The state Senate yesterday passed a Vermont Yankee decommissioning bill that is a significantly watered down version of one that passed the House, but which still requires the current owners of the Vernon nuclear power plant to cover the cost of decommissioning the plant, whenever that might be. The House version requires that Entergy fully fund the decommissioning within 10 years if the plant closes in 2012.Entergy is seeking to renew the license for another 20 years. Because of the long period of cool-down and actual dismantling of the plant, much of the money Entergy intended to pay for the decommissioning is coming from investments, which were expected to grow substantially over several decades. However, those investments have suffered as the stock market plummeted over the last year; the expected decommissioning costs have risen; and Entergy announced last year that it wanted to spin off some of its older plants, including Vermont Yankee, into a new company.The Senate legislation is intended to ensure that if the company is spun off, that the plant’s owner – not the state of Vermont or its ratepayers – is still required to bear the cost of decommissioning. However, Central Vermont Public Service Director of Public Affairs Steve Costello pointed out that in the original terms of the sale to Entergy, as approved by the Vermont Pubic Service Board after much deliberation, required that the owner of the plant be responsible for the decommissioning and that under no scenario would Vermont be left with decommissioning the plant. Costello said that very point was one of the reasons that the local utility owners, including CVPS and Green Mountain Power, as well as state regulators, wanted to sell the plant.“The NRC has complete authority to order plant owners to put money into the decommissioning fund whenever it feels the need, and complete authority to enforce decommissioning obligations on its owner – whoever that is,” Costello said in an email to VBM. “They’ve never let an operator walk away from its obligations. We believe the bill and the House version are unnecessary and will only serve to complicate negotiations on a new power contract and could even result in an early shutdown.”In a prepared statement, Senator Ann Cummings, Chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, said: “When Entergy Corporation bought Vermont Yankee they promised Vermonters that they would be responsible for the costs of decommissioning the plant. We want to make sure that Entergy Corporation keeps their promise to Vermonters.”As for the new contract, Costello said, “We continue to talk, but I can’t say when we’ll have a contract proposal to release. We remain hopeful, however, that we will come up with an agreement that provides benefits to Vermont.”The decommissioning bill, H 436, requires that if Vermont Yankee is sold, the Public Service Board (PSB) must determine that its decommissioning fund has the capacity to pay for the clean up of the plant upon the closing of Vermont Yankee. If the fund is adequate, the PSB will require nothing further. If the fund is inadequate, Entergy will be required to either add funds or supply a letter of credit or other guarantee to shore up the fund. When decommissioning does occur, H 436 assures that the fund will be adequate to cover all costs, regardless of whether the corporation that owns the plant is financially strong or not. The decommissioning bill will be taken up for third reading in the Senate today. If passed, as expected, it would go to conference committee to resolve the differences with the House version.