Legislature and Vermont Yankee reach deal

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(Host) Legislative leaders and Vermont Yankee have reached a deal that allows the nuclear plant to move forward with plans for a nuclear waste storage site in Vermont. Both sides praised the agreement, saying it means the plant will continue to provide low-cost power through 2012.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The agreement caps weeks of behind the scenes negotiations between Entergy and lawmakers.

Under the deal, Entergy-Vermont Yankee will pay $2.5 million dollars a year through 2012, when the plant’s license expires. The money would go to a renewable energy fund that would help jumpstart clean energy projects.

The annual payment fee is less than what a House bill would have charged Entergy, the company that owns Vermont Yankee. The House bill imposed a $4 million-dollar charge, plus additional fees.

Senate President Peter Welch said the lower figure was reached in the spirit of compromise.

(Welch) “Did we get as much we wanted? The answer to that is no. Did we get more than was originally offered? Yes. Is this a benefit for Vermont? Absolutely. Keep in mind that this is not going to result in a single mil higher in energy rates, and has the prospect with the successful clean energy fund to bring our rates down.

(Dillon) The agreement essentially means Entergy will increase the amount it’s already promised to pay the state for boosting power production by twenty percent. The total is now twenty-eight million dollars through 2012.

But Entergy doesn’t have to pay anything if it doesn’t go ahead with the uprate, or if it fails to win approval for the power plan from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Entergy had warned that new taxes or fees could make the plant uneconomical. Some lawmakers clearly took that as a threat that the company would shut the plant down if it were forced to pay more.

But Entergy Vice President Ken Theobald says the company never threatened to close Yankee. He says the deal is fair for all sides.

(Theobald) “That’s the conversation that we had. This conversation has always been about fairness, about moving forward in an appropriate way. And that’s what we were committed to, and with the help of leadership in the committee, we believe, we hope we’ve reached that agreement in principle, that provides economic benefit for the people of Vermont and will allow us to operate this plant safely through its current license.”

(Dillon) On the legislative side, the negotiating team was led by Representative Robert Dostis, the Waterbury Democrat who chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

Unless its license is extended, Yankee is scheduled to close in seven years. And Dostis says the additional money from Yankee will help develop other energy sources in the future.

(Dostis) “A future where more electricity will be produced in-state from sources that are clean and renewable. It leads us towards a Vermont where increased energy efficiency is a priority, a Vermont where our economy is strengthened and good jobs are created by a strong renewable energy industry.”

(Dillon) The legislation that puts the deal into effect still has to be approved by both the House and the Senate. But one key obstacle has been removed: the Douglas Administration now says it supports the agreement.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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