Monday, July 25, 2016

No Country for Old Nukes? Mike Twomey Guest post

Vermont Yankee

In a scene from Cormac McCarthy's novel, No Country for Old Men, a professional assassin taunts his rival (who is cornered, defenseless, and about to meet his maker) with the following query:

"If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?"

It is a profound question intended to raise doubts about the decisions we make, the principles we follow, and the assumptions that guide our behaviors.  A version of this concept is applicable to a wide range of situations:  If the road you traveled brought you to a negative outcome, was it the right road? (Where could you have made different or better decisions?)  Or, in the positive:  If the road you traveled brought you to a positive outcome, it was the right road. (Do not waste your time or energy second-guessing the seemingly unhelpful detours along the way.)

I work for one of the largest nuclear operators in the U.S. and my responsibilities over the last several years have included advocacy on behalf of the continued operation of nuclear plants in New York and New England.  Working with a large team, this effort has involved complex, technical presentations to state and federal agencies with jurisdiction over the related matters that affect the licenses under which the nuclear plants operate, as well as extensive stakeholder outreach to educate the public, the media, elected officials, and others about the important benefits of nuclear power, from an electric reliability perspective, from an economic perspective, and from an environmental perspective.

Over the last six or seven years, the wholesale market for electricity has dramatically changed due to persistent low natural gas prices.  In most "organized" markets (New York, New England, Mid-Atlantic, for example), the price for power typically follows the price for natural gas.  Therefore, as the price for natural gas has plunged, wholesale power prices have also plunged to historic lows.

While wholesale power prices have plunged, the cost to run a nuclear power plant has increased, for a variety of reasons.  You do not have to be a finance professional to conclude that increasing costs and decreasing revenues will eventually lead to unprofitability.  Faced with these grim economic prospects, in 2013, Entergy announced the retirement of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon, VT.  Vermont Yankee delivered electricity to the New England electric grid for the last time on December 29, 2014, ending a more than 42-year run of providing clean, reliable energy, employing more than 600 nuclear professionals, and paying millions annually in state and local taxes.

Due to the same economic forces that led to Vermont Yankee's closure, Entergy also announced the retirement of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, MA in May 2019.  Pilgrim produces more than 80% of the carbon-free energy generated in Massachusetts.  In addition to inflicting the same type of economic harm in and around Plymouth that Vermont Yankee's retirement inflicted on southern Vermont, Pilgrim's retirement will make it very difficult for the Commonwealth to meet its legal obligation to reduce greenhouse gases.

During the last ten years, while we have been seeking federal (and, in some cases, state) approvals to continue to operate our existing nuclear plants, many federal and state officials have separately been pursuing efforts to reduce carbon emissions.  These efforts have included federal agency actions (most notably, the EPA's Clean Power Plan) and various state actions, including legislation, agency actions, and "encouragement" provided to utilities to take steps to reduce electric sector carbon emissions (e.g., the recent multi-state "clean energy" RFP issued by utilities in several New England states).

In general, these federal and state carbon reduction efforts have focused on providing significant subsidies and/or long term contracts to renewable energy sources, primarily wind and solar.  But, these carbon reduction efforts have not included any proposals to support the continued operation of existing nuclear facilities.  For example, the Clean Power Plan provides no incentives to states to maintain their existing nuclear plants.  And, the multi-state "clean energy" RFP issued by several New England utilities in 2015 excluded existing nuclear facilities from participating.  In short, carbon reduction advocates have tended to be single-minded in their objective: Increase the use of renewable energy.

According to data from ISO-New England, reliance on natural gas for electricity production in New England more than tripled from 2000 to 2015 (15% to 49%).  During that same period, contributions from hydro resources and renewable energy resources remained essentially flat (7% and 8-9%, respectively).  Nuclear also remained essentially flat (31% to 30%), with uprates and increased availability offset by Vermont Yankee's retirement.  The big declines have come in the use of oil-fired (22% down to 2%) and coal-fired (18% to 4%) generation.  And, from 2000 to 2014, New England saw steady reductions in CO2 emissions as natural gas-fired plants replaced oil- and coal-fired plants.

In 2015, however, Vermont Yankee's retirement increased New England's CO2 emissions by 5 percent, or more than two million metric tons.  The reason? Natural gas-fired generation replaced Vermont Yankee's output.  A similar outcome followed the retirement of the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station in California, which resulted in meaningful increases in CO2 emissions.  Future nuclear plant retirements can be expected to produce the same results.  This means that we can expect increased CO2 emissions.

The takeaway for New England, therefore, is this:  The mix of federal and state actions (and inaction), combined with market forces, has led to (1) substantially increased reliance on natural gas-fired generation, (2) nuclear plant retirements followed by increased CO2 emissions, and (3) no meaningful increase in renewable energy's contribution to the grid. ISO-New England, the non-profit, independent entity responsible for maintaining the reliability of the region's electric grid, identified the following challenges in its most recent report:
  • Inadequate natural gas pipeline infrastructure is at times limiting the availability of gas-fired resources or causing them to switch to oil, which is creating reliability concerns and price volatility, and contributing to air emission increases in winter.
  • Substantial nongas generating capacity is retiring, limiting the options for reliable grid operation when natural gas infrastructure is constrained.
  • The weather-dependent output from wind and solar resources and the increase in [distributed generation] adds complexity to how the ISO must operate the power system to maintain reliability.
  • Expensive transmission infrastructure upgrades are needed to connect more wind and hydro resources.
  • Efforts to meet state policy goals to inject more clean energy into the system through long-term contracts may undermine confidence in the markets and inhibit future investment in competitive power resources.
We are left to ponder the consequences of a single-minded focus on supporting renewable energy and a lack of support for the existing nuclear fleet.  Even if you disagree about the relative merits of carbon reduction efforts, it is inarguable that additional nuclear plant retirements will lead to increased CO2 emissions.  Moreover, the increased dependence on natural gas-fired resources reduces fuel diversity and exposes customers to potential price volatility.  An important additional fact to recognize is that, once a nuclear plant retires, there is no opportunity to bring that plant back into service (it is not technically impossible, but it is infeasible from a regulatory standpoint and an economic perspective).

If we are, through application of a "renewable energy is the only future" rule, moving toward an electric future of increased carbon emissions, less grid reliability, insufficient fuel diversity, and increased consumer prices, then stakeholders (customers, elected officials, businesses, etc.) will be entitled to ask:  If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?

There is another path to follow.  In New York, the Public Service Commission is considering the adoption of a program that would compensate nuclear facilities for their non-carbon emitting attributes.   It would be the first in the U.S. to explicitly -- and financially -- acknowledge the importance of the existing nuclear facilities to carbon reduction goals.  All who desire a future electric grid that is clean, reliable, and affordable should applaud New York's efforts.  And, we should decline the pitch of renewable energy advocates who peddle the fantasy that wind and solar alone can power the grid.

About the author:

Mike Twomey is Vice President for External Affairs at Entergy. He is involved in many areas of negotiation and outreach concerning the nuclear plants.  His most recent guest post at this blog was The Replacement for Vermont Yankee Was...Natural Gas.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn and is republished by permission.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Closing Diablo Canyon would be a loss for California

March for Environmental Hope
In San Francisco June 24
From Mothers for Nuclear Facebook page
Diablo Canyon and Agreements

Closing Diablo Canyon would be a great loss for California air quality and grid reliability.  To be blunt about it: What are these people thinking?  

Well, they aren't thinking.  They are kicking the can down the road.  My post at Northwest Clean Energy blog, Closing Diablo Canyon a big loss for California, gives an overview of the PG&E agreement with anti-nuclear groups, how they are kicking the can.  I encourage you to read it.  

What are these people thinking?

The Southern California Grid has a rolling-blackout plan, even now, with Diablo operating.  According to the San Diego Union Tribune  "natural gas curtailments" could interrupt electricity service for as many as 14 days this summer.   Basically, gas supplies are constrained: in California, part of the constraint is the aftermath of the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak.

So, with California ISO considering its rolling black-out planning and gas curtailments, PG&E plans to close Diablo Canyon!  How did California get into such a fix, anyway?

Part of the answer is about requiring unrealistic renewable energy standards, and another part is having anti-nuclear groups at the planning table for the agreement, with pro-nuclear groups excluded (unless they are unions).  

Well, hey, I'm used to pro-nuclear groups being excluded.  When Jaczko met with  "citizen volunteer groups" in Brattleboro a few years ago, the Energy Education Project that Howard and I founded was not considered a citizen's group.  Howard and I sat in the peanut gallery, not at the table. 

The history and the actions

To understand the history of the Diablo Canyon situation, read my post at Northwest Clean Energy Blog.  Also, watch quick videos of the California Lands Commission hearing at Rod Adams blog post:  Showing Up and Speaking for Diablo Canyon in California.

To learn about actions you can take for Diablo Canyon, go to the Save Diablo Canyon or Californians for Green Nuclear Power websites.  These websites have links for donations, signing petitions, and for breaking news.  There are several other groups also active for Diablo Canyon. For more links, visit my blog post Diablo Canyon and What To Do About It.

Actions are more important than history. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Write a comment! Support New York Nuclear Plants

Fitzpatrick plant
The Clean Energy Standard

New York State has proposed a Clean Energy Standard which would support not just renewables, but ALL clean energy, including nuclear power.  Implementing this standard would keep the upstate nuclear plants operating.

The comment period on the standard was supposed to close tomorrow.  But, the comment period  has been extended until Friday July 22.  Here's where to comment.

What is the Clean Energy Standard?

It's a proposal to support all clean energy power plants: both renewable and nuclear.  Here's the staff proposal under current review:

And here's one of many newspaper articles on the subject:

Michael Shellenberger has an excellent article on the subject:

Please comment  and post about it and send links to your friends in New York State!

It is also worthwhile to comment on some of the newspaper articles, but the main thing is: comment to the New York Department of Public Service.   (This is the same link as the first link.  I'm just trying to make it VERY easy to get to the place where you can comment to the New York Department of Public Service.)

The comment extension

Ummm....the people who asked for the comment period to be extended are NOT friends of nuclear energy. You can bet that they are getting their act together  for a major blitz next week.

Send in your pro-nuclear comments!

Examples and ideas for comments

The  Environmental Progress organization has good information and example comments on this Google Drive.

My own comment is below:

Nuclear is the largest source of zero-emissions energy in New York State.  If we are serious about lowering (or holding steady) on carbon dioxide, we must keep the nuclear plants running.  I live in Vermont, and when Vermont Yankee closed, the carbon emissions on the New England grid rose by 5 to 7% by various calculations. The 7% is from Utility Dive magazine, an industry publication.  It is based on numbers from the New England grid operator.

All existing zero-emission sources need support!  If people pick and choose: ooh, I don't like nuclear or ooh, I don't like hydro or ooh, wind turbines are terrible, then these existing  zero emission sources WILL be closed.  And they WILL be replaced by fossil.  It is as simple as that, really.

I am in favor of nuclear for the future, but if someone doesn't like to build more nuclear, that is about policy for the future.  For  right now: Keep and Support the Existing Zero Emissions Sources that we have!  Close Fossil First!

Renewables are heavily supported for their zero-emissions qualities, and nuclear deserves some similar support.

Please move forward on the Clean Energy Standard to protect our zero-emission sources.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Much about politics, but little about fish.

Herring larva in drop of water
Matchstick for comparison
River Water, Sea Water and Nuclear Plants

My article Keeping cool under pressure describes the many ways that "water quality issues" are used by states to attack the continued operation of nuclear power plants.

 Vermont Yankee, Oyster Creek, Indian Point, Turkey Point, Diablo Canyon, and Columbia Generating Station have been accused of overheating rivers and/or causing the death of billions of fish.  Well, the death of billions of fish eggs or larva (larva are newly-hatched fish).  These accusations have closed down plants or made them far more expensive to operate.

My article appears in the May 10 edition of Nuclear Engineering International Magazine. The section about  Turkey Point is a separate call-out in that article, due to the unusual canal-based  cooling at Turkey Point. 

In reality, the reason most fish eggs don't grow up to be adult fish is--other fish.  Fish eggs are an important food source for fish, so fish lay thousands of eggs. An American Shad lays about 30,000 eggs per year.  A salmon lays a more modest number, around 3,000.  A fish egg usually does not become an adult fish, and this has nothing to do with power plants.  It's about other fish: the fish that like to eat fish eggs.   

Some links

I am always very pleased to write an article for an important magazine such as Nuclear Engineering International.  However, "read my article" seems a rather thin blog post.  So I finish this post with a couple of links that can supplement my magazine article.

Diablo Canyon: The owners of this power plant recently announced that the plant would close by 2025. This article describes the upgrade-your-cooling-system issues the owners would have faced if they had chosen to stay open.

Indian Point: The plant has ristorph screens and proposes adding wedgewire screens.  Opponents continue to push for expensive cooling towers, but offer no reason to believe that cooling towers will be better for the fish.

Vermont Yankee: Vermont lost a lawsuit that asked the NRC to deny Vermont Yankee's license extension because Vermont Yankee didn't have the proper state-level water permit.  Even some of the plant opponents said that such concerns have to be raised before appropriate commissions, rather than in lawsuits.

Oyster Creek: State of New Jersey closes plant, ostensibly to protect Barnegat Bay.

Columbia Generating Station: This blog post has an excellent graphic that compares the water use of the power plant with the volume of water flowing through its water source, the Columbia River, near the plant.

Turkey Point: There is no evidence that any effluents from the plant  or the plant canals will  harm drinking water, or will affect Biscayne Bay.  Still,  some groups are suing the plant for causing vaguely-stated environmental harm.

I enjoyed putting these supplemental links together, but I do hope you will read the article itself: Keeping Cool Under Pressure. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Diablo Canyon and What To Do About It

Rally for Diablo Canyon
Mothers for Nuclear,, Californians for Green Nuclear Power and others
June 17, 2016
San Luis Obispo
Photo from Californians for Green Nuclear Power
The Announcement and What To Do

Today, PG&E announced that it would not apply for a license renewal for Diablo Canyon, but would close the plant by 2025. The New York Times article this morning: California's Last Nuclear Power Plant Could Close.

 IF this agreement goes through, Diablo Canyon will stay open for another eight years before it closes.  Eight years is not tomorrow. This is not the time to despair and scuttle the ship.  Now is the time to take action! There are things we can do to help our nuclear plants survive.

Right now, we can do two things:  Sign a Petition and Make a Donation. I have done both.

Sign a Petition to the White House

A petition to the White House requests that the special benefits of nuclear power be recognized by federal government policy. The petition has 13,000 signatures, and needs 100,000 to get a response from the White House.  Sign it here to Keep America's Nuclear Power Plants Working for US!

Please sign it and circulate it!

Make A Donation to the March for Environmental Hope

California pro-nuclear groups are marching from San Francisco and Oakland to Sacramento,  in the March for Environmental Hope.  They will publicize the importance of nuclear power for California, and they will attend a meeting of the California Lands Commission. The Commission will be holding a crucial vote about Diablo Canyon.

The March is sponsored by Mothers for Nuclear, Save Diablo Canyon, and Environmental Progress.  Other groups will be marching with them: Californians for Green Nuclear Power and Thorium Energy Alliance.  

The marchers in California are doing this for all of us, for everyone who believes in nuclear energy as the safe, clean energy of the future.  Help them!  You can donate here, and help pay campground fees and so forth for the marchers.


Three excellent articles, worth reading:

Rod Adams at Forbes: NRDC Announces PG&E Has Agreed to Kill Diablo Canyon
James Conca at Forbes: Pro-Nuclear March In San Francisco to Protest Closing of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant
Michael Shellenberger at Environmental Progress: Why Diablo Canyon Will Live--and Why the Corrupt PGE-IBEW-NRDC Proposal Will Fail

And, just for fun, to see some of the stakes in this particular case, from the San Diego Times Tribune yesterday: Heat wave raises worries about power outages. To quote the article:

Rotating outages result when utilities, largely due to gas issues, don't have enough supply to meet demand.
"We would tell the utilities to turn off the power to a substation...until.... we can go back to balancing supply and demand in real time," Greenlee (of California ISO) said.
Outages can last from 30 to 90 minutes.
But Greenlee said as of Monday afternoon, the system was holding up.

In other words:


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

New England Grid Operator Meeting This Friday

The purpose of the Consumer Liaison Group (CLG) is to be the voice of the electricity consumer in advising the grid operator, ISO-NE.  As the annual report states: The Consumer Liaison Group (CLG) is a forum for sharing information between ISO New England (ISO) and those who ultimately use and pay for electricity in New England.

The next meeting of the Consumer Liaison Group will be the day after tomorrow: Friday June 17 at the Double Tree Hotel in Westborough MA. The topic is grid security from the consumer point of view.  ( I am on the Coordinating Committee for the CLG. )

CLG meetings are free, but you should register in advance if you want lunch.  Here's the information.  However, since the picture is merely a screen shot,  I supply the relevant links below the picture.  I hope to see some of you there.

Double Tree Westborough

CLG web page


Mary Louise "Weezie" Nuara

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Nuclear Blogger Carnival #313: 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.


At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus discusses “Too Cheap to Meter” and the continued speculation about what Lewis Strauss might have meant when he uttered those words 62 years ago. Her post links to the speech itself.  (These words were part of a set of hopes for an abundant future; they were not a price prediction.)   

At the MZConsulting blog  Milt Caplan discusses the need for long-term investment  which is not met by today's "deregulated" markets.  In these markets, natural gas is the price maker, and all other plants are price takers. However, some types of not-natural-gas plants plants are subsidized.  This market system is broken, and the effects on existing and new infrastructure may be severe.

It might seem that this article follows directly from the previous article about prices in the United States.  Instead, this one is about Japan: A report based on a dialogue between Edward Kee and Prof. Takeo Kikkawa during the April 2016 Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) Annual Conference in Tokyo. The JAIF event covered topics related to the way nuclear power will fit into the Japanese electricity industry as deregulation and electricity markets are implemented. 

At Neutron Bytes, Dan Yurman notes that the deal won’t go very far unless some major challenges are overcome.

Clean Energy

At Forbes, James Conca reports on news from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).  This year, TVA took significant actions that will move the country forward on what many think is the best energy mix for the future – nuclear and solar. This month alone, TVA started their latest solar power program, submitted the first-ever permit application to the NRC for a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR), and their Watts Bar 2 Nuclear Generating Station became the first new nuclear power plant in the U.S. in this century to reach criticality.

At Yes Vermont Yankee,  I share two videos from the World Nuclear Association. These short, accurate videos share a positive message on the role of nuclear energy. The first one is Nuclear Energy Leaves More Space for Nature, and the second is Nuclear Energy Helps Solve the Climate Puzzle.  Enjoy and share these one-minute videos.