by Angela Chagnon
Governor Peter Shumlin issued a statement April 18th regarding Entergy’s lawsuit against the state of Vermont. In that statement, he makes a few claims that deserve a closer look.
His first claim: “In 1972, Vermont Yankee began to operate after our Legislature voted to allow a nuclear plant to be built in our state under a 40-year license, until 2012.”
Former Vermont state representative Dean Corren, a Progressive with an extensive background in energy science and policy, authored a report in 1999 that outlined the history of Vermont’s power industry. Corren writes that in 1965, then-governor Philip Hoff lost a deal with a Canadian hydropower company, which led to the creation of Vermont Yankee:
“One year later the utilities applied for a permit to build the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station. The plant began operation in 1972, two years late, and at 2.5 times the proposed cost. While the debates on nuclear safety and waste issues raged, the plant operated very poorly in its first three years. In apparent reaction, the 1975 legislature reclaimed to itself from the Public Service Board (which had been renamed in 1959) the authority to approve any new nuclear plants.” (emphasis added)
Corren’s report plainly shows that the Vermont legislature did not have authority to vote on the construction of new nuclear plants until 1975, three years after Vermont Yankee began operation.
This fact is also mentioned in “Chain Reaction”, a book on American commercial nuclear power by Brian Balogh (p.284).
Shumlin also claims:
“In 2006, mindful of its proper role in the process, the Legislature passed a law, signed by my predecessor Governor James Douglas, that clearly outlined the requirements for the continued operation of a nuclear power plant in our state. Entergy’s lobbyists, executives and lawyers all participated in that process – indeed, Entergy expressed its support of that law at the time.”
In his weekly press conference on April 21, Governor Shumlin insisted that Entergy had supported the 2006 law but admitted that he didn’t know if there was anything in writing from Entergy showing their support. He said that it “wasn’t necessary that they do so.”
“You know what it’s like in this building,” Shumlin said, referring to the statehouse. “If someone objects to a bill that is being signed into law by a governor, that affects their industry, they make that known.”
In his statement about the Entergy lawsuit, Shumlin continues:
“When it purchased Vermont Yankee, Entergy clearly agreed that it must obtain a new state license to operate beyond March 2012, and that it would not attempt to claim preemption regarding the state’s licensing decision.”
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by Entergy in 2002 can be found here. State of Vermont, Public Service Board, Docket No. 6545, Page 6 of the MOU clearly states that the license renewal only needed the approval of the Public Service Board. There is no mention of legislative approval:
Board Approval of Operating License Renewal: (…) Each of VYNPC, CVPS, GMP, ENVY and ENO expressly and irrevocably agrees: (a) that the Board has jurisdiction under current law to grant or deny approval of operation of the VYNPS beyond March 21, 2012 and (b) to waive any claim each may have that federal law preempts the jurisdiction of the Board to take the actions and impose the conditions agreed upon in this paragraph to renew, amend or extend the ENVY CPG and ENO CPG to allow operation of the VYNPS after March 21, 2012, or to decline to so renew, amend or extend.
Page 8, under “Additional Provisions” paragraph 4, the MOU authorizes the Board, not the Legislature, to approve the sale of Vermont Yankee to Entergy.
“The parties hereto, including VYNPC and the Department, agree that the Board should approve the transfer of VYNPS to ENVY pursuant to 30 V.SA § 109, and approve the transactions contemplated by the PSA.”
The bill that was passed in 2006, S.124, changed the state statutes, and therefore the terms of the MOU, four years after the MOU was signed.
Richard Smith, President of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, said in a statement issued by Entergy on April 18th:
“The 2006 state law took the decision about Vermont Yankee’s future away from the Public Service Board, a quasi-judicial expert decision-maker, independent of legislative control,” said Smith. “It instead placed Vermont Yankee’s fate in the hands of political decision-makers, namely the state General Assembly and governor who could deprive Entergy’s two subsidiaries of the opportunity to operate the Vermont Yankee plant beyond March 21, 2012, for unsupported or arbitrary reasons. This is not what we signed up for in 2002.”