Monday, September 1, 2014

A Year Ago: The Announcement Considered

Fountain of Time Sculpture, Chicago
Photo from Wikipedia
Looking Backward

On August 27, 2013, Entergy announced that Vermont Yankee would close at the end of its 2014 fuel cycle, basically, at the end of this year.

Two days after the announcement, I wrote a blog post Questions I Frequently Ask Myself about Vermont Yankee Closure.  A few months later, in January, Entergy announced who would be laid off after fuel was offloaded (early 2015) and who would remain on for perhaps another year of decommissioning.  I wrote a blog post about that, also: Paint It Black.

Time Stays, We Go

A large, beautiful and depressing sculpture stands near the University of Chicago: The Fountain Of Time,  by Lorado Taft.  A hundred people pass before Father Time, who stands unmoved by the procession.   The sculpture is based on a poem with the repeated lines:

Time goes, you say?- ah no! 
Alas, Time stays,- we go!

With that in mind, exactly what has gone on during this year?

Agreements Happened

After a fair number of insults being levied at Entergy,  Entergy and state agencies reached an agreement that if Entergy paid certain amounts of money (about $40 million) and said they would move fuel into dry casks expeditiously and so forth...the state would stand WITH Entergy before the Public Service Board. The state would ask the Board to give Entergy a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) to operate through the end of this year.

And so, with millions of dollars riding on the signatures,  Entergy and the state agencies signed the agreement in December 2013. With this agreement, the state would argue FOR Entergy in front of the Public Service Board.

However, the agreement would be null and void if the Public Service Board didn't adopt it by late March.  And so March came, and the Public Service Board issued the CPG through the end of the year, The Board also made several snarky and unnecessary statements, claiming that if Entergy had wanted a 20-year CPG, it  probably would not have received one.

(By the way, agreements happened but love didn't.   People at the plant told me that Governor Shumlin has never visited the plant after the closing was announced. He never even visited Vernon.)

Money Happened

Entergy tax money happened: Entergy delivered its various taxes, Clean Energy Development fund money, and so forth right on  the schedule from the agreement.  The majority of the money went to state agencies, but $2 million dollars (for this year) was earmarked for economic development of Windham County. I really need to write a blog post about that $2 million.  The agency in charge of the funds has noted that guidelines have been released (as of August 1) but there is still confusion about the process for awarding the grants and loans.

Furthermore, some people say that there aren't enough really good proposals for the money.  Other people say: "Yeah, what did you expect? There's been all types of incentive programs for this area of Vermont for a long time...if there were good ideas, we probably would have heard them already."

When I write a blog post about this, it's going to be a long one!

Entergy Profits and Revenue Sharing happened:  Over $17 million dollars.  That's the check that Entergy wrote to Vermont utilities as "revenue sharing" according to the agreement under which it purchased the plant in 2002.  My April blog post on this: Green Mountain Power Receives $17 Million in Revenue sharing

Well, that was April and this is September.  Green Mountain Power (Gaz Metro) had the money, but it had to have a rate case before Public Service Board before it could do anything with the money. So it has had its rate hearing. Gaz Metro will be lowering people's electric bills with the money.  But not all at once, for Pete's sake. That would be terrible!  If electric bills were lowered for only one year and then popped up again, they would have to admit that the reason for the decrease was Vermont Yankee money! So Gaz Metro isn't  going to do that.

Electric bills will be lowered for about three years, just a little bit each year.  This will keep people from noticing (probably) the effect on their pocketbooks from Vermont Yankee's closing.  Some of the recent newspaper stories mention the Entergy money, some just trumpet the rate decrease, without mentioning Entergy.

Looking Forward

I have a number of friends at the plant, and to me, the real news is that they are announcing their new gigs on Facebook.  They are going to other Entergy plants ("See you there soon!" they write each other.)  They are going to non-Entergy plants ("It's going to be a great change, we LOVE the area!" they write each other.)

Vermont will stagger forward, with local non-profits fighting over the Entergy money.  Most young Vermont Yankee workers are moving on.

Forward is the future.  Vermont is the past.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Update: Nuclear Career Opportunities. ANS hosts local meetings

The American Nuclear Society Northeastern Section is holding two meetings in September. These meetings are basically job fairs.

The first meeting is at the University of Rhode Island on Wednesday, September 17. The second will be at UMass Lowell (probably closer for most of us) on Tuesday September 30.

Here's the flyer about the Rhode Island meeting. It's a jpg, so the links don't work, but the links work in the web announcement.

Thinking about these meetings, I note that they are both on college campuses. Therefore, the meeting may be aimed at less experienced workers.  However, local nuclear company representatives will be there, and the companies have openings at many levels.  I think this is a splendid opportunity to talk to people from local nuclear companies: companies that are recruiting!

Note: I have just updated this post with a link to the information on the September 30 meeting in Massachusetts.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Summertime and Truth: Reading about Courage and about Quebec

My Internet Goes Down

We changed Internet providers.  Such a change is never particularly easy, and the family was offline for about a week during the transition.

During this time, I still had my iPad that could connect to the cell network, so I kept up with my emails.  But I couldn't keep up with blogging or writing comments on other people's blogs or anything like that.  It was too awkward, and sometimes it just didn't work at all.  I stopped trying to do these things.

My Reading Goes Up

 My goodness. Who KNEW I would have so much free time in one week? This was actually a shocking revelation.  In one week,  I read two books. Neither book was about nuclear energy.

Survival

The first book was Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why, by Laurence Gonzales.  Gonzales describes fairly horrific situations.  In some cases, people chose high-risk activities: attempting a new route to a summit.  In other cases, people found themselves in high-risk situations: a small plane crashed in the Andes, and a young woman managed to walk back to civilization.  In either event, people found themselves where it would be easy to die, but not so easy to survive.

How did the survivors make it? What actions or traits did they have in common? Gonzales is very clear that even if someone does everything right, the person may die.  The forces against them may be just too great.  However, bearing that in mind, how did people survive?

Climber getting ready to rappel
Wikimedia
The survivors all assessed their situation realistically, but kept hope alive by making intermediate goals and achieving them. For example, the two climbers on the new route had an accident, and one of them suffered a broken leg.  With cooperation (lowering the broken-leg climber down, about fifty feet at a time) and intermediate goals, and frankly, with luck...they both made it off the mountain.

What struck me about this book was the emphasis on realism.  The people assess the situation accurately. They determine what can be achieved, and what cannot be achieved.  They decide what we can do, and when we have to reassess the situation.

And they worked as a team, if more than one person was in danger. Notice all the words "we" in the sentences above.

Life Raft
Air Force photo from Wikipedia
If one person helped another person, both were far more likely to survive.  The helper had more motivation to be clear-eyed. The person being helped was confident that though his own efforts might be limited, his efforts would be part of the plan. For example, on a life raft with five people, two survived by helping each other.

Note: Why two out of five? Two of the people on the raft started the trip drunk. They ended up drinking seawater, going mad, and jumping out of the life raft. One person was too badly injured to survive: she was injured as the original boat was sinking.  The two sober people in the raft helped each other and helped the badly injured person, and those two survived.

About Nuclear

I could not help but compare the clear-eyed realism of the survivors with the endless Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) being spread by nuclear opponents.  "This could happen, or maybe that could happen! Be very afraid!"  On one of my email lists, there is a quote from an anti-nuclear screed claiming a rise in radiation from uranium daughter products in fuel rods. They claim this rise could happen under some circumstances, and it would take place 1.2 million years from now.

I began to think that if people really buy into this FUD, their mental processes can get warped.  If you are worried about a radiation rise that might/maybe take place in 1.2 million years, are you seeing the world clearly? Will you look out for cars when you cross the street?  Will you be able to tolerate pain if you find you must walk down a mountain from a plane crash?

I began to think about anti-nuclear FUD as a bigger problem than whether or not nuclear energy continues in this country.  At this point,  I believe anti-nuclear FUD is a symptom of a world-view that simply cannot work for people.  That is another reason to fight FUD, but the battle may be bigger than I thought it was.

Sigh. Well, time for another book.

Quebec Mystery: How the Light Gets In

For a complete change of pace.  I also read Louise Penny's mystery novel: How the Light Gets In. This is the second-to-the latest of the Inspector Gamache novels.  The latest one has just been released: I expect the bookstore to call me any day that my book order has arrived.  (Yes, for Pete's sake.  I am not rich, but I often order hardbacks of Penny's novels.)

Penny's novels are set in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, the area just north of the Vermont border.  Her books have fascinating, intricate plots, and real characters who change over the course of the series. People fall in love, and fall out of love. Inspector Gamache makes brilliant deductions, and he makes serious mistakes.

Penny's writing is both clear and poetic.  She usually gives a talk in Vermont when her books are released, and I always go to hear it.  (To give you an idea of how her books are constructed, the title "How the Light Gets In" comes from Leonard Cohen's Anthem.)

Montreal near St. Louis Square
Wikimedia
The books are set mostly in southern Quebec, but some are set in other regions of Quebec Province, including Montreal. Without giving away the plots, I can tell you that one theme in the books is about the way the Cree were treated during the initial stages of the James Bay Project--building the Hydro Quebec dams. In the books, there are various dangerous ramifications to this James Bay theme.

Yes, Penny's books are "just" a set of mystery novels, but every now and again, it is good for me to read something from Quebec.  You see, in Vermont, the people against Vermont Yankee often praise the "clean hydropower we can get from Quebec."  Well, yes we can get it, except for the transmission constraints (and that is another blog post entirely).  But the Hydro Quebec power is also a story of pain and tears.  It's worth remembering that, even in the course of a mystery novel.

HydroQuebec Spillway
Back On-Line

I suppose it will be a while before I read another book, since I am back on-line now!

But I have resolved to take some time to read books in the future.  This off-line experience showed me the value of reading books and contemplating them in (relative) silence, without the chatter of the Internet.  One book helped me realize the value of clear thinking and courage. Another reconfirmed that I do not buy into the everything-is-so-rosy view of Quebec hydro power.

Clarity and contemplation.  I'm going to try it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Vermont Yankee and Vermont's Future: Milton Eaton Guest Post

Congratulations to the Vermont Department of Public Service for hiring Dennis Leshinskie, an experienced, nonpolitical nuclear engineer, to lead the state’s role in the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Vermont’s economic and environmental future should benefit from the addition of this trained professional.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has sole authority in matters of nuclear safety. Vermont should play at least an advisory role in the plant’s decommissioning. It’s reassuring to know that the administration has selected one key decision-maker who has experience-based, nonpolarized understanding of the radiological safety issues of spent fuel storage and plant dismantling. Some Vermonters might assume that when Vermont Yankee stops making power this December, the plant will become irrelevant to our future. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Any breakdown in the orderly decommissioning of Vermont Yankee risks a breach in the master settlement agreement of 2013, with serious consequences for Vermont’s environmental and economic future. Vermont Yankee has already paid its first $5 million commitment to the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund, the state core of clean energy capital. The agreement also commits Vermont Yankee to contribute an additional $10 million for investment in clean energy and Windham County redevelopment.

The state should not put these vital funds at risk. For example, if Vermont Yankee fails to receive a certificate of public good for a second spent fuel storage pad, the settlement agreement could be declared invalid. This could also prompt an acrimonious legal battle and deprive southern Vermont of the economic and environmental benefits provided to it under the agreement. Spent fuel would remain in the fuel pool, which all parties agree is less desirable than dry cask storage. Investor interest in Windham County could be further tainted.

I wish Mr. Leshinskie every success in his role as a skilled, trustworthy observer and mediator of the real technical opportunities and challenges of the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee.

------

Milton Eaton holds an MBA from the University of Michigan, and has claimed Vermont as his permanent residence since 1969.  Eaton  had a distinguished career at the intersection of energy policy and economic activity. He has held positions in the Department of Commerce, and was the Vermont Secretary for Development and Community Affairs from 1983-1985.  From 1989 to 1999, Eaton served as the East Asia Representative for the Department of Energy and Energy Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.   He is now retired, and currently serves on the Brattleboro Energy Committee, as well as other local volunteer positions.

This letter has also appeared in several newspapers in Vermont.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Ironies of Ice Cream

Softserve ice cream
Wikimedia
Summertime Ice Cream

In my area, in the summer, there are suddenly lots of little places selling ice cream.  Soft ice cream is the most popular, but there's plenty of hard ice cream available also.  In the summer, I prefer softserve ice cream.  It's a treat I can't get during the rest of the year.

I mean, I can always buy excellent hard ice cream at the grocery store. But you just can't beat the ice-cream experience of having a soft-serve cone while sitting outside on a summer day.  My local place (Newt's Ice Cream) is  the same place that my neighbors go.  Therefore, a trip for ice cream can also be a chance for a chat.

Vermont's iconic ice cream is a hard ice cream: Ben & Jerry's.  According to the Ben & Jerry's website,  their "Cherry Garcia" ice cream even has a street named after it in Burlington Vermont.  I can understand that.  Cherry Garcia is my favorite hard ice cream.

Unilever and me

Though I love Cherry Garcia ice cream,  Ben & Jerry's is not my favorite Vermont business.  It's among my least favorite, really.

A few years ago,  I attempted to debate Duane Peterson about Vermont Yankee.  Peterson is the former major-domo (his title was "Chief of Stuff") for Ben and Jerry's.  The company is part of "Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility," a group of businesses that support Governor Shumlin and supported the state's attempts to shut down Vermont Yankee. 

In my encounter with Peterson, he distinguished himself by refusing to debate me at a school assembly: he insisted on a giving a separate speech. When he did speak to the students, he made fun of Entergy as a "Southern" company. He imitated a Southern accent, to get laughs.  In my opinion, he behaved in a way that was both cowardly and prejudiced.  But hey...I didn't actually chat with the guy.  He might be an absolutely terrific human being.

Okay.  I know what I think of Peterson.  But I don't know what to think of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.  They joined a business group fighting Vermont Yankee.  On the other hand, despite the word "Vermont" all over their advertising, Ben & Jerry's is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Unilever, a Dutch-British company. It has been a subsidiary since 2000.

At this point, Unilever has continued to encourage the Vermont company's social activism.  I believe they do so because quirkiness (for example, "chief of stuff") and "Vermont social responsibility" are important parts of the Ben & Jerry's brand identity.  Still, Unilever is a multi-national company, like many other such companies, and it's not worth getting too exercised about their policies.

Hard Facts on Hard Ice Cream


Hard Ice Cream
My son-in-law Vijay and I were sitting companionably at Newt's earlier this summer, and we were talking about ice cream. I was having a softserve ice cream and he was having a hard ice cream.  Vijay is from India.

He told me that he hadn't realized there was such a thing as "hard ice cream" until he came to America.  He had enjoyed a lot of soft ice cream as a boy, but hard ice cream was not something he had encountered.

So we talked about this.  For soft ice cream, you need an ice cream machine, but not much other infrastructure.  You make the ice cream where people are planning to eat it.  Hard ice cream is a different story.  You make it a factory,  and then you put it in a freezer truck which keeps the ice cream cold and delivers it to a store.  Then, at the store, it is put into a big freezer.  At the store, someone buys the pint of Cherry Garcia and takes it home.  At home, conveniently enough, there's another freezer, waiting happily for some pints of ice cream to arrive.   You need a lot of freezers to deliver a pint of hard ice cream.

In short, hard ice cream is a very energy-intensive food, at least compared to soft ice cream.

Irony, Ice Cream, and Energy

It surprises me that the local makers of hard ice cream have campaigned against the green inexpensive power supplied by Vermont Yankee.   What were they thinking?

Well, okay.  They weren't thinking about their product itself. They were building a "socially-conscious" brand.  But I'm socially conscious, too!  I have a new idea for how we might save energy in the future.  We should all give up hard ice cream.

Bye-bye, Cherry Garcia!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

New England Energy: What Were They Thinking? George Coppenrath Guest Post


What were they thinking?

Observers of the New England energy scene can be forgiven for asking “what were they thinking” when New England’s state energy planners backed building 25 cent/kilowatt-hour wind projects while opposing reliable, existing, low-cost generators like Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

They were thinking New England would have endless amounts of “fracked” natural gas; they were wrong. Contrary to “expert” predictions of just a few years ago, demand has outstripped deliverable supply causing prices to climb steadily and spike drastically when the weather is at its hottest and coldest.

 They were thinking New England could always buy more Canadian hydro power; they were wrong. As with natural gas, there’s not enough transmission capacity. Efforts to build new power lines have yielded controversy, spending, but no new cross-border transmission.

And finally, they were thinking that closing a big, base load nuclear power plant or two would push New England utilities into the waiting arms of intermittent solar and wind power; they were wrong. You cannot replace base load power sources with intermittent ones, so electric utilities were instead forced into the waiting arms of high carbon fossil fuel.

 In short, they thought their foresight and strongarm regulatory tactics would bend the region’s energy market to their will. The market is bent, but instead of the result they wanted, they got the worst case scenario: higher emissions and higher prices which damage New Englanders' quality of life and increase costs to businesses.

 ---------
This op-ed column was written by George Coppenrath of Barnet, Vermont.  He is a former Vermont Senator from the Caledonia Orange District.  Within the Vermont Senate, Coppenrath served on the Natural Resources and Energy Committee.  His column has appeared in several newspapers in Vermont.

His column is also quoted extensively in today's excellent post at NEI Nuclear Notes: In a Pit in Nuclear-Free Vermont.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Exporting Our Carbon Problems: Op-Ed by Meredith Angwin

Exporting our carbon problems
The EPA takes a flawed state-by-state approach to greenhouse-gas policy

The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a proposed plan for greenhouse gas mitigation: the electricity sector must cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The rules are set on a state-by-state basis.

I am in favor of cutting carbon emissions, but the EPA plan is arbitrary, ineffective, and political. The abatement standards are plain backwards: states that already have a clean-energy mix have to do a higher percent of abatement than states that burn large amounts of coal.

EPA’s criteria for reduction goals are, frankly, opaque, including complex “building blocks” for reduction. To decide on the level of reduction required, the EPA looked at various issues, such as coal plants that might be already slated for retirement, and whether a state has natural gas available.

Per kilowatt hour of electricity produced, burning coal produces twice the carbon dioxide as burning natural gas. Logically, the EPA would require greater cutbacks in coal-burning states.

That did not happen.

For example, West Virginia generates 90 percent of its electricity from coal — and it must cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 19 percent.

In contrast, New York state has a pretty clean energy mix and, according to state profiles compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gets less than 10 percent of its electricity from burning coal — and it must cut its carbon emissions by 44 percent.

With this sort of regulation, it is no surprise that New Hampshire, which gets less than 10 percent of its electricity from coal, must cut carbon emissions by 46 percent.

* * *
Flag of Vermont
VERMONT, on the other hand, is a poster child for a low-carbon state. Vermont and the District of Columbia use very little fossil fuel to make electricity, so they are the only two states (well, state and district) that don’t have to submit a plan for carbon abatement in the electricity sector.

However, more than 70 percent of the electricity generated within Vermont comes from Vermont Yankee, a very low-carbon electricity supplier. When Vermont Yankee shuts down at the end of the year, Vermont will be importing energy from states with more carbon-heavy profiles.

Will it cease to be a shining example of a low-carbon state?

No. According to the EPA, Vermont will still be a low-carbon state as long as it doesn’t generate high-carbon electricity in state.

EPA regulates carbon according to power actually generated within the state, not by power purchase contracts. If other states are burning more fossil fuels to supply Vermont, the carbon mitigation rules will be their problem, not Vermont’s problem. Vermont will have exported any possible compliance problems.

* * *
That brings us to New Hampshire, which has to cut back 46 percent of its carbon emissions. With more than half of its electricity coming from nuclear and less than 10 percent from coal, cutting back to that degree might be hard.

However, the state is in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) with Vermont and other states. New Hampshire is already cutting back its carbon emissions to meet RGGI requirements, and it hopes these cuts will be enough to meet the EPA requirements also.

Flag of New Hampshire
In case New Hampshire’s RGGI cutbacks are not enough, a Concord Monitor story reported, the state is looking at whether the EPA emission caps could be set as a combined target for all the RGGI states, thereby possibly involving Vermont in the cutbacks, in a manner that has yet to be determined.

However New Hampshire meets its requirements, it won’t have to do so very quickly. Starting now, there’s a one-year period for public comment on the EPA plan, followed by another year (or more) for the states to design their mitigation plans.

According to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance white paper, state plans are due by June 2017 and multi-state plans are due by 2018. It sounds as if New Hampshire might choose to participate in a multi-state plan. In such a scenario, New Hampshire’s choices might also affect Vermont’s status. Maybe.

* * *
The whole thing is unreasonably complicated. It is no wonder that many commentators expect a raft of lawsuits.

You can also think satire: The Onion (a humor website) describes the situation with this headline: “New EPA Regulations Would Force Power Plants to Find 30% More Loopholes by 2030.”

Or you can think confusing: The Bloomberg New Energy Finance white paper is entitled “EPA’s Clean Power Plan: 50 Chefs Stir the Pot.”

Or you can think political: The EPA clearly made major concessions to the coal states in the state-by-state requirements.

At any rate, when rules require a state that doesn’t produce much carbon to cut its production drastically while allowing comparatively minor cutbacks to a state that produces a lot, it’s hard to justify this policy as “carbon mitigation.”

* * *
In the early part of my career, I worked on finding abatement methods for nitrogen oxide pollution:
reducing these emissions was required under the Clean Air Act.

Brownish NOx smog at the Golden Gate Bridge
Credit to Aaron Logan at Wikipedia
Nitrogen oxide emissions are the cause of the dirty brown color of photochemical smog, and they are caused by high-temperature combustion. At a high-enough flame temperature, the air burns itself, uniting nitrogen and oxygen in the air to make nitrogen oxides. This happens in cars and in almost all fossil-fired power plants.

If an area had particularly dirty air, it had to make more drastic cutbacks on pollution. For example, California cars eventually had to have more pollution controls on nitrogen oxide emissions.

Comparing these new carbon rules to my experience regarding nitrogen oxide pollution, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that an area that produces lots of carbon dioxide has to do less abatement than areas that produce little.

I do not mean to imply that in those good old days, back when I worked on nitrogen oxide pollution, nothing was political. Of course things were political. States and utilities sued one another, they sued the EPA, and so forth and so on.

However, the nitrogen regulations did not start as political: they started as general rules, and then various interest groups attempted to get changes made. In contrast, the recently issued carbon rules are strongly political from the start.

In my overview of the EPA plan, I sadly admit that I think The Onion is right: there will be 30 percent more loopholes by 2030.

---
My op-ed was first published in the Valley News on June 29.  It also was published in several other newspapers and websites, including in The Commons on July 23.  I liked the headline in The Commons, so I have used the version published there. (Every time the column appeared, it was slightly different, due to different editors.)