Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Circles of Pain Around Vermont Yankee Closing

Breakers open as Vermont Yankee goes offline December 2014
Entergy photo, used by permission 
Circles of pain around Vermont Yankee closing
January 28, 2015, Nuclear Engineering International magazine

The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant was permanently retired at the end of 2014. Meredith Angwin looks at the implications of the closure for the people working at the site, as well as the local area and the wider New England grid.

In August 2013, Entergy announced that it would close Vermont Yankee at the end of 2014.

If Vermont Yankee was to be refuelled in the third quarter of 2014 as scheduled, Entergy had to order fuel in August 2013: instead, it decided to close the plant. This announcement came as a great shock to most of the people at the plant, since Entergy had just won a series of lawsuits against the state of Vermont. Entergy had battled the state for years and kept winning, so everyone expected that the plant would keep operating. In fact, although Entergy won a major case in Federal Appeals Court on 17 August, it made its announcement about the coming shutdown on 23 August.

When it announced that the plant would close, Entergy said that it was no longer economic to operate it. It listed three reasons that Vermont Yankee had become unprofitable. First, it is a small stand-alone plant and therefore relatively expensive to operate. Second, low gas prices (from the abundance of fracked gas) made the grid prices too low for the plant to make a profit. Third, there were structural problems with pricing on the local grid.

Entergy did not mention two areas in which plant costs were high due to particular circumstances in Vermont. First, the Vermont legislature had recently passed a "generation tax" on Vermont Yankee. The tax was for plants built after 1965 that were greater than 200 MW, and Yankee is the only such plant in Vermont. The tax was $12 million a year, and 2014 was the first year it was due. Entergy was fighting this tax in court, but it looked like a long battle. When it decided to close the plant, it also agreed to pay the generation tax for the final year of operation.

A second area of Vermont-specific cost was a too-generous deal that Entergy made when it bought the plant. When Entergy bought Vermont Yankee from the local utilities, it promised to share revenue with the utilities when the price on the grid reached a certain point. The price reached that point and more last year, during the January cold period nicknamed the "Polar Vortex." Consequently, Entergy paid almost $18 million to the utilities.

In short, at a time when other plants of the same size could expect to pay about $4 million in some type of "generation tax" equivalent, Vermont Yankee paid a combination of $30 million. This makes a big difference to a small (620MW) plant.

A related issue is the way that the state continued to oppose Vermont Yankee operation. The state picked fights over water permits, imposed lawsuits and lawyer fees, and set a requirement to fund the Red Cross extravagantly ($700,000) for beds and shelters in case of an evacuation. Entergy, looking forward in Vermont, had no reason to believe that newly-devised state fees would ever end. It decided to close the plant.


It was 30 January 2014 that the "lists went up" at the plant. The lists were the names of the employees who would be laid off in January and February 2015, shortly after the plant closed, and the names of other employees who would work for another year, getting the plant ready for Safstor. Around 600 people worked at Vermont Yankee, but dozens left before the end of 2014. As reported in the local newspaper, the Keene Sentinel, plant staffing will drop from 550 employees in late 2014 to 316 at the end of January 2015. By April 2016, staffing will drop again, to 127 people. On 19 January, 234 workers' jobs ended, though 80 were transferred to other Entergy jobs in other states.

Entergy is committed to helping employees find new jobs. However, so far they have found only 100 jobs at Entergy plants, vice president Bill Mohl told the Brattleboro Reformer. Some employees will retire, and some will take comparatively low-paying jobs to stay in the Vermont area. Others are already moving to far-away plants. It's not easy for anyone, and it is especially hard on some employees who are pushing sixty and not yet in a position to retire.

Vermont Yankee's Town

Vermont Yankee is located in the town of Vernon; this town will lose a huge portion of its tax base when the plant closes. While people in town were aware that they have to cut back, it has not been easy. The most recent Vernon town meeting turned into a series of meetings in which the town decided to disband its police force. Many people were upset at this choice. The town will contract for less expensive coverage from the County Sheriff. Now Vernon is trying to sell its police cruisers. Similar cuts are happening in the town's school budget.

As part of its shutdown deal with the state, Entergy will donate $2 million a year for five years to be used for economic development in Windham County (the location of the power plant). Vernon submitted a bid for part of this money, but the proposal was turned down by the evaluation committee. Many proposals were turned down. Some proposals were not funded even if the evaluation committee recommended them - the evaluation committee made recommendations, but the governor made the ultimate decisions. Governor Shumlin decided that most of the proposals were not worth funding and as a result only $800,000 worth of proposals will be funded this year. None of the funded proposals has anything to do with retraining or helping Vermont Yankee workers.

The larger area

Vermont Yankee is located on the Connecticut River, on the Vermont side. The 600 workers come from three states: Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Vermont Yankee added over $60 million to the local economy each year. In 2010, a study estimated the combination of Vermont Yankee state and local taxes at over $12 million per year. The plant also donates over $150,000 a year to local charities and some will be hard hit when that ends. Demand for services in this area may go up, but the funding will go down.

In 2014 Entergy paid $12 million in generation tax to the state of Vermont. Since Vermont Yankee will not be generating power in 2015, this tax should end. However, Entergy cut a deal with the state for a Certificate of Public Good for Vermont Yankee's final year of operation. In this agreement, Entergy will pay a $5 million "generation tax" to the state in 2015, even though has ceased to generate power.

But after 2015, the Entergy generation tax money ends. Considering that the state is facing a $30 million budget shortfall in 2014, even with the plant running, this is not small potatoes. Estimates of the 2015 budget shortfall run as high as $90 million. Nobody knows which programmes will be cut, or which taxes will be raised, to make up for the shortfall. Closing Vermont Yankee has added to this pain.

The grid reacts

Without Vermont Yankee (which made 70% of Vermont's electricity in 2014), there are too few power plants on the grid, and too many of them are fired with natural gas. In the winter, natural gas plants compete with home heating for natural gas. Home heating has priority. The New England grid is now almost 50% powered by natural gas, up from 20% just a few years ago.

During last year's Polar Vortex, as home heating ramped up in below-zero (Fahrenheit) weather, many gas-fired power plants could not import gas. Some plants can store oil and use it when gas is not available. The grid operator kept the grid working with a winter reliability programme that provided around $70 million for oil or dual-fired power plants to keep fuel on-site. The price of power on the grid soared as the oil was burned.

This winter several coal stations are closing at the same time as Vermont Yankee. Therefore, the grid operator has an even more expensive and extensive winter reliability programme this year. To prepare for their own higher payments for power, local distribution utilities are posting winter prices that are up to 50% higher than last winter's prices. According to John Howat, a senior policy analyst at the National Consumer Law Center in Boston, 30% of households will have difficulty paying these bills.

Further ahead, as coal plants retire, the Northeastern grid operators' "forward capacity auction" no longer has a surplus of bidders. The auction for 2017 is over, and capacity payments will triple in 2017. Vermont Yankee retirement has added to this problem.

The bottom line

The pain of Vermont Yankee closing starts with the people who are laid off, the businesses they patronise, the towns they live in, and tax revenues received by local and state governments.
Electricity prices will rise. With the closing of a major economic engine, local employment will drop. Eventually, every person on the New England grid will be affected.

It is comparatively easy to assess the bottom line in monetary costs. The human costs of people losing their jobs, and becoming discouraged and displaced as they are forced to move to new areas, cannot be calculated.

About the author

Meredith Angwin is physical chemist, a writer, and a former project manager at EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute). She blogs at:


This article first appeared in Nuclear Engineering International, January 28, 2015

Update: Thanks to helpful information supplied by Martin Langeveld in the comments to this post, the post has been updated for accuracy. Instead of the earlier statement that after the town closed its police department, it will have "less coverage" from the "state police," the statement is now more accurate. The town will have "less expensive" coverage from the County Sheriff.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Nuclear Blogger Carnival 256, Here 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.

Today is Carnival Number 256.   That's a neat number…it is two to the eighth power.  I've always  liked this number: perhaps because it is so easy to remember.  The Carnival Carnival is posted regularly, once a week. Therefore, this number also represents almost five years of Carnivals:  a true tribute to nuclear blogger perseverance and community spirit!

The News from Asia

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes shopping. From Neutron Bytes by Dan Yurman

The prime minister's short list includes nuclear reactors from France and uranium from Canada

One of the things the head of state gets to do when on an international, multi-nation trip is draw up a list of things to buy and bring home. In terms of a trip to France, this isn’t about bringing back vintage wines. For India’s POM Modi, it is about finally settling on the terms of a long pending contract for six nuclear reactors in Jaitapur, and getting the uranium to fuel them, which top the list

Evaporation is not the answer to Fukushima’s Tritium issue.  From Hiroshima Syndrome Fukushima
Commentary by Les Corrice

It seems Tepco will look into any possibility for the reduction of Tritium-laced waters being stored at F. Daiichi in order to dull the pain from the constant socio-political bashing they suffer. However, the latest consideration is nothing more than an exercise in futility… the use of atmospheric evaporation instead of release to the sea.

The West Coast Story

Anti-Nuclear Climate Inaction: California. Northwest Clean Energy blog. Post by Andrew Benson of California, which was originally posted at Actinide Age blog.

The consequences of losing nuclear energy resources: this is a great piece by Andrew Benson via The Actinide Age.  San Onofre closed.  In consequence, greenhouse gas emissions from electricity spiked 35% while bureaucrats talked about replacement by "preferred resources" that may well never be brought on-line.  This post is well-written, well-researched, and worth reading.

Is There Fukushima Radiation on North America’s West Coast? (Updated April 11, 2015) Hiroshima Syndrome blog by Les Corrice

Recently updated post on Fukushima contamination on the Pacific Coast. The post now reflects this week's initial discovery of innocuous cesium traces in shore samples taken at Vancouver Island in Canada.

The Pacific Northwest basically runs on public power. In this post, Energy Northwest honors two of its board members who will receive public service awards at the Northwest Public Power Association  (NWPPA) annual conference.  Executive Board Chairman Sid Morrison will receive the Paul J. Raver community service award, while Executive Board Member Senator Tim Sheldon will receive NWPPA’s John M. George public service award.

Can We Learn From History?

Atom and the Fault  Atomic Insights blog, by Rod Adams

Rod Adams introduces a 1984 book by Richard Meehan titled The Atom and the Fault: Experts, Earthquakes and Nuclear Power. 

Meehan is a geotechnical engineer who participated in several controversial nuclear plant projects in California, including Bodega Head, Malibu, and Diablo Canyon. Though the book discusses all of those projects, its unifying narrative centers around the six year long effort to renew the license for the GE Test Reactor at Vallecitos.

There is a new smoking gun included. (Note: "Smoking Gun" is Rod's keyword when he describes an example of the fossil fuel industry's efforts to destroy or discredit nuclear energy.)

Gail Marcus continues her series on nuclear anniversaries at Nuke Power Talk by reporting on major developments in the history of nuclear power that took place during the month of April.  Drawn from her book, Nuclear Firsts:  Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development, the historical firsts during the month of April range from underground to outer space, from nuclear power plants in their infancy to their "mature years," and more.  And April 15 marks two different milestones!

TVA backs away from Bellefonte  Neutron Bytes blog by Dan Yurman

The giant utility says won’t fund completion of the 1260 MW plant

In a new Integrated Resource Plan released for public comment this week, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) said it no longer has plans to finish the partially complete Bellefonte Unit I nuclear reactor for which construction started in 1974.  With this decision the utility’s work to finish Watts Bar II later this year may turn out to be the last large reactor project at TVA for quite some time.

Is There Anything As Effective As Nuclear in Cutting Carbon Emissions? Well, no.  Can We Learn From History?

This is a useful cap
Cap and trade fiddling while the world burns: CO2 concentration spikes to unprecedented level  Canadian Energy Issues by Steve Aplin

Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues reviews the problems plaguing two of the world's longtime carbon cap and trade systems and wonders why cap-and-trade remains such an automatic go-to plank in the green policy platform.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Nuclear Spent Fuel Expert Describes Vermont Yankee Dry Cask Safety; Guy Page Guest Post

NRC illustration
Generic Dry Cask
By 2020, the spent fuel left over from all 42 years of Vermont Yankee’s operation is scheduled to be stored in huge steel “dry casks” on pads at the plant site in Vernon.

Just how strong and reliable are Vermont Yankee’s “dry cask” spent nuclear fuel containers? Consider the following dry cask testing conducted at Sandia National Lab:

  • A tractor-trailer carrying a container ran into a 700-ton concrete wall at 80 MPH.
  • A container was broadsided by a 120-ton train locomotive traveling 80 MPH.
  • A container was dropped 2,000 feet onto soil as hard as concrete, traveling 235 MPH at impact.
  • A container was subjected to a device 30 times more powerful than a typical anti-tank weapon.
  • A container was subjected to a simulated crash of a jet airliner and the armament of an F-16.

In each case, post-incident assessments demonstrated that the containers would not have released their contents. All of the information shared above was reported Jay Tarzia, Principal of Radiation Safety and Control Services Inc. and chair of the New Hampshire State Radiation Advisory Committee, on March 26 to the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen’s Advisory Panel at Brattleboro Union High School.

Dry casks are designed to resist floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, projectiles, and temperature extremes. Tipped over, they will stay intact. And of course, heavy shielding prevents radiation leakage. They also remained intact after being submerged in water for eight hours and exposed to a 1,475 degree fire for 30 minutes. There have been no known or suspected sabotage attempts or releases of radiation since the first dry cask system was licensed in 1986.

At Fukushima, 400 dry casks were exposed to earthquake and tsunami. Although knocked over and tossed around, none were breached.

The U.S. Nuclear Regultory Commission (NRC) licensing allows fuel to be stored for up to 100 years and the NRC is developing an extended storage program for up to 300 years.

After 100 years, the fuel’s radioactivity will have shrunk to about one percent of its beginning total radioactivity. Stress on the canister will be greatly reduced. But Mr. Tarzia did not minimize the long- term nature of dry cask management. After about 4,000 years, the fuel’s radioactivity will return to the level of the original uranium ore. “The fuel will be radioactive for a long time. We need to manage it,” he said. “The security doesn’t go away when the plant goes away, when there’s a long-term storage site.”

The industry is running computer models now showing the outer limits of how long the canisters will last. Ultimately, a long-term storage process or facility will make dry cask storage unnecessary, he predicted.

In closing, Mr. Tarzia predicted that within decades, waste-free nuclear fusion will produce limitless electricity.


Guy Page of Vermont Energy Partnership (VTEP) is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.  This post has also appeared on the VTEP blog and on Atomic Insights blog. As usual, the Atomic Insights blog post has great comments.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Support for Ginna: Write a Comment to New York State

Ginna Station
from NRC site
To the New York State Department of Public Service:

I want to express my strong support for keeping Ginna Station operating.

I worked in energy research for many years. My background includes renewables, gas-fired plants, and nuclear plants. I have worked to improve them all. I live in Vermont, and  I am now a member of the Coordinating Committee of the Consumer Liaison Group (CLG)  for ISO-NE.  I must stress that the opinions I express here are MY OWN: they are NOT official opinions of the Committee.  I mention the CLG to explain that I have some expertise in grid issues. The purpose of the CLG is to advise the grid operator in support of the electricity consumer.

Right now, the New England grid makes almost 50% of its electricity with natural gas.  This has been a problem for grid stability, especially in the winter.  ISO-NE has had two “Winter Reliability Programs” that basically paid dual-fired generators to keep oil on hand. They used the oil during the times in deep winter when natural gas was not available to power plants.  These reliability programs have cost $70-$80 million a year, and FERC wants them to stop, because they are targeted, not market-based.  FERC may be right, but the programs have kept the lights on in New England during the winter.  These programs mainly bought oil, though LNG was also fed into our grid (though not as part of the Winter Reliability Program). Other grids are encountering the same issues, as they become more dependent on natural gas.

Ginna Station and other nuclear stations make low-carbon electricity and increase the diversity of the New York grid.  Please value that diversity! Grid diversity contributes to system reliability and price stability.  Without the nuclear plants, the grid will move more and more to natural gas, which emits greenhouse gases.  Also, putting all your eggs in one basket (having only one predominant fuel supplier for the grid) is a very bad idea. Supply crunches and price rises are not only likely: they happen, and they will happen more if the grid goes mostly to natural gas. The amount of “subsidy” given to Ginna to keep it operating will be only a small amount, compared to the amount you can expect to pay for winter reliability programs or if there is a price rise for natural gas.

For the sake of your consumers, keep the grid diverse and keep Ginna (and other nuclear plants) operating. For the sake of the planet (greenhouse gases), keep Ginna (and other nuclear plants) operating.

Who Digs Deeper, and For What Do They Dig?

A friend on Facebook alerted me to the opportunity to support continued operation of Ginna Station in New York.  Thank you, Michael Mann!

I just posted the comment above on the New York State Department of Public Service site. The Department is asking for comments on a case to allow a "reliability support services agreement" for Ginna Station. This agreement would give Ginna slightly increased pay on the grid, in return for the reliability and support that the plant gives to the grid.

An upstate New York newspaper has an article headlined Regulators examining plan to prop up Ginna plant.   The first sentence says that consumers will have to "dig deeper in their pockets" to keep the Ginna plant operating.

Old steam locomotive
Best I could do for "steam"
This really annoyed me.  When our local grid reached into our pockets for a $70 million dollar Winter Reliability Program, and used that money to buy oil.….hey, nobody asked me if I wanted to dig deeper for imported oil! But keeping a nuclear plant going and getting away from such oil-based emergency programs: that is the sort of thing that leads to a catchy headline about "propping up. "

Sometimes you can almost see the steam coming out of my ears.

Don't Just Steam, Take Action

Write your short letter about Ginna here:

It doesn't have to be long, but make sure it is personal.  Make sure it is clear that the letter is your personal opinion.  If you live in New York State, that's a great reason to have a pro-Ginna opinion.  If you live elsewhere, compare the issue to something in your area: coal plants shutting down, electricity price rises, whatever is going on.  Make it personal.

As an example of what NOT to write, look at the existing letter collection.
Approximately a thousand letters all say the same thing.  They all start:

Dear Secretary Burgess:
I am writing to oppose a consumer subsidy for the Ginna nuclear power reactor, owned by Exelon.
Ginna is one of the oldest nuclear reactors in the U.S. Propping up this uncompetitive reactor …..

Not very convincing!

When you have finished your note to the New York regulators, please consider also sending it as a comment on this post. The more examples of letters that we have, the easier it will be for the next person to post a letter to the New York State regulators.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Tale of Two Meetings: Keeping NRC meetings safe for everyone

The Vermont Yankee NRC meeting: Bullying

Vermont flag
About four weeks ago, I attended the NRC decommissioning review meeting about  Vermont Yankee.  It was an unpleasant experience, to say the least. At the bottom of this post, I link to four blog posts about this out-of-control meeting.  The four posts include some shocking quotes from the NRC about how the NRC doesn't eject people from meetings, pretty much under any circumstances. Even people committing assault don't get ejected.

A few days ago, Dan Yurman of Neutron Bytes wrote a new post, based on NRC information: Closing the Civility Gap at NRC Public Meetings.  Yurman discovered that the NRC actually had a task force to improve its public meetings. The task force submitted its report in late January 2015, just a few weeks before the Vermont Yankee meeting.  (Clearly the report did very little good for Vermont.) Yurman looked up the improving-meetings report on the almost-indecipherable ADAMS data base of the NRC.  Reading the report, he learned that the NRC task force has a very good idea of what makes good public outreach, and more good ideas on why the NRC is failing at it.

The report talks about a "center of excellence" for training for public meetings, and outlines various types of training.  It does not, however, go so far as to suggest staffing or funding for this purpose. As Yurman points out, the report contains good ideas, but no real plans for carrying out those ideas.

I encourage you to read Yurman's clear and thoughtful post on the civility gap.  Brave souls can also go the NRC ADAMS citations ML15029A460, ML15029A463, and ML15029A465.

The Pilgrim NRC Meeting: Civility

Massachusetts flag
My experience is that the bullying is worse when opponents are a majority in the room.  Therefore, I was truly happy to read about the March 18 Pilgrim NRC meeting.  Many supporters attended: the headline in a local paper was  NRC: Supporters outnumber critics at annual Pilgrim performance review. It is a great pleasure to read that article.  If you don't have time to read about the good things being said about Pilgrim in the article in the Wicked Local paper, at least follow the link to see the faces of the people speaking on behalf of their local nuclear power plant.  The proponents include men, women, young people, old people, people of different races.

Also, if you pardon me saying so, the proponent's faces are open, kind and sincere. I could look at the pictures of the Pilgrim supporters all day. It comforts me to see their faces.

Alas, when I think of an NRC meeting, I see the shouting, hate-filled face of our most noisy local opponent.  I know that many nuclear opponents are good people, but in our local NRC meeting, the opponent group comes across as a mob scene. They cheer while their designated bully threatens and attacks people.  They may be sweet enough in private life: I don't know.  In the meetings, frankly, only the pitchforks are missing.

A Tale of Two Meetings

The Vermont Yankee meeting had two problems: bullies who knew they outnumbered the plant proponents, and an ineffective NRC who caved in to the bullies completely, refusing to keep order.

The Pilgrim meeting was different for one reason and one reason only: plant supporters outnumbered the plant opponents. Therefore, the opponents could not get control by bullying and shouting.  It the opponents hadn't been outnumbered, I think they would have tried to turn the Pilgrim meeting into the same kind of dangerous shambles as the Vermont Yankee meeting.  But they were outnumbered, and they didn't try.

By the way, it is amusing to read the comments on the article about the  Pilgrim meeting.  The opponents claim the reporter is "unfair" and that Entergy "bribed" people to come to the meeting by offering pizza. (Entergy did offer pizza.  Those meetings are right after work, and people are hungry.)  Opponents think that people will give up an evening and sit in an uncomfortable room in a long meeting….just in return for free pizza!

I am always amazed at the perception gap between many plant opponents and…well…..reality.  This gap extends far beyond the issues about technical understanding of radiation.

Keith Drown of Pilgrim commented on the Wicked Local article.  I will use his words as the last statement on this blog post.  Hail to Pilgrim!

Employees volunteered to attend the meeting and show their support for Pilgrim without coercion from the company. We live in the community and understand the facts concerning the safe operation of the plant. We not only work at Pilgrim, we also live in close proximity to the plant. It appears that some within the anti-Pilgrim groups are upset that we had a pizza before the meeting. They should be upset, the pizza was wonderful and they missed out. In addition to the pizza we also had cookies and brownies, not to mention a good time just being together. 


Earlier posts about the Vermont Yankee NRC meeting

I have a blog post about the NRC meeting, Bullying at the NRC Meeting.

Rod Adams posted about it and made a short, watchable video (25 minutes) from the four-hour video of the meeting.  His post Agencies should not allow creation of a hostile environment at public meetings includes his video and almost 50 comments, some of which are very informative.

Dan Yurman has an earlier post on this meeting, including his own important exchange with the NRC: NRC must do more to insure civility at its public hearings

Steve Aplin at Canadian Energy Issues compares the actions of the nuclear opponents with the actions of those in the Old South, right after the Civil War, in denying free speech and rights to newly-freed slaves.  It's a good analogy, and no harsher than the behavior deserves: Free speech, Monty Python, and Civil War reconstruction: anti-nukes are not funny

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Distributed Generation for Vermont: Making a Virtue of Necessity

Panel, from left to right: William Driscoll of A.I.V at podium,
me,  TJ Poor of Vermont DPS, Douglas Smith of GMP,
John Goodrich of  Weidmann
Photo courtesy of Howard Shaffer

The panel about power

On Friday March 13, I was panel moderator at an ISO-NE (New England grid operator) meeting of the Consumer Liaison Group.  We discussed the past and the future of the grid in Vermont and the Northeast.

I enjoyed the meeting, and I hope I was able to be a good moderator.  Here's my post about the meeting, and here's a direct link to the ISO-NE web page about the meeting. All the presentations were excellent and worth reading. They are posted on the ISO-NE page. In this following post, I share some of my personal opinions, inspired by this event.

Importing Vermont's Electricity

I moderated a panel. One of the panel participants claimed that closing Vermont Yankee had no effect on Vermont utilities. He said that the utilities had no power contracts with Vermont Yankee  after 2012 (this is true). So didn't matter to Vermont utilities that the plant closed in 2014.

After his comment, I decided to make my own comment, as the moderator.  I noted that whether or not local utilities were contracting with Vermont Yankee to buy power, the Energy Information Administration looks at states in terms on what electricity is produced within the state. Vermont Yankee used to make about 70% of the power produced in the state.  When it went off-line permanently, that left the state with only 30% of its previous in-state power supply available. Therefore, shutting Vermont Yankee makes a huge difference to Vermont, if you look at the power produced within the state, not the power contracts.

I basically shared the comments above, as a clarification, during the meeting.  In this blog, I will go a little further.

Power contracts are written by utilities. Utilities can make long and short term contracts with all sorts of power generators, near and far. The types of power under contract can change in a week, a month, or in the very instant that a new piece of paper is signed. However, power produced in the state changes more slowly.  Power produced within the state is far more indicative of the state-of-the -state,  in terms of electricity.  That is why the Energy Information Agency looks at power produced within the state, not at power contracts.

Vermont electricity

With Vermont Yankee closed, the state of Vermont produces less than 1/3 of the electricity that it produced a year ago.  If someone asked me: "Where does Vermont get its electricity from?" I would have a simple answer.  We get our electricity from out of state.  

This answer means that the Vermont Energy Plan for 90% renewables and the newest energy bills that are now debated in the Vermont legislature are a bit…well, maybe… a bit silly?  No. "Silly" is a loaded word.  "Unrealistic" sounds better.  I'll go with "unrealistic."

Thinking about Distributed Generation

6.5 Kilowatt Wind Turbine
Two of the speakers, Douglas Smith of Green Mountain Power and TJ Poor of the Department of Public Service, emphasized Vermont's push into Distributed Generation.  As a matter of fact, the title of Douglas Smith's presentation is Distributed Generation in Vermont.  Vermont plans to build small renewable power facilities (farm methane, wind farms, biomass plants, solar photovoltaic installations) instead of big centralized power.

In his third slide, Smith admits that most of the Green Mountain Power electricity supply is sourced from outside of Vermont.  Much of the rest of his presentation concerns Vermont incentives for renewables and distributed generation: those incentives that are in place now, and those that are proposed.

Our choice by choice---or our choice by necessity?

When you are listening to a well-organized presentation, you can't help but "buy in" to the presenter's view of the situation. When I was listening to Poor and to Smith, I thought that Vermont had chosen distributed generation.

But afterwards, I began to wonder.

Have we chosen distributed generation because distributed generation is such a great thing?  Or is it because it is really Vermont's only choice?  Vermont Yankee is closed, we import around 70-80% of our power from out of state or even out of the country.  Nothing wrong with that. However, if we want to say something to the world besides "We'll buy whatever electricity you are selling," we have to build some power production in-state.

What power production can we build in Vermont? Only a madman would try to site a good-sized thermal plant in Vermont. Gas pipelines are fiercely opposed, and coal would be laughed out of the state. (People wouldn't even protest coal. They would just laugh, I think.) Nobody would ever try to build another nuclear plant. We can build some more hydro, but hydro is pretty tapped-out in the Northeast.  Certainly there are no further sites for big hydro.

So there you have it.  If we build anything in Vermont, it will be small. It will be "distributed generation."

Virtue and Necessity

We can make a virtue (clean! small!) of the necessity to build only small facilities.  We can make comprehensive energy plans and pass new laws about renewables.  We can get good press.  We can pat ourselves on the back. We can claim to be the cleanest and the greenest state in the whole United States.

Well and good.  However, in the meantime---

If someone asked me: "Where does Vermont get its electricity from?" I would have a simple answer.  We get our electricity from out of state.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Pico is Tiny: My Post at Northwest Clean Energy

White radium paint
on an old clock

The term "pico" refers to a trillionth of something.  It would take a thousand "picos" to make a billionth.  The term "pico" is mostly used in describing radiation.

A Curie is the amount of radiation emitted by one gram of radium.   But radiation limits are usually described in pico-curies. That's a trillionth of a curie.  There are very few things that can be measured at such a low level.  You can't just go into a lab and measure a "trillionth of a gram" of something.

But you can measure pico-curies.

I wrote a blog post about this which is published at Northwest Clean Energy blog.  My post is Me and Pico--Nuclear Power and Scare Stories.  In this post, I also share some stories of the days when I was a water chemist, specializing in analyzing pure water (and water problems) at power plants. I write about water and what it contains at low levels (like urea).


And yet, my post is not really about pico-curies.  David Ropeik wrote about recent anti-nuclear videos. Ropeik describes the ways that people have strong motivations to fit in with their group. If the group says radiation is unacceptable, then the people in the group will agree that it is unacceptable.

However, anti-nuclear groups often place a high value on an imagined future in which people use very little energy and live in rural surroundings.  I point out how such a future is actually a dystopia.

Talking about picos is not usually effective with people who are "going along" with an anti-nuclear group.  However, it is effective to talk about the values of living a life with abundant clean energy.

I hope you will read my post and perhaps comment on it.