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Originally published Friday, November 5, 2010 at 3:12 PM

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Vt. Yankee nuclear plant sale faces hurdles

Entergy Corp. has less than 17 months to find a buyer for the troubled Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, close on a sale and get approval for the plant's new owner from federal and state regulators.

Associated Press


Entergy Corp. has less than 17 months to find a buyer for the troubled Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, close on a sale and get approval for the plant's new owner from federal and state regulators.

New Orleans-based Entergy announced this week what many had expected: It wants to sell its small New England nuclear plant that has become a giant headache.

The plant needs a license extension to operate past 2012, but a poisoned political environment for Entergy makes state approval look unlikely. That would leave Entergy faced with the prospect of covering the cost of mothballing the plant instead of making money from the energy it generates.

The company faces a March 21, 2012, deadline. If it hasn't won the needed state and federal approvals for its request to continue operating the Vernon reactor for another 20 years or sold the plant to a new owner, it must shut down.

"It's definitely a tall order," said David O'Brien, commissioner of the Vermont Public Service Department.

Entergy spokesman Chanal Lagarde said the company is optimistic.

"Yes, we can close the deal," Lagarde said. He noted that just 11 months elapsed between when Entergy agreed to buy Vermont Yankee in August 2001 from the group of New England utilities that had owned it previously and the closing of the sale on July 31, 2002.

This time, things are much more complicated.

In 2002, there was broad agreement between the administration of Gov. Howard Dean, lawmakers, regulators and the state's utilities that selling Vermont Yankee was a good idea.

In 2010, Gov.-elect, Peter Shumlin wants to see Vermont Yankee close down in 2012. And the state Senate in February voted 26-4 against extending the plant's license.

Meanwhile, Vermont Yankee is still mopping up after leaking radioactive substances into groundwater and soil around the plant. And powerful anti-nuclear groups see their main chance to meet their longtime goal of shutting the plant down.

Sandra Levine, a lawyer for the Conservation Law Foundation, on Friday called Thursday's announcement from Entergy that it planned to sell Vermont Yankee "a last-ditch effort to obtain some sort of regulatory approval" for extending the plant's license until 2032.


"The change in ownership alone is meaningless," she said. "All the things that would need to be done in order for the (Public Service) Board to approved continued operation seem highly unlikely to happen in the next 17 months."

On the to-do list:

- Select the winning bidder from the multiple companies Entergy says it expects to hear from. Lagarde said personnel from potential buyers are expected to be doing "due diligence" - showing up in Vermont to look at the plant, its books etc. - in the coming weeks.

- Negotiate terms of the sale with that buyer.

- Submit the proposal for sale to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state Public Service Board. Efforts by anti-nuclear groups to scrutinize and perhaps stop the sale would be expected to slow the process, especially before the Vermont board.

Then there would be the matter of going back to the Legislature. Vermont is the only state in the country with a law that gives legislators the ability to prevent regulators from issuing a nuclear license extension.

Democrats held a 23-7 majority in the Senate when it voted 26-4 against re-licensing Vermont Yankee. Tuesday's election trimmed that majority to 22-8. In the heavily Democratic House, Speaker Shap Smith has been critical of Vermont Yankee. Rep. Tony Klein, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, has been one of the plant's toughest critics in the Legislature.

A key obstacle for Entergy that also could trip up a new owner is that many Vermont lawmakers have conditioned their potential support for continued operation of Vermont Yankee on the state's utilities being able to get power from the plant at favorable prices. Entergy's efforts to negotiate a power sale agreement with the Vermont power companies past 2012 have been fruitless so far.

There's also the problem of the plant's decommissioning fund. Shumlin this week estimated it is $600 million to $1 billion short of the more than $1 billion that will be needed to dismantle the plant and haul away its radioactive components. He supported legislation requiring Entergy to shore up the fund, which was vetoed by outgoing Gov. Jim Douglas.

O'Brien said he believes Vermont Yankee can remain open if lawmakers and regulators decide that's what they want to see happen.

"It certainly can be accomplished if people want to come together on this, and I think the possibility is there," he said.

James Moore, energy advocate with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, was much more skeptical that Entergy and any potential buyer will be able to meet the 17-month deadline.

"Permitting a wind farm in Vermont takes three to five years," Moore said. "Selling an old nuke that has lots of problems and lots of concerns I think would be a fairly long process."

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