Entergy Files Suit to Stop Vermont From Closing Nuclear Plant Next Year

Entergy Corp. (ETR), the second-largest operator of nuclear power plants in the U.S., sued the state of Vermont to prevent it from shutting down the Vermont Yankee plant next year.

Two Entergy subsidiaries asked for an order from the U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vermont to prevent the forced closing of the plant in March, the New Orleans-based company said today.

Vermont breached an agreement with Entergy when it announced it wouldn’t agree to the plant’s remaining open after March 2012, the company said in the lawsuit. Vermont passed a law in 2006 that transferred authority to approve the operation of the nuclear plant to its General Assembly.

“We believe the state of Vermont changed the rules on us,” Richard Smith, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, said today in a conference call. “We feel we have made every effort to find a resolution without resorting to litigation, but we were not successful.”

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed Yankee’s license this year to operate through March 2032, according to the complaint. Entergy said in the suit that a state may not interfere with the federal government’s “exclusive authority over the operation of a nuclear power plant.”

The suit names as defendants Governor Peter Shumlin, Attorney General William Sorrell and three Vermont Public Service Board members. The board oversees public utilities.

Governor’s Comments

“We think this is an example of a company that doesn’t want to follow the law,” Shumlin said today in a telephone press conference. “The NRC does not believe Vermont doesn’t have authority over the future of its nuclear power plants.”

“We’re going to fight very hard to stop operations in March 2012,” Sorrell said at the press conference. “We hope to have a decision favorable to us from the District Court.”

Entergy entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Public Service Board in 2002 when it acquired the plant, making concessions on energy rates in exchange for approval of the purchase. Entergy said the board has breached that agreement.

The company said it attempted to find a buyer for the plant last year. Smith said on the conference call that the company was unable to reach a deal with interested parties “because of political uncertainty in Vermont, specifically Vermont officials’ stated intent to shut down the plant.”

Operating Since 1972

Vermont Yankee, operating since 1972 as the only nuclear power plant in the state, provides about one-third of Vermont’s electricity, according to Entergy. It also supplies power to wholesale energy markets in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Smith said.

The nuclear plant “emits virtually no greenhouse gases, and provides more than $100 million in annual economic benefits to the state of Vermont,” Entergy said today in a statement. It employs about 650 people.

Entergy is also a supplier of electrical power to Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

The company’s shares fell 55 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $65.97 at 4:03 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The stock has dropped 6.9 percent this year.

Exelon Corp. (EXC) is the largest U.S. nuclear power plant operator.

The case is Entergy Corp. v. Shumlin, 1:11-cv-00099, U.S. District Court, District of Vermont (Burlington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Don Jeffrey in New York at djeffrey1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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