Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cinco de Bye-O at Vermont Yankee

It's today

Well, today is the day.  About a hundred people will be laid off from Vermont Yankee, leaving a small staff of about 140 until such time as the fuel is moved into dry casks.  (See the Mike Faber article in Vermont Digger for a history of the layoffs.) This will take place several years from now, around 2020, I believe.  I think the fuel moving will be done by contractors, some of whom may be former Vermont Yankee employees.  For now, however, the plant will be close to its shut-down goal of Cold and Dark.

A Fine Little Plant

My Facebook feed includes many Vermont Yankee employees. Oddly, I see more happiness than sorrow in the posts on FB.  I realize that FB can be misleading, but still.  I see pride in the excellent little plant. I see gratitude for the good work and the good companions. I see Cinco de Bye-O parties.   I see humor. A bit of gallows humor, but still humor.  The comment: "Tomorrow is the last day my husband will be getting up at 5:30 to go to the plant" is followed by: "Hey, maybe I'll go in late. What are they gonna do? Get rid of me?"

As I said, I know Facebook can be misleading. Still, I think the mood is basically far more upbeat than depressed. There is so much pride in the plant, and in work well done, and so much love for the co-workers. It's amazing to me.  The mood is so different from the mood two years ago, when the "lists were up." The "lists" defined who would have one more year at Vermont Yankee, and who would have two years.  I called the post about that day: Paint It Black.  The day the "lists were up" was not covered in any local paper.  They weren't interested in the pain of the Vermont Yankee workers.

In contrast, no doubt, there will be stories and op-eds galore about today. I'm not looking forward to some of the op-eds that will be published, though I think I could write some of them myself. I suspect Governor Shumlin (he who recently tried to destroy emails that may show some serious issues) will make a statement. Once again, Shumlin will look forward to the bright renewable future that is just around the corner for Vermont.  As he has looked forward to it, so many times in the past.

(Enough about our current governor.  With any luck, Vermont will get a special prosecutor about those emails.  What goes around may yet come around. )

You Done Good

Governor Salmon making a statement in favor of VY
PSB hearing, November 2012
Many VY people will be laid off today.  But, as we saw in the video posted yesterday, many VY people are leaving Vermont. So why despair?  There are other places, and other jobs, far away from here.

Many don't have such jobs.  Some are being moved into retirement, whether they like it or not.  Still, overall the mood is good.

Why is the mood good?  It's because Vermont Yankee was a great plant, with great people.  People who worked there had reason to be proud of their work!  That makes a difference, even when the work ends.

As Governor Salmon wrote in December 2014: Governor Salmon praises 42 year of Vermont Yankee.  As George Clain, Past President of IBEW at Vermont Yankee wrote: Vermont Yankee Union President: You Done Good.  December 2014 is when Vermont Yankee went offline forever.

And I say:

Vermont Yankee, you done good for Vermont.  Thank you.  

You finished strong. 

May everyone in the Vermont Yankee family go from strength to strength in their lives.  

You finished strong and you will be strong.  

I hope your futures will be filled with happiness. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Video: Vermont Yankee people moving on

May 5 Layoff Day

On May 5, almost 100 Vermont Yankee employees will be laid off.  As Entergy spokesman Marty Cohn notes in this video: there were nearly 650 employees when he started work at Vermont Yankee: in a few days, there will be  only 150 employees. (approximate numbers).

In the 22 minute video below, Marty Cohn speaks to two employees that will be laid off.  They happily discuss what they liked about working at Vermont Yankee. In both cases, their future plans take them away from Vermont.

Yes, there are sad moments in this video.  These affected me:
  • When Larry Doucette notes that when he moved to Vermont, it took some some time to get used to the local anti-nuclear attitudes. 
  • When Becky Josey describes her life-long residence in Vernon, and how her mother was a state representative who supported construction of the plant.  Josey has deep roots in Vernon, but she plans to leave.  Her plans are not completely due to Vermont Yankee closing, however.
I  admire everyone at Vermont Yankee, because they are strong people and they did Finish Strong.  I have so much admiration for them.

About the videos

Marty Cohn of Entergy has been hosting a series of videos about Vermont Yankee: SAFSTOR Matters. This series was chosen as 2015 Best Series of the Year at Brattleboro Community Television.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

More bad news for Vernon: Guest Post by Guy Page

Vermont Yankee
Vernon Dam in foreground
(picture from back when VY was operating)
The loss of Vermont Yankee’s 1000-plus jobs and millions of dollars of tax revenue has been followed by more discouraging energy-related financial news for Vernon and other Connecticut River towns.

When Vermont Yankee closed in December, 2014, “glass half full” people could at least point to the Vernon Dam’s $400,000 in annual tax payments and the hope that another power plant might be built near the Vermont Yankee site to take advantage of the new, nearby switchyard.

Now, the town has almost certainly lost the “bird in the bush” proposed power plant. And the “bird in the hand” Vernon dam may be wrenched from its grasp by the State of Vermont.

Last week's surprise announcement that the Kinder-Morgan natural gas pipeline would not be built has forced the shelving of plans for a natural gas-fired power plant near the Vermont Yankee site in Vernon. The KM line would have brought large new quantities of natural gas from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts and New Hampshire. But developers cited insufficient demand.

The pipeline cancellation may lead to more interest in power from north of the border. That's good news for the Clean Link power line proposed to run from Quebec beneath Lake Champlain, and then across Vermont to the Vernon switchyard. A similar power line from New York across Lake Champlain is also in the works. Furthermore Hydro Quebec recently announced a major marketing initiative for New England customers.

For Vernon, of course, the decision is a tough blow for backers who hoped the town could recoup some of the jobs and taxes lost when VY closed.

Furthermore, the proposed state purchase of 13 TransCanada Corp. dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers includes the Vernon dam. The proposal, now under preliminary review led by a high-level “working group” appointed by Gov. Peter Shumlin, could lead to the dam becoming state property and therefore property-tax exempt. The state could offer Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), which typically offers about 10 cents on the dollar, one Vernon official said.

A State of Vermont purchase of the TC Hydro dams, totally 567 megawatts and reportedly valued at about $800 million, is very far from a “done deal.” If the dams are instead sold to another corporation, Vernon and other revenue-challenged towns with Connecticut River TransCanada hydro assets can still keep collecting taxes.


Guy Page is the Communications Director for Vermont Energy Partnership, and a frequent guest blogger at this blog.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day with Earth's Defenders

Every day is Earth Day. Or at least, much of my life is Earth Day.  I am active in being kind to the Earth---by encouraging the use of nuclear energy.

For my post today, I will share some Earth Day videos and links.

Robert Downey Jr.

 Robert Downey Jr. (a celebrity, by golly!) speaking in favor of nuclear energy.


Two mothers in California have started an organization: Mothers For Nuclear.  They are both nuclear professionals. This will mean that anti-nuclear activists will almost certainly deny that they know anything.

I encourage you to encourage them.  Visit their website, and contact them.

from Mothers For Nuclear website

Robert Stone on the Education of an Environmentalist

Robert Stone, director of Pandora's Promise, in Scientific American on The Education of an Environmentalist.

Stone didn't always like nuclear.  He had to learn about it first.

Vermont Yankee  and Hoover Dam

Last year, on Earth Day, I posted Atoms not Dams, including that Vermont Yankee made more power each year than Hoover Dam did (per year...Hoover Dam is older).  Worth revisiting!

Happy Earth Day to All!  Go Green!  Go Nuclear!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Grid: My Course at Dartmouth OSHER

The Course

I have been quite busy in the past week, getting ready for the launch of my four-week course about the grid, The Grid: What Your Electricity Bill Won't Tell You. The course begins at OSHER at Dartmouth,  Tuesday, April 19.    Here is the course catalog description.

And here is a slide from my Tuesday April 19 presentation.

The Guest Speakers

I don't know why everything is taking me so much time!  I have two great guest speakers, and we are taking a field trip to ISO-NE headquarters the last day of the course.  With all this help, it should be easy-peasy for me to get ready for the course.  Right? Okay.  It's hard.

The guest speakers:

Howard Shaffer was a startup engineer on a major pumped storage project.  He will speak on the first day, about the physical grid. Here is Shaffer's post about the difference between supplying power and paying for power.  Where's the Magic Switch?

Christine Hallquist, CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, will speak on controversies on the grid. Here is Hallquist's recent op-ed at VTDigger: Pricing Renewable Energy Right.


The course will be videotaped for CATV8  community TV, and it will also be on-line.  I will put links to the videos in some later blog posts. (In other words, I will be videotaped three times, and  I haven't got a thing to wear.)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Nuclear Blogger Carnival #304, at Yes Vermont Yankee

Once again, we are proud to host the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers, right here at Yes Vermont Yankee. The Carnival is a compendium of nuclear blogs that rotates from blog site to blog site, and it is always a pleasure and an honor to host it.

Let's start by looking into the future with nuclear energy.

Expanding the Definition of Renewable

At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus discusses how words like “renewable” come to be associated with specific technologies, but looking at the bigger picture.  For example, solar and wind, usually regarded as renewable, use non-renewable materials to extract the “renewable” energy.  On the other hand, we may well be able to extract uranium from seawater in the future. This could could make nuclear energy as renewable as solar and wind power.

Progress Report on HTGR reactors in China and U.S.

At Neutron Bytes, Dan Yurman describes newly-achieved milestones in the development of the  high temperature gas cooled reactor (HTGR).  The HTGR concept has more than three decades of history behind it.  Both the U.S. and China are developing this type of reactor, and it has had several new breakout milestones in both countries.

Is Duke Still Banking on Lee?

At Neutron Bytes, Dan Yurman looks at the prospects for the new Lee plant.  Duke will complete the NRC licensing process, but the answer to the question whether or when it will build the nuclear power station comes in several parts spread over two states.

Sometime later this year the NRC will issue a combined operating license (COL) to the William States Lee III nuclear power plant which references twin Westinghouse 1150 MW AP1000 nuclear reactors. Duke CEO Lynn Good says that once the utility gets the license from the NRC, it will still have to decide “how and whether it makes sense to build nuclear.” Even if Duke started this year, it could take six-to-ten years before either unit entered revenue service.

“There are all kinds of considerations,” Good says. The utility, as a publicly traded firm, has to take into account a “prudent investor.” With a market capitalization of $55 billion, the estimated $12 billion the two units could cost would be just over 20% of the total value of the giant utility. That’s pretty close to a “bet the company” decision which makes prudence a key factor in assessing the need for the project.

Now, let's look at why we need nuclear energy!

Illinois’ Nuclear Dilemma Embroils Famed Climate Scientist James Hansen

At Forbes, James Conca writes that Illinois faces a peculiar dilemma in planning its clean energy future. Unless something is done, the state is going to lose its most important low-carbon energy source: nuclear energy. On Monday, a coalition of scientists and conservationists, including famed climate scientist James Hansen, sent an open letter to Illinois legislators. The scientists asked the legislators to stop nuclear closures from happening. (This post has an excellent graphic, which shows that nuclear might require a 0.3 cent per kWh surcharge to keep the plants running, while solar subsidies in Illinois are 21.9 cents per kWh.)

The Worth-It Threshold – When gas or gas + renewables is as bad for climate as a coal plant

At Atomic Insights a guest post by Mike Conley & Tim Maloney basically asks whether burning natural gas is truly better than coal for the climate.  Burning methane for energy produces about half the CO2 of coal, which is a good thing. But fugitive methane – the gas that leaks before it can be burned – is a powerful greenhouse gas, with 84X the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2.

The big idea behind wind and solar farms is to fight global warming by reducing greenhouse gases. But since most of a farm’s power is actually generated by gas, the rationale for a massive build-out of utility-scale wind and solar hinges on the issue of fugitive methane.

That rationale just had a major meltdown at Porter Ranch.

Fallout From The Nuclear Security Summit

At Forbes, James Conca reports on the Nuclear Security Summit last week in Washington, D.C. The Summit showcased significant progress in reducing global nuclear weapons and nuclear material stockpiles, and increased security on nuclear facilities. A dozen countries are now free of weapons-grade materials.

There is a lot of good news: a newly-amended nuclear protection treaty was signed by over 100 countries. The historic nuclear deal with Iran has, so far, gone as planned. However, China is the country that is expanding most in nuclear power and weapons.

Looking backward a bit, and learning from history

Chernobyl through the mist of decades

At ANS Nuclear Cafe, Will Davis looks at Chernobyl: what happened, and what people said happened.  The fog of three decades has obscured the memory of the Chernobyl accident. Many incorrect sources were written after the accident, and have have misled those in search of the facts.  Will Davis uses historic documents and accounts of those directly involved during and after the accident.  With the keen eye of a historian, Davis clarifies our perception of what really happened before, during and after.

State Control of Decommissioning Funds is a Bad Idea

At Yes Vermont Yankee, guest blogger Richard January describes the state of Vermont's attempts to "have input" on the decommissioning process.  Vermont and Massachusetts are lobbying the NRC for "tighter rule-making" on decommissioning. As January points out, the state of Vermont is strapped for cash, and it is not clear that state decisions would be driven solely by safety, and not by the desire for another infusion of Vermont Yankee cash.  NRC oversight of decommissioning is a far better idea.

Once again, pro-nuclear bloggers have covered many aspects of energy: nuclear energy, new types of plants, gas emissions, funding issues.   Click on the posts and read more!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Natural Gas Replaces Vermont Yankee Energy: Guest Post by Michael Bielawski

Natural gas replacing Vermont Yankee’s energy

This post appeared in Vermont Watchdog on March 29, and is used with permission.  

Activists rally outside the Statehouse following a vote by the Vermont Senate to retire the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in 2012. Since the plant’s closing, energy derived from natural gas has increased more than 5 percent.

When Vermont Yankee closed at the end of 2014, it was largely with the understanding that renewable energy sources were going to take its place. According to data supplied by regional grid operator ISO New England, such has not been the case.

Over the past two years, about 5 percent of New England’s electric use swapped from nuclear to natural gas. While nuclear production dropped from 34 percent to 29.5 percent, natural gas rose from 43.1 percent to 48.6 percent. The data from ISO New England’s Daily Generation by Fuel Type 2014 and 2015 was analyzed by the Institute for Energy Research, a group that tracks government regulation of global energy markets.

Vermont Electric Cooperative CEO Christine Hallquist says the market is shifting towards natural gas.

“There’s a solid connection between the increased use of natural gas for generation in New England and the shutdown of Vermont Yankee,” she said. “There’s also been coal-fired generation that’s been shut down, and natural gas is replacing it. It’s the same trend all around the country.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency for Vermont, in 2013 at least 9.7 trillion BTUs, or about 8 percent of all consumed energy, came from natural gas.

Going forward, natural gas production could be coming to Vermont in a big way. Last year, the Vernon Planning Commission held a public meeting verifying they’ve been in contact with a developer about building a $750 million gas plant in town. That facility would link up to a not-yet-approved Kinder Morgan gas pipeline planned for southern New England.

Hallquist said increased natural gas output is necessary because renewables can’t fill the gap left by Vermont Yankee’s exit.

“The contribution from solar and wind wouldn’t be significant enough to make up for the generation of Vermont Yankee,” Hallquist said. “In fact, there’s no way. … You would have to build like 1,800 megawatts of wind.”

According to Hallquist, wind and solar have “low capacity factors” because they are dependent on the weather. The capacity factor is the average power generated divided by its peak capacity.

If a 10-megawatt solar array averages output at 1.5 megawatts, its capacity factor is 15 percent. The capacity factor for wind is 30 percent. By comparison, gas and nuclear energy sources have a capacity factors of around 80 percent.

Opposition to Vermont Yankee gained momentum in 2010, when Gov. Peter Shumlin, then Senate president pro tempore, led an effort to prevent the Public Service Board from ruling on Vermont Yankee’s application to continue operation. While plant owner Louisiana-based Entergy already had federal approval to continue operation, the company decided to close Yankee, in part due to hostile political winds.

Hardwick Electric Manager Mike Sullivan said he remembers Shumlin saying Vermont could close Yankee because the state didn’t need the power.

“(The claim) from the governor and others was, ‘We don’t need it, we don’t need the power,’” Sullivan said. “Well, if we don’t need the power, why are we filling it up? Why are we building all these new transmission lines and doing all these other things if we didn’t need it?”

Sullivan said he didn’t support Yankee’s closing because it provided low-cost power.

“My beef is, Vermont Yankee said we’ll sell you our power, 600 megawatts or most of the state’s needs at peak, if not all then most of the time, for 4 cents a kilowatt hour,” he said. “Dirt cheap, and they basically told the utilities don’t buy their power, don’t sign an agreement, don’t mess with them, they are out of here.”

According to Sullivan, natural gas for heating takes priority during Vermont’s many cold spells. This causes the otherwise very cheap energy — around 4 cents per kilowatt hour — to spike.

Hallquist said the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline would boost capacity during cold spells, when everyone uses gas for heat.

“(The pipeline) is to address the congestion issues,” he said. “Now, there are natural gas tankers and there’s oil set aside to deal with those congestion issues.”

Green Mountain Power spokesperson Dorothy Schnure said the Colchester-based utility’s power purchase contracts have been lengthy enough to be unaffected by the Yankee’s closure. However, Schnure and Sullivan both said that when their organizations buy market power, a portion of that is natural gas.

Beth Parent, communications manager for Vermont Gas Systems, says natural gas offers heating for over 50,000 families, businesses and institutions in Franklin and Chittenden Counties. She added that 14 percent of Vermont families and businesses use natural gas as a primary heating source.

Contact Michael Bielawski at mbielawski at
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Michael Bielawski
A Seton Hall 2005 graduate, Michael has been writing freelance articles for various publications in and around New York City, Seoul in South Korea, upstate NY and Vermont for ten years. He currently is a staff writer at the Hardwick Gazette keeping track of rising school budgets and other rural Vermont issues. He likes best to write about health, economics, and geopolitics generally looking for angles not seen in mainstream media. At home he's very busy looking after two little boys and during free time loves to watch Stanley Kubrick films off Netflix.

Note: This post has been updated with a correction. To replace Vermont Yankee, we would need to build 1,800 MW of wind, not 1,800,000 MW, as first printed.  (It's that old MW, KW thing again.)

Bielawski has other guest posts on this blog, most recently Grid Upgrades, Siting Rule Changes for Vermont, in February 2016

Two earlier posts at this blog described the replacement of Vermont Yankee power by natural gas power: Vermont Yankee Was Replaced by Natural Gas: Doing the Numbers, on January 2, and The Replacement for Vermont Yankee Was Natural Gas: Guest Post by Mike Twomey on January 7