Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Vote is Coming

I have been working up a post about lying, and another post about organically bound tritium. But these posts are being pre-empted by Peter Shumlin, President Pro Tem of the Vermont Senate, who has set the Senate vote about Vermont Yankee license extenstion for next week. It is generally agreed that Shumlin is doing this as part of his campaign for Governor of Vermont.

An article about the vote was published in the Burlington Free Press this morning, and already has 37 on-line comments (as I post this). The author, Terri Hallenback, has the politics right. Even senators who oppose VY feel forced prematurely into the vote.

Meanwhile, utilities are scrambling for replacement power. The power they have mostly announced is wind. They plan to buy 55% of the output from a 99 MW wind farm. This sounds like 54 MW, but the capacity factor for wind is about 0.30. So neglecting the non-dispatchable nature of wind, that would be only 16 MW of base-load equivalent.

As you might expect, the majority of the power they are purchasing, 45 MW of baseload at this point, is from the mostly-fossil holdings of the great Wall Street Giants that hold portfolios of power plants. Articles about Vermont power contracts name suppliers as J.P. Morgan Ventures Energy, an energy trading company that bought parts of Sempra Energy yesterday (Sempra has natural gas holdings) Merrill Lynch Commodities Group and Morgan Stanley. All these groups are in the energy trading business, as far as I can tell, not the energy producing business. Yesterday, J P Morgan and Morgan Stanley were involved (partners?) in the Sempra acquisition. As the Financial Times notes, J P Morgan has built its energy portfolio in a flurry of acquisitions over the last two years.

Apparently the good people of Vermont would rather deal with international banks and holding companies than with Entergy. Do they expect these groups of companies to be responsive to Vermont's needs? I suppose hope springs eternal. Perhaps some good Senators believe that banks won't lie to us, but Entergy does. Perhaps the good Senators need to read about two years worth of newspapers.

How would the closing of Vermont Yankee affect Vermont? This is a big topic. I want to comment on one aspect that I believe affects the politics of it all, and it is painful even to write about it. Social stratification. Rigid class structure.

When I moved here from California, one of my issues with moving East was the existence of more social stratification, especially in New England. California is such a state of immigrants, such a polyglot state. Class structure certainly exists in California, but is mixed up with lots of other demographic trends, and never felt dominant.

This VPR article about two cultures and Vermont Yankee skirts the issue, but is the closest thing I have seen to acknowledging it. The Murphys talk about the history of their fear and the Merkles talk about being close to their families, volunteering, and their jobs. The Murphys say they "feel" for the people who will lose their jobs when the plant closes, while simultaneously saying that most people won't lose their jobs. The Merkles feel unwelcome and are sure that when the plant closes, they will have to leave the area.

It's worth reading the article and looking at the pictures. Maybe I am reading class structure into the picture. Leave comments on this post and let me know.

To end on a more upbeat note. The vote is unlikely to be the end of the story, and I plan to continue blogging while all of these situations play themselves out. Besides, I have two more posts partially written.

It's not over till it's over, and it's not over yet.

And this post isn't even over yet! I just found this short article and news clip from WPTZ in the Champlain Valley which puts the vote in some perspective. The legislature can vote now, can reverse itself next year, can get itself sued. This vote is sheer political grandstanding by Shumlin. The prestigious local blog, Vermont Tiger, comes to the same conclusion with a guest blog by the publisher of the St. Albans Messenger.

As I said above. It's not over till it's over, and it's not over yet.


Rod Adams said...

Meredith, thanks for the enlightening information.

As someone famous once said in explanation for a seemingly illogical decision: follow the money!

Howard Shaffer said...

This morning on New Hampshire Public Radio, Bob Audette of the Brattleboro Reformer, Larry Smith of Vermont Yankee and Arnie Gundersen of the Public Oversight Panel discussed Vermont Yankee.
One of the callers, Clay from Brattleboro identified himself as from the New England Coalition. He said we should shut down Vermont Yankee and be connecting to wind power. I recognized his voice as that of Clay Tunbidge, whom I've met, talked to and heard testify over the years of reaching out to VY opponents by attending hearings, meetings, etc.
Here's the interesting part. Clay said Vermont should be connecting to wind out of state, because no one wants to build wind turbines in Vermont. Was he being sarcastic or real. There is opposition to wind too.
Arnie Gundersen said it is only a three year problem, after 2012, to build enough alternatives to replace VY's power. But Vermont Utilites are planning to build wind now and hearings were held. Does Mr. G believe the VPIREF report that says over 200 wind turbines can be built by 2015-2016? This at the rate we are going?
Our new wind farm in Lempster, NH is owned by a Spanish company. Would that be OK with Vermonters, or will they accept only utility owned wind? Utilities once owned VY, but were pressured to sell to Entergy of Louisiana. I guess if Vermonters don't like the way the utilities run the wind farms, they can pressure them to sell to a company in Spain.
Howard Shaffer
Nuclear Public Outreach