In the spring of 2014, Quinn Emanuel won a hard-fought victory for Entergy Corporation regarding the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station (“VY Station”) in Vernon, Vermont, securing a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board that grants the VY Station authority to operate through the end of December 2014, and validates the VY Station’s operation since the March 21, 2012 expiration date of its previous certificate of public good. This victory brings to a close more than three years of litigation concerning the future of the VY Station.
Pursuant to the Atomic Energy Act, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (“NRC”) regulates the radiological safety of nuclear power plants and licenses their operation. The VY Station’s original 40-year federal license was set to expire in March 2012, but the NRC renewed it for another 20 years, through March 2032.
When Entergy acquired the VY Station in 2002, it agreed to obtain a certificate of public good (in effect, a state license) from the Vermont Public Service Board for any post-March 2012 operation. As relations between Entergy and the State deteriorated over the years, the State Legislature attempted to usurp the Board’s authority to issue a certificate of public good for any nuclear power plant in the State by enacting statutes requiring legislative (as opposed to Board) approval for continued operation. Quinn Emanuel first represented Entergy in challenging these State statutes, which the Vermont district court invalidated in a January 2012 judgment that was subsequently affirmed by the Second Circuit in August 2013.
With the statutes invalidated, Quinn Emanuel still had to persuade the Board to issue a new certificate of public good allowing the plant to continue operating. The Board was required under state law to consider whether continued operation of the VY Station would promote the general good of the State of Vermont, giving due consideration to economic benefit from such operation along with, for example, the impact of continued operation on the power grid and the environment. The proceedings included five weeks of evidentiary hearings with dozens of witnesses and hundreds of pages of briefing over more than two years.
In August 2013, during the post-hearing briefing stage of the Board proceedings, Entergy determined that economic conditions (including low power prices as a result of ample natural gas-fueled power) warranted shutting down the plant voluntarily at the end of 2014. Entergy reached a settlement with the State of Vermont that would allow such operation in exchange for certain payments by Entergy, but the settlement still had to be approved by the Board under the “general good of the state” standard. After a final round of evidentiary hearings and briefing, the Board approved the settlement and issued a certificate of public good allowing the plant to continue operating through December 2014 and validating the plant’s operation since the March 21, 2012 expiration date of its original certificate of public good.