From the Courtroom to you: Day 1

Update from James Moore, VPIRG Clean Energy Program Director

From the Courtroom to you:

The first day of the Entergy vs. Vermont court case was a roller coaster.  I went in with great optimism, feeling that the law is on the state’s side and that justice will prevail.  Then I met Entergy’s corporate lawyer team.

But at the end of the day all was well and I would score it Vermont 1- Entergy 0.  You can read my full report from the day or just skip down to the THIS IS WHERE IT GETS GOOD section.

Let me tell you, their lawyer team is a well oiled machine.  Justice be damned, these guys are good.  Six of them sit at the main table, with a paralegal sitting behind them passing notes to and from another whole bench of lawyers.  Every document they needed was seemingly at their fingertips before they even asked for it.

The day started with opening statements.  Entergy outlined the case that legislators were only concerned with safety.  The state outlined that in fact this case is about broken commitments from a bad corporate actor.

Entergy’s first witness was the head of Entergy Nuclear.  The bulk of his testimony was focused on Act 189 which called for a comprehensive reliability assessment of Vermont Yankee.  He pushed the idea that the state was looking at safety related parts of the reactor so they had to be concerned with safety alone.

When cross examining the witness, the state did a good job using documents from the NRC to show that even the NRC recognizes that there is significant overlap with safety and reliability.  If it is turned off for safety reasons it isn’t exactly reliably producing power now is it.

Entergy’s second witness was stronger.  His goal was to build the case that Entergy was being required to offer below market rates for permission to operate in Vermont, violating the interstate commerce clause.  The state failed to raise the fact that they were offering ABOVE MARKET rates, not below and that is why they couldn’t get a deal with our utilities.  Entergy did succeed in getting a lot of unsubstantiated hearsay into the case because the state was slow to object.

Lunch Break: this was a welcome break as the seats in the room are worse than church pews and I had to leave my cell phone with the security guard (horrors, to be cut off from the world)

After lunch Entergy read some weak statements into the record of their lobbyist saying Vermonters were concerned about safety and one of their executives saying most conversations included safety.

Then the state called their first witness, Bill Steinhurst.  So now I’m excited, this should get good.  I’m thinking the state is going to take it to them now.

Two and a half hours later I had checked out from listening to the witness droll on and was drafting VPIRG’s comments to the public service board regarding whether or not the state should adopt a an RPS this coming legislative session.
Things were looking a little bleak, but at the very end of the Mr. Steinhurst’s testimony he made a couple key points that went uncontested by Entergy:

  1. The financial strength of energy companies is carefully considered by regulators and always has been. (Recall Entergy’s attempt to spin off VY into a junk bond status company…)
  2. The entire utility regulatory scheme is based on trust, without trust the whole thing would fall apart. (Recall all of the times that Entergy lied, mislead or withheld information…)

THIS IS WHERE IT GETS GOOD

The state needed a hero, a star witness to strike some fear in the heart of Entergy and to make their slick lawyers sweat.  And who would supply such a star witness but Entergy themselves.

Enter, Curt Hebert.  Some of you may remember Curt as the big wig Entergy exec who was brought in to crack heads and straighten things out at the beginning of 2010 when everything was going wrong for Entergy.  He is also the guy who offered the $25 million dollar “gift” to legislators the day before the vote in the senate to make sure Entergy VY is retired on schedule.

The state played a full 45 wonderful minutes of Curt Hebert’s video deposition where he passionately walked through internal communications between himself and the Entergy CEO outlining in great detail all of the reasons the state senate voted to retire VY on schedule:

  1. Entergy staff had mislead state legislators and regulators about pipes that were leaking tritium.
  2. Entergy’s plan to spin off VY into a junk bond status company.
  3. Entergy’s resistance to put in adequate money to clean up Vermont Yankee.
  4. The failure of Entergy to reach an agreement with VT utilities despite their repeated promises to do so.

You should note that none of the central reasons Entergy’s own executive vice president outlined to their CEO about the senate vote were based on radiological health and safety.  In fact Curt Hebert laid out a damning picture of a bad corporate actor that had run off the rails and into a deep ditch full of lies, mistrust and shady financial shell games.

Chalk one up for the state’s lawyers for getting a great deposition and using it so well!

VPIRG’s energy advocate Ben Walsh is in the courtroom today and he’ll report in soon, so stay tuned.