Entergy Corp. on Monday asked a federal court to stop Vermont from closing its Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant next year. Federal nuclear regulators last month extended the plant’s operating license by 20 years, but Entergy still requires a state permit.

Vermont is the only state that requires approval from both houses of Legislature before the state can extend a nuclear operating license.

Entergy received a nuclear license approval for the Vermont Yankee plant from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on March 21 after what the company called a “thorough and exhaustive five-year safety and environmental review of the plant.”

Filing for declaratory and injunctive relief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, the company said it had made “every reasonable effort to accommodate” the sate and its officials.

 “Despite the fact that Vermont Yankee is important to the reliability of the New England electric transmission grid, emits virtually no greenhouse gases, and provides more than $100 million in annual economic benefits to the state of Vermont, it has been made clear that state officials are singularly focused on shutting down the plant,” Richard Smith, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities. “That has left us with no other choice but to seek relief in the court system.”

In 1972, Vermont Yankee began to operate after Vermont Legislature voted to allow a nuclear plant to be built under a 40-year license, until 2012. In 2006, the state’s General Assembly passed a law that outlined the requirements for continued operation of a nuclear power plant in the state. Last year, the state Senate voted 26-4 to block the plant from operating past March 2012, when its state permit expires.

Entergy, which bought the plant from a group of New England utilities in 2002, said the 2006 law violated a key provision of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by Vermont officials and other parties at the time of the plant’s purchase.

“Under that provision of the MOU, Entergy’s two subsidiaries had agreed to seek a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board if it sought to operate the plant beyond March 21, 2012,” the company said. “This was in accordance with the process and standard for securing the state certificate in effect at that time. As the complaint alleges, Vermont repudiated the MOU, breaching that agreement and excusing the two Entergy subsidiaries’ obligation to further comply with that specific provision.”

But in a statement released on Monday, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin (D) said that Entergy was “breaking its own promises” and support for the 2006 Vermont law. “Instead of following Vermont law, Entergy seeks to subject the taxpayers of Vermont to an expensive legal proceeding,” he said. “When it purchased Vermont Yankee, Entergy clearly agreed that it must obtain a new state license to operate beyond March 2012, and that it would not attempt to claim preemption regarding the state’s licensing decision.”

Shumlin claimed that the Public Service Board relied upon that promise when it allowed Entergy to purchase the plant. “Yet now, as March 2012 approaches and the state license is not in hand, we see Entergy’s executives breaking their agreement and their word once again,” he said.

Entergy said, however, that it did not support the 2006 state law, which “took the decision about Vermont Yankee’s future away from the Public Service Board," a quasi-judicial expert decision-maker, independent of legislative control. As Smith added: “It instead placed Vermont Yankee’s fate in the hands of political decision-makers, namely the state General Assembly and governor who could deprive Entergy’s two subsidiaries of the opportunity to operate the Vermont Yankee plant beyond March 21, 2012, for unsupported or arbitrary reasons. This is not what we signed up for in 2002.”

Sources: POWERnews, Entergy, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin