An expert in the field of environmental liability transfers has testified that the proposed sale of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant will leave the public at risk for environmental liability.
The Proposed Sale
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant shut down in December, 2014. It had been active for 40 years. The plant’s current owner, Entergy, wants to sell the plant by the end of the year. The proposed sale is under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Vermont Public Service Board.
NorthStar Decommissioning Holdings wants to buy the closed Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Northstar claims that it can dismantle and decommission the plant much faster than the timetable that Entergy planned. NorthStar claims that it can decommission the site by 2030, which is decades earlier than planned by Entergy.
Numerous parties have expressed concern about the sale. State officials have said that the deal “raises numerous, thus-far-unanalyzed health, safety and environmental concerns.” The New England Coalition has argued that NorthStar is “pitching an untested method,” that it can’t guarantee a good outcome for the environment, and that it may run out of money before the work is done. Bill Irwin from the Vermont Department of Health has stated that, “There is a significant risk that, if approved, the sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar will lead to a shortfall in the amount of funding available to fully and safely decommission and radiologically decontaminate Vermont Yankee and manage its spent nuclear fuel. . . . This would place public health, safety and the environment at risk.”
The Public Utility Commission held a hearing on the proposed sale of the Vermont Yankee plant.
Under review is a recent settlement agreement between the state office that represents the ratepayers, Entergy, NorthStar, and several intervenors. The proposed settlement agreement provides that NorthStar will provide and additional $30 million plus payments totaling $25 million in escrow to pay for unanticipated costs. NorthStar also agreed to obtain a pollution liability policy with $30 million in coverage and a $140 million “support agreement” where NorthStar’s parent company will provide additional funds as needed. Entergy agreed to put an additional $60 million into a site restoration trust fund and an additional $40 million by 2023 if certain conditions are not met.
The Conservation Law Foundation has argued that sale of the plant could cause problems for taxpayers and the environment. The foundation brought Michael Hill to testify in support of its argument. Michael Hill is an attorney, insurance broker, and expert in the field of environmental liability transfers. Hill is critical of the proposed settlement package.
Hill testified that the additional insurance policy that the parties to the sale agreed to is insufficient to cover all of the potential liability issues involved. He said, “To present this to the commission, as something that should change its mind in terms of financial assurances, is in my opinion and speaking bluntly and under oath a terrible thing to do. . . . I think the commission would be very ill-advised to accept this as any sort of evidence of any sort of protection.”