Nuclear advisory panel turns thumbs down on uprate

November 22, 2005

Nuclear advisory panel turns thumbs down on uprate
By Mary Fratini | Special to the Vermont Guardian

posted November 22, 2005

MONTPELIER – In a half-day meeting punctuated by sharp and sometimes personal disagreements, the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel passed a resolution Tuesday recommending that the Public Service Board and Legislature deny Entergy’s request for a power uprate at Vermont Yankee altogether, or approve it only under certain financial protections.

“In simple words, Vermont gets a disproportionate share of the risks of uprate,” said Tim Nulty, of Burlington, the VSNAP member who introduced the resolution. “This is not anti-nuclear in any way, but about protecting Vermont’s vital interest in the continuing reliable operation of this nuclear plant.”

Under the current contract with Vermont Yankee through 2012, the state anticipates an economic benefit of $492 million, primarily through energy cost savings, according to David Lamont of the state Department of Public Service (DPS). “In 2006, every kilowatt hour that Vermont Yankee generates is worth 6.78 cents and we pay only 3.9 cents for it,” he said. “The net present value of the contract is $311 million and that’s a major benefit to ratepayers.”

Under questioning from Rep. Steve Darrow, D-Putney, however, Lamont agreed that if Vermont Yankee were to go offline after the expiration of the ratepayer protection plan in 2007, “these numbers go from positive to negative and we have to pay full price of the market alternative.”

VY spokesman Rob Williams said the reliability question has been adequately addressed in two years of public hearings before the Public Service Board. “The Public Service Board took the time to address the question of reliability, and the decision that the PSB came to was in the best interest of the state of Vermont.”

While VSNAP members agreed that the threat of that economic reversal should Vermont Yankee go offline was important to consider, they disagreed over the potential impact of uprate on reliability and the merits of the independent engineering assessment.

Both Darrow and Russell Kulas cited the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 2004 inspection of the plant as insufficient to support claims of safety or reliability. “The most important risk is that uprate equals relicensing, which equals the production of more high-level nuclear waste,” Darrow said. “What I got from the assessment is that we really need what we asked for, which is a complete top to bottom physical before they soup it up an additional 20 percent.”

Williams said the uprate is getting a full review before the NRC, which is expected to make a decision in February.

Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien, who chairs VSNAP, voted against the resolution, saying, “This to me dismisses the assessment as if it had not value and did not contribute to reliability. All the testimony today is for worst-case scenarios and yet we have a record of operational integrity [at Vermont Yankee] with no indication that it won’t operate for the next six years.”

If the PSB approves the uprate, the resolution recommends that it do so only with a contract protecting Vermont ratepayers against “any loss of power production beyond what would have been the case in the absence of the extended power uprate” and any safety risks that occur from the uprate, even if they fall within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s “safe” ruling.

“I was surprised to hear today from an investor-owned utility that if Vermont Yankee breaks down they will essentially pass through the extra energy costs,” said Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange, before voting for the resolution. “I would be satisfied with saying the numbers don’t add up and they should deny the uprate, but if this board found an option to mitigate the risks by getting this company to bond or indemnify ratepayers, then we will have solved the problem of financial consequences to Vermonters.”

Razelle Hoffman-Contois voted against the resolution, representing Larry Crist from the Vermont Department of Health, as did John Sayles, representing Secretary Tom Torti of the Agency of Natural Resources.

Raymond Shadis
Staff Technical Advisor
New England Coalition

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