APNewsBreak: Entergy to put Vt. Yankee on market

MONTPELIER, Vt. --Entergy Corp. will announce this week that it plans to sell the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, confirming months of speculation and perhaps beginning a new chapter in the contentious relationship between the plant and the state, according to a top Vermont utility regulator.

David O'Brien, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said Entergy Corp. officials told him they planned to announce that they were seeking a buyer for the 650-megawatt reactor.

"My understanding is that there is an impending announcement that they are in fact pursuing a sale of the plant," O'Brien said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Plant spokesman Larry Smith said, "I can't comment on market rumors." Officials at the plant in Vernon in Vermont's southeast corner have declined to discuss a possible sale, which has been the subject of speculation in the energy trade press.

The announcement by New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. was expected to come the same week Democrat Peter Shumlin was elected governor. Shumlin is a staunch critic of the plant who called for the plant to close when its current license expires in 2012.

Shumlin is moving up from his position as president pro tem of the Vermont Senate, where he orchestrated a February vote to block the issuance of a state permit to go with the 20-year federal license extension that Vermont Yankee has been seeking.

Shumlin did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

The Senate vote followed an announcement in January that tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is produced by nuclear plants and has been linked to cancer when ingested in large amounts, had been found to be leaking into soil and groundwater around the plant on the banks of the Connecticut River.

Also in January, company officials acknowledged they had provided misleading statements to legislators and in sworn testimony before the state Public Service Board when they said the plant did not have the sort of underground pipes that carried radioactive materials.

O'Brien said Vermont Yankee is a strong performing nuclear plant rated well by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and industry peer groups. He said its biggest liability is the political environment in a state with a powerful anti-nuclear movement and where the incoming governor and key legislators are longtime critics of it.

"Certainly the political environment that's developed in recent years in Vermont is a cause for concern for any potential bidder," O'Brien said. "That's real. That I would say is the largest hurdle" to a sale.

But he said he hopes a way can be found to keep Vermont Yankee running. "There's a lot of value there that I think it would be foolhardy on the state's part to dismiss."

Rep. Tony Klein, a Democrat from East Montpelier and chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said he was skeptical that Entergy will be able to find a buyer that could run the plant at a profit.

He said lawmakers would demand that, if it were to be relicensed, the plant sell electricity to Vermont utilities at favorable rates; that it beef up the fund set aside to pay for the plant's eventual dismantling by $600 million to $1 billion; and that it increase its contributions to a state renewable energy development fund.

"Why would anybody buy that plant?" Klein asked. He called the planned sale "almost an act of desperation to see if they can change the landscape when the Legislature returns in January." 

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