Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Vermont Did Lead the Way: Guest post by George Clain

Carbon Dioxide
Once again some legislators want us all to pay a carbon tax so Vermont can lead the way in carbon reduction. Missing from this rhetoric is the fact that Vermont once DID lead the way: when Vermont Yankee was operating, we had the lowest carbon emissions per capita for electricity production.

Then Vermont Yankee’s power contract expired in March 2012 and the plant closed in December 2014. Vermont went from enjoying a healthy, affordable, steady diet of low-cost, carbon-free power to a brownish admixture of nuclear, hydro, natural gas, coal and oil power, with a garnish of in-state renewable. Research shows that in-state renewable power has grown by just six percent of the total power load since March 2012. That six percent “solution” is really no solution at all climate-wise, because the renewable industry sells its renewable energy credits to out-of-state gas, coal and oil power producers so they can keep pouring smoke into the air and look more “green” than they actually are. If you think the Vermont renewable power industry is leading the way, ask yourself, “leading the way where? And for whom?”

Carbon taxes and RECS are just one struggling industry’s attempt to get state government to rescue them from having a financially weak product by handing them their competition’s money. Real carbon reduction will come when New England energy planners prioritize existing high-volume, low-carbon generators like hydro and nuclear. Until then, we will just add tiny amounts of renewable power every year while burning more and more fossil fuels.  This is not a problem solver for global warming or for fixing the out of control spending in Montpelier.

George Clain

Barre, VT

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This letter to the editor has appeared in several newspapers in Vermont.  The author, George  Clain,  is past president and business manager of IBEW local 300 (at Vermont Yankee) and has been active in energy safety and policies for over 15 years.  The letter appeared recently in True North Reports.

Note: within Vermont, it is well known that our utilities do not have to buy RECs (Renewable Energy Credits), and therefore the renewable generators sell the RECs out-of-state, allowing the same renewable energy production to be counted twice: Once within Vermont, and once out-of-state.  Therefore, our RECs are not very green. Here's a Vt Digger report on the REC controversy. The bill passed during this legislative session, but it was a somewhat different bill  of course.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Low-Carbon Connecticut River Hydro, Fuel Diversity, and Taxes. Guest post by Guy Page

Comerford Dam
On the Connecticut, but upriver
(I couldn't find a good picture of Rockingham Dam)
Connecticut River hydro dam tax dispute underscores need for New England fuel diversity

The glut of hydro-fracked natural gas has drastically reduced the value of a large, low-carbon power plant located in Windham County on the banks of the Connecticut River, according to expert testimony given in Vermont Superior Court May 11, as reported by the May 12 Rutland Herald.

The plant under discussion is the 40-MW TransCanada hydro dam located in Rockingham. But if the situation sounds familiar to followers of the Vermont Yankee story, it should. The Vernon plant was forced to close last year because New England's electricity purchasing and transmission system was unresponsive to the threat the natural gas glut posed to one of the region's star producers of low-cost, low-carbon electricity.

New England hydro dams and other traditionally low-cost, low carbon power manufacturers are financially vulnerable due to the glut of hydro-fracked natural gas. The glut is good news for consumers - but only in the short-term. Because New England's energy purchasing policies favor lowest-
cost generation with scant regard to fuel source and the benefits of fuel diversity, the region's hydro and nuclear power plants are suffering financially. State and regional energy planners must recognize the value of the low cost, low-carbon power plants. Our environment needs emission-free power, our state and local governments need their revenue, and when natural gas prices rise, our residential and
industry ratepayers will need them more than ever.

The TransCanada dam doesn't appear to be a candidate for closure, yet. But its reduced value -
about $41 million less than its assessed value of $108 million, its owners say - should be seen as yet another warning that if New England really wants a long-term, diverse, low-carbon power portfolio, regional power purchasing policies must change. A recent statement by New England’s governors boosts natural gas transmission and renewable power, but offers little encouragement to regional hydro and nuclear power generators. This is unfortunate. Change to protect New England’s clean, affordable energy future is long past due.

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Guy Page
Guy Page is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.  He is  Communications Director of the Vermont Energy Partnership (www.vtep.org), a Montpelier-based coalition of individuals, businesses, and labor and development organizations promoting clean, safe, affordable and reliable electricity for Vermont. Vermont Yankee is a VTEP member.  This post first appeared on the VTEP blog.


Monday, May 18, 2015

The Cleantech Bubble, Tesla Motors, Nuclear Industry Startups: Guest Post by Evan Twarog

Evan Twarog
The Energy Market

In 2013, more than $1.6 trillion was invested into global energy markets, a figure that has more than doubled since 2000, and one that will continue to grow well into the future. The global energy market is worth tens of trillions of dollars, and this marketplace has driven the growth of entire regions, including Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Russia.  In other words, the energy market is massive beyond comprehension.  For the aspiring entrepreneur, this amount of available money means one thing; a huge opportunity to build a company that dwarfs even Exxon Mobil.  If a company can capture just 1% of this market, the company will be worth over $100 billion.  This opportunity is what drew the attention of a herd of entrepreneurs in the mid-2000s.

At the start of the 21st century, seemingly everyone thought that clean energy would be the next big thing.  How could it not? Smog in Beijing was so bad that people couldn’t see from building to building.  The year of the hurricane, 2005, brought a record 28 hurricanes, 8 more than the next busiest season.  Humanity’s consumption habits had to change, and they had to change immediately.  It was going to be a generation of clean energy entrepreneurs that lead this wave of economic transformation.  No longer would we be reliant on evil oil companies, greedy lobbyists, or big finance.

This revolution never came though.  Wind power today, a full decade after the Green Tech Boom offered to change the world, meets less than 5% of total power consumption in the US.  Solar power meets less than 1% of our power needs.  Renewable energy advocates point to stunning growth rates, often nearing 100% for solar power, however fail to mention the percentage of total power generated by renewables.  What happened to this wave of change?

The Cleantech Bubble Bursts

In 2007, the Cleantech Bubble burst.  The Renewable Energy Industrial Fund, which peaked at over 2000 points, dropped to less than half of that in a year, and today rests at 528.93 points (as of April 30, 2015).  While conservatives will often argue that as soon as the government touched renewables with its subsidies, its failure was inevitable, there is a different explanation as to why cleantech blew up.  Many cleantech companies tried to be revolutionary companies that would take over the entire energy market, and turn into a multi-billion dollar company.  While the massive scale of the energy marketplace seemed to present a huge opportunity on the surface for entrepreneurs, the reality was that this created fierce competition.   While many companies tried to differentiate themselves from one another with “unique” approaches to producing solar panels or wind turbines, there were no exponential improvements in solar panel efficiency.  A solar panel from one company was virtually the a solar panel from a different company, only both were marketed as being revolutionary.  In reality, there was rarely a distinction from a CIGS Solar Panel and a Silicon Solar Panel from a market standpoint.  While this bust may seem like a creation of the oil industry, the failure comes back to a lack of distinction, and companies trying to go big and compete against much larger competitors.

This bubble is by no means the first time an industry has burst open.  The housing bubble of 2008 and the tech bubble of the early 2000s are the two examples that come to mind.  Even the South Sea Company experienced a massive financial bubble in 1720.  What makes the Cleantech Bubble unique is its connection to a social issue.  In building a cleantech company, entrepreneurs were taking on a problem facing humanity.  Environmentalists were thrilled by the industry’s growth, and the potential revolution even attracted the attention of the GOP, a party that has traditionally been skeptical of environmentalism.  The pressing nature of climate change undoubtedly pushed forward the inflation of the bubble.  The failure of the Cleantech Bubble was the biggest flop of “social entrepreneurship” in mankind’s history.

Tesla Motors Survives the Bubble

Out of this bubble, one of the survivors and winners that emerged was Tesla Motors.  Founded by a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in 2003, Tesla aimed to create world class cars that were powered by electricity.  With each generation becoming increasingly affordable, the goal was to bring beautiful, powerful electric cars to the masses and prove that they could match and exceed its gasoline competitors.  Today, Tesla has a market capitalization of nearly $30 billion, and has sold tens of thousands of cars.

Tesla Motors ultimately emerged from the Cleantech Bubble for a number of reasons.  Perhaps the single greatest reason why Tesla succeeded is that Tesla took over a small market, and then expanded to include larger markets.  Initially targeting the high-end, luxury electric car market with its Roadster, it was able to capture a monopoly over the industry before expanding into larger markets.  The Roadster provided the needed capital and reputation necessary to fund the R&D to design and built the less expensive Model S.  Now it’s in a prime position to expand into even broader markets.

One of the key features of any Tesla product is its outstanding performance and beauty.  Its Model S has the highest safety rating a car can achieve, and it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds.  Tesla’s technology is so good that other companies use it in their own products.  Mercedes-Benz uses its powertrain, Daimler uses its battery packs, and Toyota uses its motor.  Simply put, Tesla has the best electric vehicle on the market.  Not only this, but its products are beautiful.  It can be considered the “Apple of the Auto Industry”, and has something of a cult following.  This innovative culture is the product of Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk  Musk is both a brilliant salesman and engineer.  This combination is exceedingly rare to find, and he could easily be compared to Apple’s Steve Jobs.  In many ways, Musk has become the face of the electric car industry.  His demanding nature has attracted both the fascination of the public and the drive of some of the best engineers.  He describes his staff by saying “If you’re at Tesla, you’re choosing to be at the equivalent of Special Forces.  There’s the regular army, and that’s fine, but if you are working at Tesla, you’re choosing to step up your game”. This charisma and intensity is a critical component of the success the company has experienced.

Beyond this, Tesla was able to time the markets in order to take advantage of government funding available during the Cleantech Bubble to gain access to tremendous amounts of capital.  In January 2010, Tesla secured a $465 million loan from the Department of Energy.  Today, this loan is unthinkable with the political climate in Washington.

Entrepreneurial Success Requires Micro-Vision 

All of these factors coupled together show a few things.  Companies must have a micro-vision in order to take advantage of macroeconomic trends.  Entrepreneurs can’t rely on the opportunities that huge markets present without thinking about how their company in particular will capture this market.  Tesla had a vision from the start, whereas Nanosolar and Solyndra didn’t create a solar panel that would stand out from other competitors and in turn, meet a market need.  Beyond this, timing, leadership, people and image all play a significant role in how the success of a company pans out.

Tesla’s success is largely due to a combination of factors.  It created a revolutionary car.  It timed the market perfectly.  It captured a small market before expanding into larger ones.  It attracted incredibly engineers.  It offers direct car sales to its customers through its company dealerships.  Its name has become a coveted brand, and Tesla took advantage of the “sex-appeal” of appearing to be green in order to drive its initial sales of the Roadster.  Perhaps the nuclear industry, an industry not known for its startup-friendly culture can learn from Tesla’s example.

Innovation in the Nuclear Industry

One industry that isn’t necessarily known for its rapid innovation and startup friendly culture is the nuclear industry.  This might be slowly starting to change though.  Y-Combinator, one of the world’s most renown startup incubators, has invested in several nuclear power startups over the past several years.  UPower, a nuclear battery company, hopes to produce a container-sized nuclear battery capable of producing 2 megawatts of electricity.  Instead of producing a reactor that produces enough electricity to power a small state, the reactor would power a small, remote city.  Another startup that YC has recently funded is Helion Energy, a nuclear fusion company that takes an alternative approach to building a nuclear fusion reactor.  Instead of building multi-billion dollar reactors like the ITER, the international effort to build a nuclear fusion reactor, Helion aims to build smaller, distributed reactors for several tens of millions of dollars.  The company claims that it could produce power for $.04/KWh.  Even outside of YC, NuScale Power, the front runner of small modular reactor designers resembles more of a technology startup compared to a traditional nuclear company.  Starting out of the vision of Dr. Jose Reyes in the early 2000s, NuScale has collaborated with Oregon State University and is arguably the company within the industry that has the most momentum.

These companies are examples of an interesting shift in the way innovation is permeating into the nuclear industry.  For decades, innovation within the industry was dominated by larger companies such as GE, Westinghouse and Areva.  Seemingly, some of this momentum is now coming from smaller startups.  While this trend might not seem significant, it could change the way in which newer technologies come to the marketplace.

If startups are going to be successful within the nuclear industry, they are going to have to learn from the startups of Silicon Valley and the Cleantech Bubble.  Compared to other industries, the nuclear industry is heavily capital intensive and regulated, so establishing a strong foundation is critical to a startup’s success.  In particular, a couple issues that the nuclear industry will face mirror those that Tesla overcame.

Breakthrough Nuclear Technologies, and Learning from Tesla

Any nuclear startup will need to address what their target market will be.  Just as Tesla established a small niche and then expanded out into larger markets, nuclear startups must do the same because of the immense size of the energy marketplace.  These startups are going to run into serious challenges because of competition from fossil fuels. Larger nuclear reactors will have the benefit of massive scale, but will face the challenge of proving their economics because of the uncertainty associated with their construction costs.  Not only this, but natural gas and coal will provide fierce competition.  Why should utilities build a $10 billion reactor, when they could build a natural gas plant for half of that in half the time?  Smaller reactors will face similar competition from fossil fuel generators.  What these startups will have to rely on are nuclear power’s inherent advantages over its competition.  Nuclear reactors rarely have to be refueled, making them appealing in marketplaces with unstable and high energy prices.  Additionally, because they don’t have to be refueled, they’re appealing to markets where refueling can be difficult (UPower is attempting to capture this market).

Creating a breakthrough technology in the nuclear industry is going to be difficult, expensive and lengthy due to its strong regulatory framework.  As Peter Thiel writes in Zero to One, a breakthrough technology is something that is orders of magnitude better than the current competition.  Being 25% more efficient than other competitors isn’t going to be considered a breakthrough technology in his mind.  Creating a product that is 2 times better, 5 times better or even 10 times better is what will change the world.  The difficulty that the industry is going to experience is that innovation is a) expensive and b) lengthy.  The NRC is planning on charging $279 for every hour of time that its staff spends reviewing a reactor license, meaning it will cost tens of millions of dollars to win a reactor license.  Additionally, the review period takes several years, making it difficult for any startup to maintain the momentum it built up during its initial period of life.  Nuscale is proving that these regulatory challenges can be overcome by partnering up with a larger firm (in this case it was Fluor, a large construction firm) to gain access to the necessary capital to navigate the process.

There are several technologies that have the potential to be considered breakthrough technologies.  Molten Salt Reactors offer passive safety systems and a smaller footprint that could lead to lower construction and operating costs.  Nuclear fusion, which has been “20 years away for the past 50 years”, could be equally as transformative if it  can be commercialized at competitive costs.  The other technology that could be powerful is the Traveling Wave Reactor which is currently under design by the company Terrapower.  All of these technologies have the potential to improve safety, decrease the waste generated by the fuel cycle, decrease production and construction costs, and in turn, be considered breakthrough technologies.

Building the Nuclear Startups

The laws of building a startup apply to any company that is seeking to enter into the nuclear industry.  While the engineering and monopoly questions are both critical to answer and present unique challenges for the industry in particular, all of the questions will need to be answered.  Building a startup is a massive investment of personal energy and it will consume years of the entrepreneur’s life.  Just because there are some unique challenges facing the nuclear industry doesn’t mean that entrepreneurs should be timid about building a company in the industry.  If anything, this difficulty will separate out those who are serious about building a company and technology from those who are looking to simply get rich.  Building a startup in the nuclear industry offers potentially tremendous rewards if it can overcome the challenges facing the industry.  Where difficulty lies, if success is found, the rewards are tremendous.
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Works Consulted:

“About Tesla.” Tesla Motors. N.p. n.d. Web. 1 May 2015.
Russell, Kyle. "Y Combinator And Mithril Invest In Helion, A Nuclear Fusion Startup." TechCrunch. TechCrunch, 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 02 May 2015.
Russell, Kyle. "YC-Backed UPower Is Building Nuclear Batteries."TechCrunch. TechCrunch, 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 02 May 2015.
“Technology” UPower. N.p. n.d. Web. 1 May 2015.
Thiel, Peter. Zero to One. New York, NY; Crown Publishing. 2014. Print.
"Top 10 Most Active Hurricane Seasons." Weather Underground. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2015.
"WORLD ENERGY INVESTMENT OUTLOOK 2014 FACTSHEET." (n.d.): n. pag.International Energy Agency. International Energy Agency. Web. 1 May 2015.
"§ 170.20 Average Cost per Professional Staff-hour." Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 29 Aug. 2014. Web. 1 May 2015.


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Evan Twarog will graduate high school this year and start at the Coast Guard Academy this summer.  He has been a guest blogger at this blog and an intern at the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute.  Most recently, he has been blogging at his own blog, Semper Deinceps (rough translation: "Always Forward").  This post first appeared at that blog. Twarog also contributes to several other sites. Twarog's latest two posts are The Three Gorges Dam: Why China is Run by Engineers at Atomic Insights, and Touring Vermont Yankee, at ANS Nuclear Cafe.  We are pleased to host this essay at this blog.

Tesla Roadster


Friday, May 15, 2015

Celebrating, traveling, and a book about advocacy

George and me on our wedding day
1965
Moving Forward and Celebrating

Someone once wrote that at a certain point, a person stops trying to hide their age, and begins boasting about it.

This year is the turning point, for me. This month, I will turn 70.  Later in the year will be our 50th anniversary.  Here's my post about  our 49th anniversary, last year.

George and I are doing some serious traveling this year.  We aren't exactly "adventure" travelers.  I could illustrate our upcoming  trips with a picture of the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben.  Sorry if you were expecting that we were planning visits to the uplands of Borneo ;-)

Standard fare as it might be, we will be traveling.  These are big trips for us.  There will sometimes be weeks between blog posts.

I don't plan to try to keep the blog going while I am out of town. To some extent, I am still re-adjusting to Vermont Yankee closing.  I will be glad to visit the Eiffel Tower without worrying about Vermont Yankee or my blog. That's my plan, for sure.

Other family events are also happening this year.  For example, for many years, we have not visited with the man who was Best Man at our wedding.  We spent yesterday with him and his wife! Another event: a big family visit in the near future, complete with attending a Broadway show.  In March, I took a trip to Arizona to visit an elderly relative. Lots of personal travel.

We're not rich, but we are re-arranging our priorities, in order to see people that we love, and enjoy ourselves while we still can.

Moving Forward and Writing

From Wikipedia
 photo by Benh
I love this blog, but it just hasn't been the same to me since the plant closed.  Instead of concentrating on the blog, I am starting a big project, a book project.  I have experienced a lot and learned a lot in the past few years, and I want to share my knowledge.

For me, writing is fairly easy.  (If writing weren't easy for me, I wouldn't have a blog.) A book is different, though. A book is hard. Organizing a book, deciding on the theme, setting up the chapters, getting endorsements for it, deciding on whether to self-publish or seek a publisher: this stuff is all hard.  

I'm working on it now.  I will probably publish through my little company Carnot Communications, the same way my husband and I published Voices for Vermont Yankee. (paperback edition here) I will do it this way because I want the book to be available quickly.  Also, the book may not have a big enough potential market to interest a main-stream publisher.

I have a working title.  Campaigning for clean air: secrets of pro-nuclear advocacy and community. 

I hope for a good summer, with travel, family, friends and a Work In Progress (the book).

Moving Forward

I move forward with hope, and with gratitude. Gratitude for my husband, for my family, for my health, for my readers.   I am grateful to G-d.  I am grateful for the love and support of so many people.

And next---the Eiffel Tower!


Monday, May 11, 2015

Write a Note for California

Diablo Canyon from Wikipedia
Citizens For Green Nuclear Power

In California, Californians for Green Nuclear Power is supporting the continued operation of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear plant. This citizen's group is entirely volunteer and self-funded.  Several of them recently carpooled to Sacramento to testify in front of the California Energy Commission.

Now you can help them, help the nuclear industry, and help Diablo Canyon!  But you have to do it by 5 p.m. today. (California time).

A group called Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility has accused Diablo Canyon of not being seismically safe because the plant supposedly did not analyze the effect of a huge earthquake…directly under the plant!  The Alliance does not acknowledge that scientists analyze earthquakes by analyzing the result of earthquakes due to faults, not earthquakes that that they assign to occur at random locations.

Please submit your comments here.  DO IT TODAY!

https://efiling.energy.ca.gov/Ecomment/Ecomment.aspx?docketnumber=15-IEPR-12

You don't have to write anything very lengthy.  Just say that PG&E did an excellent review of seismic safety in the 2012 time-frame, and that the NRC regularly reviews seismic safety in terms of new data.  Or say whatever you want to say, in the words you want to use.  Just do it!

Background

Here's the PG&E report: Central Coast California Seismic Imaging Project. I found the first pages of the Technical Summary the most useful.

Gene Nelson has single-handedly uploaded many comments in response to the Sierra Club and other comments.  Let's help him.  Here's the docket, and you can see his comments.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Slow Renewable Growth Means We Must Retain Existing Power Sources: Guy Page Guest Post

With renewable growth slow, Vermont and New England must retain existing, diverse power sources

In an April 13 Associated Press story, a prominent renewable energy advocate said Vermont’s wind power industry is “just taking a little hibernation here as federal policy gets the tax credits right.”
While Vermont waits for Congress to act, now is a good time to examine the status of the state and regional supply of low-cost, low-carbon, reliable electricity. Vermont’s power needs changed dramatically in March 2012, when Vermont Yankee, per its contract, stopped providing one-third of the state’s power – every kilowatt of it low-carbon and low-cost. But not to worry, Vermonters were assured: new, renewable power would fill the gap.

Slow Growth

Three years later, the promise is being fulfilled slowly, and with great uncertainty. Based on state, utility and media sources, here’s an update on instate renewable power generation built since March 2012:
  • Three ridgeline industrial wind turbine developments (in Lowell, Sheffield, and Georgia) contribute about 4% of the state’s total electricity load.
  • A rapid proliferation of photovoltaic solar power generators, from small rooftop projects to big developments, contributes 1-2 percent.
  • Four farm bio-digesters contribute about 0.2 percent, and a small biomass generator and a hydro dam total about 0.1 percent. 
By rough count, in-state renewable generation built since March 2012 comprises about six percent of total demand. Currently, only solar is growing. The others have almost stalled since January, 2013 due to opposition, weak incentives, or cheaper energy alternatives. Yet even the “Solar Express” may slow if Congress lets a 30 percent construction tax credit expire. Through 2016, for example, the builder of a $10,000 solar power generator will pay $3000 less in federal taxes. Whether Congress continues,
eliminates, reduces to 10 percent or phases out this crucial credit is anyone’s guess. Some solar experts believe the declining cost of production has moved solar power almost to the point of tax credit independence.

Wind is Treading Water

Visiting a wind turbine
In New Hampshire
The wind power industry is indeed treading water, waiting on Congress. The three projects cited above
were sufficiently completed by December 31, 2012, just in time to receive an expiring 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour Production Tax Credit (PTC). Congress has since granted the PTC a couple of grudging one-year extensions, hardly the confidence builder the industry needs. The U.S. Senate voted against a five year extension this January. Some pro-wind senators now want a five-year PTC “phase-out.”  

The owner of Vermont’s only unbuilt but permitted project – Deerfield II in Searsburg – must have a power buyer under contract before construction begins, a spokesperson told VTEP in 2013. Ground remains unbroken. A proposed Northeast Kingdom (NEK) wind farm was rejected in a multi-town referendum. Also, transmission lines in the NEK cannot accommodate another large wind power generator, a senior state energy official said last month. Finally, most of the tri-county region’s senators, newspaper editors, and development officials have publicly opposed more ridge line wind projects in the NEK.

Three serious proposals to build instate biomass-burning power plants are unbuilt due to lack of support from neighbors, power-buying utilities and/or regulators.

It's Hard to Build New, So We Need to Keep What We Have

For one reason or another, it’s hard to build new power generation in Vermont. Therefore we must protect the low-cost, low-carbon power generation we already enjoy. With the exception of encouraging the departure of Vermont Yankee, Vermont is pretty good at this. Long-term Hydro Quebec contracts were renewed, as was a permit for a biomass plant in Ryegate. Small, defunct dams are making power again. Active dams have been re-licensed. Burlington declared itself “100 percent renewable” last year after buying a large, existing Winooski River dam. Green Mountain Power has long-term contracts for New Hampshire wind and nuclear power, and owns a small share of a Connecticut nuclear plant.

Throughout New England, hydro and nuclear power plants provide base-load, low-cost, low-carbon electricity. However, their future is jeopardized by policies favoring natural gas, New England’s dominant fuel, including a New England governor’s agreement last week that called for more natural gas infrastructure but was virtually silent on retaining existing nuclear power. Vermont must urge the rest of New England to keep its low-cost, low-carbon power.

Vermont must seek new reliable, affordable, clean power. But first – let’s keep what we already have.

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Guy Page
Guy Page is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.  He is  Communications Director of the Vermont Energy Partnership (www.vtep.org) , a Montpelier-based coalition of individuals, businesses, and labor and development organizations promoting clean, safe, affordable and reliable electricity for Vermont. Vermont Yankee is a VTEP member.

This article also appeared in Vermont Digger and other newspapers in Vermont. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Men and Energy: When Energy was Expensive, But Lives were Cheap

From Robert Hargraves book
Thorium, Energy Cheaper Than Coal

Women and Energy

On Thursday, April 30, Howard Shaffer and I were guests of Bill Sayre on the Common Sense Radio program of WDEV. Near the end of the program, Bill asked me to comment on the role of energy in improving women's lives.

 Image from
Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
This is one of my favorite subjects, and I was happy to answer.  I referred to Robert Hargraves' chart on prosperity versus birthrate, for many different countries.  As prosperity goes up, birthrate goes down.  In poor countries, women's lives are limited by gathering fuel, cooking over smoky biomass stoves, drawing water, having multiple pregnancies, and losing young children to death.

In a poor country, there's not much room for education (or even time to rest quietly) in women's lives.  When a country becomes richer, energy use goes up and women's lives improve.

(The chart above comes from Hargraves book: Thorium, Energy Cheaper Than Coal.  I wrote more about that chart in my post that reviewed the book.)

Men and Energy, Starting with Ice

As I mentioned, I was on the program with Howard Shaffer.  After I talked about women's lives, Shaffer spoke about men and energy.  Before the use of fossil and nuclear energy, the world relied only upon renewables. In those days, a high percentage of men had very dangerous jobs.

Shaffer spoke specifically about an industry that grew in New England, until electricity became common: Ice Harvesting.  Men would go out on the New England lakes in winter, cut ice and cart it into large ice houses, where it would be protected from the summer heat with straw.  Later the ice was  shipped to cities, where dairies, hospitals and restaurants used great quantities of ice to keep food and drugs cool. "Ice boxes" at home prevented food from rotting during the hot days of summer. Shipping lake ice from New England was big industry, though it had some competition from manufactured ice, usually made with ammonia.  Needless to say, you didn't put lake ice in your drink, unless you wanted to get sick. Ice was only used for keeping things cold. You didn't eat it.

That industry ended as energy became more common and less expensive. The first home electric refrigerator was sold in 1913. This marked the beginning of the end of the lake ice trade of the 1800s.

Harvesting ice was dangerous work.  It was probably not more dangerous than other occupations of the time (my husband's family were miners), but it was definitely hazardous.   Men died harvesting ice.

But let's talk about something really dangerous.  Log Drives.

Log Drives

Rumble rumble rumble….oh…that's just the log train going by….

Log Drive near Sharon, VT
I live in Wilder, Vermont, close to the Connecticut River, and close to a small railroad track that runs near the river.  On weekdays, two trains a day run along that track. The morning train mostly carries logs to a plywood factory, and the evening train mostly carries plywood from the factory.  I find the sound of the two trains quite comforting. There's the morning train, and then there's the evening train: their noise adds a rhythm to my life at home. Yes, if these trains ran as often as the New York Subway, the noise would be annoying.  But they don't run all the time.  They are just the log trains.  The morning train.  The evening train.

Before logs were shipped by train, there were log drives on the river itself: the Connecticut River Log Drives. Logs were harvested, rolled down to the river, tied up into rafts, and poled and shoved down the river by "shantymen."  The log drives on the Connecticut River started in about 1865, and only ended in 1918.  Men guided the rafts. Men fended off log rafts that threatened the bridges. They frequently died at this work.

Railroads, whatever their problems, are much safer than log drives.

I first heard the song "The Jam at Jerry's Rock" when I was in high school. The version I heard was set in Canada.  The version I have on this post is set in Michigan.  Log drives were dangerous…all over.

It's a short song, and worth listening, in my opinion.  If you go to YouTube, you can see comments on its history.



Men and Energy

As Shaffer pointed out, you can get ice from the local lakes and store it all summer. That's what men used to do, before electricity. The ice was limited in both usefulness and availability, and it cost men's lives.

Similarly, you can float logs down a river, or you can ship them by rail. Before abundant energy, the cost of shipping logs by water was considered cheap. It was paid in men's lives.

Abundant energy enables women to live healthier lives with less drudgery and more education. Abundant energy enables men to have jobs that allow them a better chance at living to an old age.

All hail to abundant energy!  (And of course, nuclear is my favorite kind!)