BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (CN) – Entergy, an energy giant that operates an aging nuclear generating plant on the Connecticut River, sued the governor of Vermont on Monday in a pre-emptive strike meant to stop the state from enforcing a law that gives it permitting power over the Vermont Yankee power plant.
Vermont is the only state that claims it should have a hand in relicensing a nuclear power plant.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March approved Entergy’s application to relicense the 600-egawatt plant for another 20 years beyond its original license expiration date of March 12, 2012.
Entergy and Vermont Yankee caused a furor last year when the plant was found to be leaking radioactive tritium. The power plant’s location, so close to the Connecticut River, a major Northeast waterway, also caused alarm in New Hampshire and downstream states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut.
It took Entergy weeks to find the source of the leak and try to stop it, during which time Entergy was caught in a series of less-than-truths, repeatedly contradicting its own statements, week after week, and sometimes day after day. The fiasco – which was extended when more leaks were discovered, reactivated political pressure from environmentally conscious Vermonters.
When Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, was elected governor in November 2010, after 8 years of Republican rule, political pressure on Entergy increased.
Entergy tried unsuccessfully to sell Vermont Yankee last year; the relicensing problems were believed to be a major stumbling block.
The heart of the lawsuit is Vermont’s Act 160, which the Legislature passed in 2006. The law gave the Legislature the power to prevent the Vermont Public Service Board from issuing a certificate of public good for the nuclear power plant, which is necessary for Entergy to keep operating it in Vermont.
Entergy’s federal complaint against Gov. Shumlin and the Vermont Public Service Board claims that only the federal government and the NRC – not the states – have the power to regulate nuclear power plants.
Shumlin ran on a platform that included calling on the NRC to refuse to relicense Vermont Yankee, which has had other problems in recent years, including the sudden collapse of a wall near a cooling tower.
In its federal complaint, Entergy claims it has an outstanding safety record, and says the output from the single plant “is sufficient to meet approximately 75 percent of Vermont’s energy demands, and its capacity of over 600 Megawatts (‘MW’) of power is almost 12 times the capacity of the next largest generator in the state. It employs approximately 650 people and has in recent years paid to Vermont approximately $13 million per year in taxes and other fees.”
Entergy adds, in its 34-page complaint: “(T)he Vermont Yankee Station has an outstanding operational record, having completed 532 days of continuous operation in April 2010, pausing only to refuel and to perform required maintenance, inspections, and tests. According to a 2008 study of the Vermont Yankee Station commissioned by Vermont’s Department of Public Service, ‘Overall, many station managerial and technical areas meet or exceed industry standards for performance. The station is operated and maintained in a reliable manner.”
After pointing out that the NRC relicensed Vermont Yankee on March 21 this year, Entergy adds: “Alone among the fifty states, however, Vermont has enacted laws asserting its authority to control the operation of an existing federally licensed nuclear power plant in Vermont (of which there is only one in Vermont, the Vermont Yankee Station). Vermont asserts that it has authority, irrespective of any federal license, to grant or deny a ‘certificate of public good’ (‘CPG’) to the Vermont Yankee Station, and asserts that without such a state-issued CPG the Vermont Yankee Station may not continue to operate.”
Entergy claims Vermont created a new power for itself, and changed the rules of the game in 2006 by passing Act 160.
But Shumlin said in a Monday press conference that that would be “a tough argument to make to a judge.”
Shumlin said that Entergy claimed to support Act 160 when the Legislature passed it, and that Entergy’s lawsuit “flies in the face” of the promises the power company made to Vermont.
“I think it’s a tough argument to make to a judge.” Shumlin said. “‘Your honor, we didn’t tell the truth about the underground pipes, we didn’t tell the truth about supporting the legislation that [former Gov. James] Douglas signed that gave the Legislature the authority to determine whether or not the power company’s a public good. How many times are they going to tell us they didn’t mean what they said?”
Shumlin added: “Entergy is now attempting to rewrite history, breaking its own promises and its own support of Vermont law. Instead of following Vermont law, Entergy seeks to subject the taxpayers of Vermont to an expensive legal proceeding.”
Shumlin’s comments were widely reported in Vermont, including by the Brattleboro Reformer, a 6-day-a-week newspaper that has tracked Vermont Yankee and its problems closely. The nuclear plant is in Vernon, which borders Brattleboro on the south. The nuke plant is about 5 miles from downtown Brattleboro.
According to Entergy’s lawsuit: “The question presented by this case is whether the State of Vermont, either through a state administrative agency (the PSB) and/or the state legislature (the General Assembly) may effectively veto the federal government’s authorization to operate the Vermont Yankee Station through March 21, 2032. The answer is no.
“Vermont’s attempt to shut down operations at the Vermont Yankee Station through regulatory or legislative denial of a CPG is preempted by the federal Atomic Energy Act.”
Entergy seeks declaratory judgment, an injunction and costs. It is represented by Matt Byrne, with Gravel and Shea, of Burlington, and Kathleen Sullivan with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, of New York City.