Vermont Yankee

A flock of Canada geese gathers on a patch of ice on the Connecticut River with Vermont Yankee in the background in this file photo.

VERNON, Vt. — After more than two years of debate, deliberation and negotiation, Vermont Yankee has a new owner.

Entergy on Friday announced that it had completed the sale of the idled Vernon nuclear plant to NorthStar, a New York-based cleanup company that will undertake an accelerated decommissioning project.

The culmination of the NorthStar deal ends Entergy’s tumultuous, 16-and-a-half-year run as owner and operator of Vermont Yankee. And it clears the way for an unprecedented project that could leave most of the site cleared and restored as early as 2026, and no later than 2030.

“Now that the transaction with Entergy has closed, NorthStar and its industry-leading decommissioning team can move forward with our plan to safely and efficiently restore the Vermont Yankee site to conditions suitable for productive economic use decades ahead of schedule,” said Scott State, NorthStar’s chief executive officer.

In a news release, Entergy said the sale “is a major step toward the safe, timely and efficient decommissioning of Vermont Yankee and is a positive outcome for the town of Vernon, Windham County, the state of Vermont and other stakeholders.”

Entergy received state approval to purchase Vermont Yankee in June 2002 and stopped producing power in Vernon at the end of 2014. The company’s tenure in Vermont was marked by high-profile struggles with the state and with anti-nuclear activists, as well as a tritium leak scandal.

But Entergy also received strong, consistent backing from its host town of Vernon and provided substantial support to nonprofit organizations and community organizations in Windham County.

Ultimately, when Entergy announced its decision to close the plant, the company cited economic reasons rather than any regulatory or political friction in Vermont. The company also is planning to shut down other nuclear plants in New York, Massachusetts and Michigan.

In Friday’s announcement, Entergy noted that it is “making progress on its corporate strategy of exiting the merchant nuclear power business.”

Meanwhile, NorthStar is looking to create a new line of business for itself. While the company has extensive experience with industrial cleanups and has worked on nuclear projects, NorthStar never has taken the lead on a nuclear cleanup the size of Vermont Yankee.

The transaction itself is a novel arrangement: Entergy noted that “the sale is a first of its kind in the nuclear power industry — a permanent ownership and license transfer to a company that is slated to perform timely and efficient decommissioning and site restoration.”

Both the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Vermont Public Utility Commission conducted lengthy reviews of the Entergy/NorthStar sale. While there initially was skepticism about whether NorthStar had the expertise and wherewithal to do the Vermont Yankee job, a March 2018 settlement included new financial and cleanup commitments from NorthStar and changed the perspective of many critics.

On Friday, Gov. Phil Scott lauded the state public service, environmental conservation and health departments, as well as the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and the attorney general’s office, for their roles in shaping that settlement deal.

“This is a great day for the people of Vernon, Windham County and Vermont. The (sale) agreement will shave decades off the decommissioning timeline and return the site to safe and productive reuse as quickly as possible,” Scott said. “The state initially had concerns that Entergy and NorthStar were not willing to make sufficient financial commitments to this process in order to protect Vermonters. We pressed the companies to address our concerns, and we are pleased with the end result.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the transfer of Vermont Yankee’s license to NorthStar in October. State approval of the sale came Dec. 6, and the two companies were able to finish the deal in little more than a month’s time.

NorthStar paid a “nominal amount” of $1,000 for the plant. NorthStar also assumes liability for the debt on Vermont Yankee’s recently completed, $143 million fuel move, though the companies expect that the U.S. Department of Energy will cover that cost due to the government’s failure to create a storage facility for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel.

NorthStar also takes ownership of the plant’s site restoration and nuclear decommissioning trust funds. The companies did not disclose the size of the decommissioning trust fund as of Friday, but the account contained $506.7 million at the end of October.

As part of the sale deal, Entergy had promised to put additional money into the decommissioning fund if the account fell below a certain threshold. But that turned out to not be necessary.

“The transaction closed on terms consistent with the companies’ previously disclosed financial commitments and assurances, and no contribution to the nuclear decommissioning trust was required,” Entergy said.

State has said NorthStar will “get moving quickly” on decommissioning. The first priority is removing the plant’s reactor, a job that will be handled by subcontractor Orano USA.

The company also has pledged to be “good partners and good citizens” while working in Vernon.

“Our work at Vermont Yankee will serve as a model for decommissioning other retiring commercial nuclear reactors around the country,” State said in a prepared statement issued Friday. “In the years ahead, NorthStar and its team looks forward to building on the constructive relationships we have already formed with local officials, regulators and other stakeholders to ensure a successful decommissioning process.”

State added that “NorthStar greatly appreciates all the hard work that Entergy invested to bring this transaction to a successful culmination.”

While Entergy no longer owns the Vermont Yankee plant, the company hasn’t departed the area entirely.

Mike Twomey, external affairs vice president for Entergy Wholesale Commodities, said the company maintained ownership of the landmark Governor Hunt House outside the plant’s front gate. The property’s future isn’t clear, but Twomey said Entergy “respects its local historic significance.”

Entergy also still owns an office complex and former training center on Old Ferry Road in Brattleboro. The properties have been assessed by the town at a combined $4.5 million, but Entergy has not yet found a buyer.

“The future of these properties has not been determined,” Twomey said. “Entergy has some employees in Vermont with corporate and regional responsibilities.”