor to replace the aging reactor.

* * *

I'll be doing my best to provide live coverage of the Senate debate via Twitter. You can follow me, or follow the hashtag #vty for all things VT Yankee-related.

To listen to the Senate debate, tune into Vermont Public Radio's live legislative stream.

To watch the Senate debate, tune into Vermont Public Television's website.

The debate is scheduled to begin around 10:30 a.m.

Congrats to Susan Bartlett. Shumlin's insistence on voting tomorrow is a farce. It's nothing more than one of Stalin's show trials. A 100% pure publicity stunt related to his campaign for Governor. What possible harm could there be in waiting for the several reports that are forthcoming? None. This is from the same guy who only weeks ago said the Legislature could never vote in 2010 on the relicensure because it didn't have enough information. But now, without any of the investigations being completed, he suddenly has enough information? What a sick joke.

IF I vote for a Dem for Governor (not likely), the only possible one would be Bartlett.

The rest are pathetic sheep, being led by Shumlin's political nose.

I retract my congratulations. Bartlett ultimately knuckled under to Shumlin and Campbell and VPIRG and voted yes to this travesty.

Congrats to Flory, Mazza, Starr, and Scott. They stood up to Shumlin's crass political grandstanding (i.e., the kickoff to his gubernatorial campaign).

All Vermonters should send their future electric bills to Shumlin, and we should all thank him for the air pollution from midwestern coal-generated electricity that will be replacing the 300 MW we get from VY. The 650 employees who'll be losing their jobs should send their mortgage bills to Shumlin as well, and all union members should vote against Shumlin for Governor.

Our power bills will go up even if Vermont Yankee is relicensed.

Entergy already said that they will raise their rates by at least 50% (likely more).

There is no evidence to show that relicensing the Entergy plant will lower our power bills.

You know nothing about the long-term implications of losing the 300 MW of power we currently get from VY. The price may go up even under a new contract with VY, but do you know that it will not go up even MORE without VY as a possible source? When we negotiate with Hydro Quebec, and HQ knows that VY is not in the picture as a competitor (because we idiotically shot our own foot), do you NOT think HQ will demand a higher price per kwh? If not, you are a naive fool.

And what do you say to the fact that the 300 MW of replacement power WILL come from an out-of-state plant that burns fossil fuel and thereby contributes massively to air pollution and global warming?

If you don't think that this whole thing was about Shumlin and only Shumlin, you are truly sad and naive.

Jesus. Please.

I'm not here to defend Shumlin. I don't like him & never have. Shumlin isn't the issue. Entergy is.

Or is it Enexus now? Because Entergy isn't offering a power contract. Enexus is.

But your claim that the Enexus-Shell-Company is going to save us money if we give them what they want isn't based in fact.

HQ will demand market rates for a new power contract, as will Enexus, as will the New England electric grid operator. With or without Enexus, our power bills are going up.

But Exexus is going to stick us with with a huge clean up bill. HQ won't.

"But Exexus is going to stick us with with a huge clean up bill."

Really? You got anything more than your own bizarre, anti-corporate paranoia for that accusation? No, you don't.

But assuming that it is true, how does that change now vs. 20 years from now?

Answer: it doesn't. 20 years of additional earnings gives Entergy more time to build the decommissioning fund.

All we lose with this idiotic move is 20 years of guaranteed power, and a higher likelihood that we, as opposed to Entergy, will pay for the cleanup.

That's the definition of insanity.

Nothing like shooting yourself in the foot. With your own gun.

Jesus. Please. You don't make any sense at all. You're just Shumlin's unwitting stooge. Congratulations.

Dear Sick in the Head,

The fund for decommissioning will sit in an account for 20 years regardless of whether VY is running or not. In fact it will likely sit for 60 years. So how in your silly little mind are we more likely to pay for the clean-up by shutting it down in 2012?

The ONLY way Vermonters get stuck with this bill is if the Enexus spin-off is allowed to go forward.

You really have no idea what you are talking about so before you throw accusations around about someone being the mouth piece for someone else you should "get the facts" from some other place than the IAMVY website.

We also will not get 300MWs from VY. Do you pay attention at all? They have offered us 115 MWS after 2012. So unless you work for Entergy and know something we don't please stop lying about how much energy we will get from this Louisiana Corporation.

Additionally, to simplify a complicated negotiation like a power contract to "HQ will hold it over our head because we don't have VY" is the truly naive position. I would hope that are just spinning here and know that VT has something they need and want as well. Money!

Every lawmaker in Montpelier (including Jim Douglas and a number of Republicans) is fed up with Entergy's lies and incompetence. Is their behavior "bizarre" and "anti-corporate" too?

As for paying for decommissioning -- even the NRC is on record as saying that Entergy has not provided reasonable assurances that they are willing to pay for the cleanup, should Entergy create the Enexus-Shell-Corporation. Is the NRC “bizarre” and “anti-corporate” too?

Entergy wants to create the Enexus-Shell-Corporation so that they can get out of paying for decommissioning. There is no other reason to set Enexus up.

Entergy is working actively to stick Vermonters with the clean-up bill for this plant -- a plant that would only be supplying us with 10% of our power after 2012.

From the Burlington Free Press:

"The long-term deal offered by Entergy would supply only about 11 percent of the state's current needs, and guarantees no significant price advantage over other sources."

"The fund for decommissioning will sit in an account for 20 years regardless of whether VY is running or not. In fact it will likely sit for 60 years. So how in your silly little mind are we more likely to pay for the clean-up by shutting it down in 2012?"

Because VY cannot add *additional* money to the fund if VY is not operating. Duh.

"We also will not get 300MWs from VY. Do you pay attention at all? They have offered us 115 MWS after 2012. So unless you work for Entergy and know something we don't please stop lying about how much energy we will get from this Louisiana Corporation."

Do YOU pay attention? Where did it say anywhere that the negotiations were final? Where did it say anywhere that that was the final deal? It wasn't. VY and the Vermont utilities were still negotiating. VY even said that that was not necessarily its final position. We could end up with more than the 300 MW we are getting now.

It's you that doesn't know the facts.

>>Because VY cannot add *additional* money to the fund if VY is not operating.<<

The fact is that Entergy hasn't added additional money to the decommissioning fund for a long time. They have no intention of adding any more.

They are looking to stick Vermonters with the bill for cleanup. That's why they are trying to create the Enexus-Shell-Corp.

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