Judge allows Entergy's warm river discharge

By Susan Smallheer Herald Staff

May 24, 2008

BRATTLEBORO — Entergy Nuclear can resume discharging heated water into the Connecticut River this summer, according to a decision by Environmental Court Judge Merideth Wright released Friday.

However, Wright imposed conditions on the discharge and didn't grant the nuclear company its full request. She said Entergy couldn't discharge the 105-degree water until July, and ordered that the company install temperature sensors at the Vernon hydroelectric dam, which is downstream from the Vernon reactor.

Under Entergy Nuclear's state discharge permit, it can discharge up to 543 million gallons of up to 105-degree water, as long as the temperature of the Connecticut River didn't rise more than 1 degree, higher than 76.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

Entergy is now prohibited from discharging the heated water from March 15 to July 7 and further raising the river temperature, to lessen any impact on migrating Atlantic salmon and American shad. Entergy had wanted to start discharging the warmer water on May 15, and continue to October.

Entergy Nuclear spokesman Robert Williams said in an e-mail Friday afternoon that the decision was a good one and was under review by the company.

"We received good news late this week from the Vermont Environmental Court, which conditionally approved our request to increase the river temperature limit by one degree over the previous limit," wrote Williams.

Patrick Parenteau, senior counsel for the Environmental Law Center at Vermont Law School, which was representing a consortium of environmental and anti-nuclear groups, said there were immediate grounds in Wright's decision for an appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Groups involved in the case are Connecticut River Watershed Council, Trout Unlimited and Citizens Awareness Network. New England Coalition had its own attorney.

Parenteau said that it appeared to him in reading Wright's 40-page ruling that she didn't address many of the key issues raised during last summer's lengthy two-week hearing on the issue.

The environmental groups maintain that Entergy Nuclear's practice of discharging ever-warmer water into the Connecticut River was having a big impact on the life of the fish in the river.

Entergy Nuclear's main impetus for discharging the warmer water into the Connecticut River is to save money, said Parenteau. If the company doesn't have to use its cooling towers as much, it can put more electricity onto the grid, he said.

Parenteau said that Entergy Nuclear was spending millions of dollars to fight the lawsuit, and spent $1 million alone on just consultants last summer. He said that didn't include the 10 mostly Boston-area lawyers who litigated the case against Parenteau and law students at Vermont Law School.

David Deen, the river steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council, said that Wright's decision ignored the impacts of a 50-mile-long plume of higher temperatures in the river that reached Holyoke, Mass.

"We're still talking with the Environmental Law Center on the legal questions," said Deen, noting there would be an appeal.

The environmental groups believe that Wright did not correctly apply the provisions of the Clean Water Act.

Williams said that Entergy Nuclear's request was based on "scientific, peer-reviewed data gathered on the river since before the plant's operation."

"The small leeway granted on temperature limit will help ensure the plant's reliable output during the warmer summer months for the region's electric consumers," Williams said.

Half of Vermont Yankee's output of more than 600 megawatts is used in Vermont, with the other half sold to out-of-state utilities.

Contact Susan Smallheer at susan.smallheer@rutlandherald.com.

Source: The Rutland Herald