November 4, 2010 / 1:18 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 2-Entergy mulls sale of troubled Vermont nuclear plant

* To explore sale of 605 MW Vermont Yankee plant

* Says no decision has been made yet on sale

* Sale may be conditional on retaining plant staff

* Exelon, NextEra Energy, Constellation possible bidders

* Vermont politics could complicate any deal (Recasts, adds details, analyst comments, share movement)

BANGALORE/NEW YORK, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Power utility Entergy Corp (ETR.N) said it was exploring the sale of its 605-megawatt nuclear plant in Vermont, months after the state Senate voted to shut it in 2012 due to pollution issues.

Vermont politics could, however, complicate any potential sale. Earlier this year, the state Senate voted overwhelmingly to shut the reactor and the person heading that effort is now the unofficial Governor-elect Peter Shumlin, a Democrat.

Entergy said while no decision had been made to sell the plant, which it bought from the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp eight years ago, it expects interest from “multiple” parties.

“We will aggressively negotiate with buyers for extension of employment to all current employees as a condition of any sale,” New Orleans-based Entergy said about the plant with a workforce of 650.

Citigroup analysts estimated the plant, which the brokerage valued at roughly $670 million, contributes about 30 cents to Entergy’s full-year earnings per share.

Analyst Brian Chin said the likely bidders could include other nuclear operators like Exelon Corp (EXC.N), NextEra Energy Inc (NEE.N) and Constellation Energy Group Inc CEG.N.

“Expectations are currently low for the company. We do not think investors were expecting Entergy to formally announce a possible sale at this point,” Chin wrote in a note.

POLITICAL RISKS

Earlier this year, Entergy found radioactive tritium leaking from an underground pipe at the reactor. The leak was stopped but not before the Vermont Senate voted against the renewal of the license beyond 2012.

Any party that buys the plant could make a deal with the state to allow the reactor run for less than the 20-year license renewal period to provide a bridge.

At the same time, renewable, non-carbon emitting generation and transmission infrastructure can be built to help keep Vermont’s power prices low and maintain grid reliability.

But Entergy has said it hopes to convince a new state legislature of the merits of renewing the reactor license when it takes office in January 2011.

“We have been successfully resolving any issues to secure Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval for a license extension at the plant, and have been in negotiations with local electric companies to finalize a long-term power purchase agreement,” Entergy said on Thursday.

Under an agreement between Entergy and the state, even if the NRC decides to renew the license, Vermont can prevent the plant from operating beyond 2012 when the original license expires.

Shares of Entergy, which have gained 6 percent from a year low on July 1, were up 1 percent at $75.28 in afternoon trade on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Krishna N Das and Adveith Nair in Bangalore and Scott DiSavino in New York; Editing by Anne Pallivathuckal and Gopakumar Warrier)

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