Legislation would shield taxpayers from Pilgrim costs

Published under Fair Use
By Christine Legere
clegere@capecodonline.com
Nov. 18, 2015

John Carlton-FossAttorney James Lampert of Duxbury, talks about the legal aspects of Senator Daniel Wolf's bills. Photo by John Carlton-Foss

John Carlton-FossAttorney James Lampert of Duxbury, talks about the legal aspects of Senator Daniel Wolf’s bills. Photo by John Carlton-Foss

Lawmakers, conservation groups and nuclear plant watchdogs testified before a legislative committee Tuesday, asking members to allow two bills to move forward that would cost Entergy Corp., Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s owner-operator, about $58 million annually in new assessments.

BOSTON — Lawmakers, conservation groups and nuclear plant watchdogs testified before a legislative committee Tuesday, asking members to allow two bills to move forward that would cost Entergy Corp., Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s owner-operator, about $58 million annually in new assessments.

Entergy’s recent announcement regarding its planned closure of the Plymouth plant sometime before 2019 makes passage of the bills even more critical, supporters said.

Both bills before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy were filed by state Sen. Daniel Wolf, D-Harwich, and Tuesday’s speakers, who in the past have focused on the Plymouth plant’s safety issues, kept their testimony focused on economic impact.

Wolf and fellow Sen. Viriato “Vinny” deMacedo, R-Plymouth, opened with joint testimony, alternating as they made their points. Wolf called it a “bipartisan riff to show how joined at the hip we are on this.”

“We believe a collaborative approach reflects our common commitment,” deMacedo said. “Our goal is unified and clear: We must act now.”

Under the provisions of one bill, Entergy would be charged a $10,000 fee for every spent-fuel bundle stored in the pool on the upper floor of Pilgrim’s reactor. Based on the 3,200 assemblies currently in the pool, the annual fee would initially be $32 million.

Those spent rods will ultimately be transferred to massive concrete casks, but until then, assessments would be charged for any assemblies in the pool.

“The bill provides a strong economic incentive to remove the rods in the pool and place them in dry storage,” Wolf said.

Plymouth, as the plant’s host community, would get 30 percent of the spent-fuel assessment, or $9.9 million initially. Fifty percent would be split among 33 towns, including the 15 in Barnstable County, to address plant-related concerns such as emergency planning.

Under the provisions of the other bill, Entergy would be required to pay $25 million annually into a decommissioning fund controlled by the state until all buildings were demolished and the site decontaminated. The purpose of the assessment is to ensure Massachusetts taxpayers don’t end up paying for decommissioning costs.

Currently, Entergy has $890 million in a federal fund, which is expected to be far less than the ultimate cost of decommissioning. Decommissioning will not take place until there is enough money in the fund to cover the cost.

“That 60-year timeline is not acceptable,” Wolf said. “I have a 22-year-old daughter, and I said to her, ‘You’ll be 82 years old when the plant is fully decommissioned.’”

Thomas Joyce, legislative counsel for Entergy, told the committee that if the two bills became law, the company would likely argue they were pre-empted by federal laws, according to Wolf’s senior adviser Seth Rolbein, who was present when Joyce testified late in the hearing.

Spokesman Jerry Nappi initially had said that Entergy representatives did not plan to testify. After the hearing, he issued this written statement regarding Wolf’s bills: “We already have programs and policies in place to cover all his proposals, and we do not support them.”

Wolf had said earlier in the hearing that federal laws are focused on nuclear safety. These bills, he said, were focused on economic impacts to the state’s taxpayers and would therefore not be pre-empted by federal mandates.

“I have been especially careful to put together bills that would address pre-emption issues,” Wolf said. “We do have a right as a commonwealth to pass legislation about economics.”

James Lampert, a lawyer from Duxbury, cited legal cases that supported Wolf’s position regarding the state’s rights. “The Legislature has the right to enact these,” he said. “They are not pre-empted by the U.S. Atomic Energy Act.”

State laws related to economics would not conflict with federal laws that deal with radiological issues, Lampert said.

A strong contingent from the Cape was present for the hearing. More than 30 speakers testified in support of the bills, including representatives from the Sierra Club, MassPIRG, Association to Preserve Cape Cod, Toxics Action Center, Pilgrim Watch and Cape Downwinders. State Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, joked that “half of Cape Cod” was in the room.

“Each of these bills is a funding source for a timely, safe and methodical decommissioning of that plant,” Peake said.

If the joint committee decides to allow the bills to move forward, they will be presented to the full Legislature for action.

— Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @chrislegereCCT.

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