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The Associated Press August 3, 2011, 10:44AM ET

Vt. to Entergy: Expect to pay $750K in lawsuit

State utility regulators have told Entergy Corp. that they can expect to be billed $750,000 or more for the state's legal defense costs in a lawsuit filed by the company over its Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, according to documents released Tuesday in response to a public records request.

But new doubts are circulating about whether the state ever will even try to collect any money.

The Department of Public Service sent five notices to the plant and its owner, New Orleans-based Entergy, in early June saying it planned to "bill back" to Entergy the state's costs in hiring legal and technical consultants.

The state and Entergy are in a legal battle over Vermont's efforts to close its lone nuclear plant in Vernon. A federal judge last month rejected the company's request for a preliminary injunction that would have allowed it to keep Vermont Yankee open while its lawsuit plays out in the courts. U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha set an expedited trial date for September.

In each of the five notices the state sent to Entergy, the cost was listed as $150,000, but Sarah Hofmann, the department's deputy commissioner, said in an email that those figures were "are just placeholders. At the time these were prepared I did not know precisely what would be needed nor which way the judge would decide on the preliminary injunction."

Also included in documents provided by Hofmann in response to a public-records request from The Associated Press was a letter from Burlington lawyer Robert Hemley, representing Entergy, saying the company did not plan to pay any such bills without a fight.

The state is seeking reimbursement under a new law enacted this year that includes a provision allowing the state to "bill back" Entergy for the state's costs in defending against the company's lawsuit, which contends that the state is pre-empted by federal law from forcing Vermont Yankee to close.

In the June 8 letter to Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller, Hemley wrote that the plant's owners "will oppose any effort by the Department or other State agencies to enforce this law (the bill-back provision) against them."

Entergy earlier this year won federal permission to operate Vermont Yankee for 20 years past the expiration of its current license next March 21. The state maintains the nuclear plant also needs a Vermont certificate of public good to continue operating, which it has not granted.

Miller said at a news conference on Thursday that a decision about whether to follow through and collect legal costs from Entergy would wait until after the lawsuit was resolved.

"We have under the recently passed statute notified Entergy that it's a case that could be billed back," Miller said. "We have not, however, sent any bills to Entergy on the matter and frankly we are awaiting the course of the trial before even crossing that bridge."

Entergy spokesman Michael Burns said Tuesday that the company would have no comment about the matter.

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