Saturday, October 30, 2010

25th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

Is Every Accident The Fault of the Nuclear Industry?

In Professional Anti-Nuclear Activists Using San Bruno Fire-Inspired Concerns About Natural Gas Pipelines Against the Indian Point Nuclear Plant, Rod Adams of Atomic Insights explains the attempt to use the recent gas pipeline explosion as a reason to force Indian Point Nuclear Power Station to shut down. Replacing the Indian Point nuclear power with natural gas would lead to more natural gas being transported in pipelines, of course. (I think it is best to avoid attempting to follow the "logic" of these arguments.)

In other posts, Rod points out that worrying about a small hole in a redundant system is a waste of personal energy. Should People Worry About a Rusty Hole the Size of a Quarter? Rod is also following the Vermont Tiger blog series on the cozy relationship of anti-nuclear activists and renewable energy money in Vermont.

Meanwhile, New Builds Move Forward

U. S. Congressional Representative Judy Biggert (R, Illinois) writes Election 2010: Breaking the nuclear deadlock? at ANS Nuclear Cafe: The standstill in Congress over climate change legislation has resulted in a deadlock on other national energy priorities, including nuclear issues. There will be new voices in Congress following the upcoming elections, which may bring opportunity for nuclear advocates. Biggert outlines bipartisan legislation that she has sponsored to advance nuclear science and technologies and urges scientists, engineers and nuclear energy advocates to vote in the elections.

As Dan Yurman points out in Idaho Samizdat, Cracks Appear in the Wall for California's Ban on Nuclear Energy, California is moving toward nuclear, despite the statewide ban on new power plants. There's no ban on plants for process heat though, and there are state laws against adding to global warming. Two 1600 MW Areva ERP reactors for industrial purposes are planned near Fresno. When you can't do carbon, and renewables don't provide enough oomph, what do you do next? A cheerful tale.

Meanwhile, the AtomWatch blog reviews the Institute of Chemical Engineers study of world-wide new nuclear builds. The AtomWatch blog has with a short, simple list of lessons learned. No, success is not about "using cheap labor" (the comment with which people dismiss the Asian builds). Success is about skills, designs, and planning. Just like other big construction projects, oddly enough.

At Next Big Future, Brian Wang comes to similar conclusions in his post China's Nuclear Reactors and Bridges and budgets and schedules. He carefully reviews several Chinese projects, concluding that Red Tape does not make a project safer. Also, the Chinese have many huge construction projects underway, including power plants and bridges. Chinese construction companies and construction crews are skilled, experienced and efficient with big projects. The way American crews used to be, back in the old days.

Are We Building the Right Plants?

In Dr. Furakura's Vision (Nuclear Green Blog) Charles Barton describes the early development of Molten Salt Reactors, which was followed by squashed hopes. Dr. Furakara is old now (85) but he is trying to launch the Fuji reactor project. Dr. Furukawa believes that by 2050-2060 as many as 10,000 billion-watt Fuji reactors could be powering the global energy economy. Why do we believe the next generation of reactors will be developed in this country, or in France? We should not be ignoring the visions of the future from Japan. In a related post, Charles analyses the MIT David J Rose Lecture in which John Holdren lays out Obama Administration thinking. Apparently, they think that a thorium molten salt reactor is impossible. The video of the Rose lecture is embedded in the blog.

Just in case you think that if it's an MIT lecture, it must be right, Brian Wang has a blog post describing the negotiations between Japan and Korea to build mini-Fuji reactors for ships. The companies see this as a competitive move vis-a-vis Chinese nuclear-powered ships. Where is the U.S. in all this ferment of new reactors?

What About the Sun? What About Fossil?

At Yes Vermont Yankee, Willem Post has an excellent guest blog on Photovoltaic Feed In Tariffs and Germany and this country. A very interesting post, with tons of data and links. Did you think solar helps a lot with peaking power? Well, not much, actually.

Similarly, also at Yes Vermont Yankee, I have a post The Inconvenient Truth About Vermont Yankee. Without It, Vermont Would Use Fossil. The general statement is obvious, but the back-up facts are interesting. New England, as a whole, has 60% of its installed electrical capacity in gas and oil. Vermont has 9%. The chart of energy use during refueling outages is also worth a look.

Enjoy the Carnival! Always something new to see and to learn!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Inconvenient Truth about Vermont Yankee: Without It, Vermont Would Use Fossil

On the ISO-NE (grid operator) profile page on Vermont you can see generation capacity fuel mix compared for Vermont and New England. (You can double-click to see it larger.)

ISO summarizes the situation very well, with the note that 60% of the electric capacity in New England comes from natural gas and oil (both imported from other regions) while over 50% of Vermont's electrical capacity comes from a nuclear plant. Yes, nuclear fuel also comes from another region, but we are talking truckloads every eighteen months, not pipelines to carry gas and oil.

Note that this is fuel mix by plant capacity, which is a little confusing. In this chart, it looks as if we use almost half as much power from in-state hydro as we do from Vermont Yankee. Actually, according to a somewhat out-of-date Department of Public Service electricity information chart, Vermont gets 35% of its kWh (power, not capacity) from Vermont Yankee, 28% from Hydro Quebec, and 9% from in-state hydro. However, since hydro has a relatively low capacity factor compared to Vermont Yankee, hydro capacity is prominent on the ISO-NE capacity chart for Vermont.

Vermont is truly blessed with in-state hydro. It was the basis of the early industrial revolution here: all those water-driven mills.

Looking at Actual Kilowatt Hours: When the New England Nuclear Plants Refuel

The installed capacity information shows that Vermont is not about gas and oil. Let's leave capacity, though, and talk about actual power produced (kWh).

Recently, I obtained a very interesting chart about this. Dave Lamont of the Vermont Department of Public Service (DPS) was kind enough to send me a copy of an October presentation on the Sustainability of Vermont's Energy Future. This is a Department of Public Service document and it is in the public domain. I find the DPS site confusing, so I have mounted the Sustainability document on my website to make it more accessible. You can download it by clicking above.

This chart shows the sources of kWhs in New England throughout the year in 2008. Look what happens when the nuclear plants go off-line for refueling. You can see it easily. (Once again, you can double-click to make the chart larger.)

The nuclear refueling outages are very clear. There's Vermont Yankee going for a refueling in the October/November time frame. The yellow area (nuclear) drops. The green (renewables) and the black (coal) don't change. Hydro changes with the seasons (more water in the spring) but doesn't take up the slack of the nuclear outages. Yes, that's the blue area, the gas area, expanding with the outages. Just as you would expect.

Less nuclear means more gas-fired generation.

The Potential for Big Bucks to Oil and Gas

With Vermont Yankee continuing to run, we Vermonters are not doing our part for the oil and gas industry! As Rod Adams said (quoted in an earlier post on this blog)

A 720 MWe gas plant will burn 110 million cubic feet of natural gas every day, even if it is a super efficient plant operating at 60% thermal efficiency. That much natural gas, even at today's relatively low price costs nearly $500,000.

But that half-a-million-a-day to the natural gas companies would be only the beginning. Nobody expects gas prices to stay so low. We have never seen natural gas prices stay low for a long period.

Another picture, from ISO-NE again, tracks natural gas prices over time in New England. Electricity prices track natural gas prices. I suspect the more natural gas you have in your generation mix, the closer the tracking. The tracking for New England is pretty tight.

Vermont with its nuclear, in-state hydro, and HydroQuebec has been somewhat of an exception. That may not continue. (Once again, double-click to see a bigger graphic.)

How much does natural gas cost, and how much will it cost in the future? I looked up natural gas on Bloomberg, checking the New York City Gate Spot. The spot price I found was $3.71 MMBtu. When you check it tomorrow, it will be different. Another site, Trading Economics, gives prices at the Henry Hub in Louisiana over the last twenty years. This site is very interactive, and you can play with various parameters. It is worth noting that in the last ten years, gas prices have seldom been below $4 for very long. If you factor in the gas prices of the nineties (not adjusted for inflation) the median is around $4.10.

The Inconvenient Truth

Vermont has a generating capacity profile quite different from that of New England. We don't have 60% imported gas and oil and 9% coal generation capacity. That's the average for the grid as a whole. Instead, we have Vermont Yankee.

However, when nuclear plants go off-line for refueling, fossil fuel use goes up and natural gas and oil plants begin raking in money. If Vermont Yankee were to shut down and we got "power from the grid," we would be buying fossil fuel power.

Also, greenhouse gas credits are bought and sold within the Northeast through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Vermont sells these credits now. Without Vermont Yankee, we would buy these credits from other states. That would be an added cost.

That's the inconvenient truth. Without Vermont Yankee, we would be running on fossil. We might buy more power from Hydro Quebec, which would charge us "market" (fossil) prices for the electricity. But mostly, we would be running on fossil.

Inconvenient, but true.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Photovoltaic Feed In Tariffs in Germany and this country

Today we have a guest blog by Willem Post, on the economic dangers of uncontrolled Feed In Tariffs. Willem is a strong advocate of efficiency and warm, tight houses, rather than Feed In Tariffs for photovoltaic.

Willem Post, Bob Hargraves, Howard Shaffer, Peter Roth, Steve Fox and I are all members of the local group, Coalition for Energy Solutions. Willem has both an MS in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA. He has many years of experience in financial estimation and oversight of large energy projects. The Coalition For Energy Solutions Research and Reports page includes links to many of Willem's reports, including the complete, longer version of this current post on Feed In Tariffs. This is his second guest post for Yes Vermont Yankee. His first guest post was Solar and Nuclear, Economics and Land Use.

Update October 27:
This guest blog by Willem Post is also featured at Energy Collective
Energy Collective also features a recent post by Geoffrey Styles: German Solar: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Impact of Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Feed In Tariffs in Germany
by Willem Post; 19 October, 2010

Introduction The purpose of this study is to show the impact of the PV Solar feed-in-tariffs, (FITs) in Germany. Germany has the largest installed base of grid-connected PV solar systems in the world about which much data is available. For that reason, Germany was chosen for this study.

Prior to 2000, PV solar FITs did not exist and there were almost no PV solar systems in Germany. Germany’s annual PV solar capacity factor for true-south-facing, fixed-tilt, correctly-angled systems is about 0.115, which makes it a very poor candidate for unsubsidized PV solar power.

By 31 August, 2010, German households and businesses had installed about 525,000 grid-connected PV solar systems with a total capacity of 14,680 MW. These were installed due to the subsidies and generous FITs that started in 2000.

The FITs are lucrative for the households and businesses with grid-connected PV solar systems. They can sell all of their PV solar power to the utilities at generous FIT rates for 20 years from date of installation. The average FIT rate was $0.54/kWh in 2009. These same homes and businesses buy power for their own consumption from the utilities at about $0.22/kWh, for a gain of $0.32/kWh.

German utilities are allowed to include the additional costs of the FIT regime into their rate base. In effect, the few more wealthy households and businesses with PV are being subsidized by the many less wealthy households and businesses. At present, the renewables FITs add a few euros per month to household electric bills, more to business electric bills.

In Germany the generous FITs are available to all PV solar system owners, not just to a few lottery winners, as with Vermont’s FIT program for 50 MW of renewables. Germany’s lucrative FIT regime appears more democratic and inclusionary than Vermont’s.

Study Summary

The main results of the subsidies and generous FITs have been huge investments in PV solar systems and huge FIT subsidies paid to the owners of PV solar systems that produce just a very small quantity of variable, intermittent and expensive power and avoid the emission of a miniscule quantity of CO2.

  • During the 2000-2009 period that FITs were in effect, Germany installed 9,830 MW of PV solar systems by the end of 2009 at a cost of about 9,830,000 kW x $7,000/kWh = $68.8 billion. The $/kW is somewhat lower at present.
  • For the systems installed during the 2000-2009 period, the FIT amount that has been paid by utilities for the PV solar power fed into the grid from the start of 2000 and that will be paid until the end of 2029 has been estimated at $73.2 billion (2009$).

  • Germany’s installed power plant capacity is about 135,000 MW and its peak power demand is about 100,000 MW. Its power production was 594,100 GWh in 2009, of which PV solar power was 6,578 GWh, or about 1.1% of Germany’s production.
  • In 2009, 2.48 billion euros, or $3.54 billion, was paid by German utilities for the 6,578 GWh PV solar power produced by an effective installed capacity of 5,950 MW (start 2009) + 1/2 x 3,880 MW (added in 2009) = 7,890 MW. The 2009 average FIT was about $3.54 billion/6,578 GWh = $0.54/kWh. In 2009, the average wholesale rates at which German utilities buy and sell were about $0.058/kWh for base load power and about $0.075/kWh for peaking power.

In 2009, Germany’s PV solar capacity factor was 6,578 GWh/(7,890 MW x 8,760 hr/yr) = 0.095. The low capacity factor may indicate the PV solar panels are aging, dusty, partially shaded by trees, partially snow-covered, etc., and, as about 80% of the PV solar systems are roof-mounted, many roofs may not be true-south-facing and the panels may not be correctly angled.

If we assume PV solar power is produced from 7 AM to 5 PM, then the average level during these ten hours was 6,578 GWh/yr x 1,000 MW/GW x 1 yr/(10 hr x 365 days) = 1,802 MW, an insignificant level compared to Germany’s peak demand of about 100,000 MW.

Study Analysis

Variation of PV Solar Power

The website displays a graph of the real-time PV solar power production in Germany during each day of the year. The methodology of determining the display is explained in the website.

Meanwhile, the Alliance for Renewable Energy shows 14,680 MW of PV solar was installed as of 31 August 2010, which means 14,680 MW - 9,830 MW (end of 2009) = 4,850 MW was installed during the first 8 months of 2010, or about 606 MW/month.

This rate of installation is more than twice as high as the rate in 2009, because the FITs will be significantly reduced in 2011 making it less lucrative to own a PV solar system. Installations planned for 2011 are being shifted to 2010 to beat the FIT reduction deadline. For comparison: US total installed PV solar was 1,256 MW pus 397 MW of concentrated solar power at the end of 2009. In contrast, 600 MW of solar are being installed in Germany each month. (U S. solar numbers from Willem Post spreadsheet.)

The website linked above shows the PV solar power production from the 14,680 MW of PV solar systems reached a maximum level of about 5.3 MW (36% of installed PV solar capacity), 3.6 MW (24%) and 7.0 MW (48%) at about 12 noon on October 6, 7 and 8, respectively.

The website shows that maximum outputs at 12 noon vary from about 20% (2,936 MW) to about 60% (8,808 MW) of installed capacity during the summer and from about 10% (1,468 MW) to about 30% (4,400 MW) of installed capacity during the winter.

Daily Power Demand

The Tagesgang website displays a typical power demand curve for Germany. The curve shown below will vary somewhat during the year, but, to simplify the analysis, we will assume the curve is valid for all days of the year, which will not affect the conclusions of the study.

The website shows peaking unit operation from about 10 AM to about 2 PM which coincides with high levels of PV solar production. This means German utilities have less need for peaking units.

PV Solar Impact on Peaking Unit Operation

Peaking units usually are gas-fired, simple-cycle, gas-turbine generators. Their efficiency at full load is about 30%, or about 10,000 Btu/kWh, and at part load about 20%, or about 15,000 Btu/kWh. Peaking units usually operate at about 50% load otherwise they cannot modulate as needed by demand.

For this study, utility long-term gas contract prices are assumed at $4/million Btus.

As we know the total FIT subsidy paid in 2009, we can allocate a part of it to the 10 AM to 2 PM period and the rest to all other hours of of PV solar power production.

If we assume the average PV power output during the 10 AM and 2 PM period of each day of 2009 at about 2,500 MW and all of it is fed into the grid, then German utilities save about 2,500 MW x 1,000 kW/MW x 4 hrs/day x 15,000 Btu/kWh x $4/million Btu = $0.6 million/day in fuel expenses.

There are very little additional savings, because the peaking units are in service during other peak periods of the day (see Tagesgang website) when PV solar power is much less. The operating personnel are present whether the peaking units are operating or not.

In 2009, German utilities credited, as required by the FIT scheme, the monthly bills of the owners of PV solar systems on average about 2,500 MW x 1,000 kW/MW x 4 hrs/day x $0.54/kWh = $5.4 million/day for this 10 AM to 2 PM power, or 365 days/yr x $5.4 million/day = $1.97 billion for all of 2009.

The FIT amount credited for all other hours of PV solar power production was about $3.54 billion - $1.97 billion = $1.57 billion.

In other words, German utilities could have bought the PV solar part of the 10 PM to 2 PM peaking power for $0.075/$0.54 x $5.4 million = $0.75 million/day from the grid, instead of buying it from PV solar system owners for $5.4 million/day.

A drawback of the PV solar power during the 10 AM to 2 PM period is that it is variable from day to day due to cloud cover changes, which means the peaking power purchases by utilities will vary from day to day more so than if the peaking power had been bought only from the grid.

This average level of PV solar power will increase as more PV solar systems are installed. It will have an increasing effect on the costs of owning and operating spinning reserve power plants and on the costs of standby power plants and transmission and distribution systems.

PV Solar Job Creation

By the end of 2009, the German PV solar sector employed, directly and indirectly, about 65,000 people and the thermal solar sector about 15,000 people in production, distribution, installation and maintenance. Employment is higher in 2010, because the rate of installing PV solar systems has increased to beat FIT reduction deadlines. The sector would employ even more people, but because China is the low-cost PV solar panel producer in the world, most of the panels, at least 50% of the systems’ cost, are imported which creates jobs in China, not in Germany.

There are several German studies and at least one Vermont study that conclude jobs created in the PV solar sector reduce about an equal number of jobs in other sectors, because resources, due to subsidies, are shifted to the PV solar sector away from other sectors; i.e., there is no free lunch.

Vermont Renewable Jobs Study

According the Vermont Department of Public Service, VT-DPS, report The Economic Impacts of Vermont Feed in Tariffs, about $228.5 million will be required to implement 50 MW of FIT subsidized renewables for Vermont. (The renewables chosen by the lottery mentioned above). About 35% of that amount would be supplied by Vermont sources, the rest, mostly equipment, by non-Vermont sources. For example: PV panels from China and inverters from Germany are about 70% of a PV system’s materials cost.

The VT-DPS report states: “There would be a spike of about 550 short-term jobs during the 1-3 year construction stage which would flatten to a permanent net gain of 13 long-term full-time jobs during the operation and maintenance stage. In essence jobs are created in one sector (renewables) of the Vermont economy at the expense other sectors”.

It appears using scarce ratepayer/taxpayer funds for a government-subsidized, capital-intensive renewables program that produces just a little of expensive power and reduces CO2 at a high cost per dollar invested is NOT the jobs creation panacea so much talked about by proponents of renewables. If the legislature were to bless Vermont with more such ineffective programs Vermont would be in even deeper financial trouble than it is now. See below website.

Willen's earlier report on renewables, analyzing the Vermont FIT and lottery

Note: This post is a shortened version of Willem's complete report on Germany and feed-in tariffs. The complete report, posted on the Coalition for Energy Solutions website, includes a comparison with nuclear investment.


The study indicates the political decision of “going solar” in Germany is beyond reason with regard to economics, air pollution and global warming. It is an extremely expensive way to subsidize an industrial sector, create jobs and reduce CO2.

Because of the large gap between the FIT rates and utility electric rates, it is a no-brainer for German households and businesses to “go solar”, much to the delight of PV solar vendors, financiers and developers who call this (for them) a success. Spain is having a similar disastrous experience with its PV solar FITs.

If we are to slow down climate change at a reasonable cost, we must use technologies that provide the greatest reduction in CO2 per dollar invested. As a renewable, PV solar is among the highest in capital cost per installed kW and the lowest in power production and CO2 reduction per dollar invested.

Capital-intensive investments in inefficient PV solar systems that, without subsidies, have simple paybacks of 20-40 years divert resources from less capital-intensive measures, such as energy efficiency that, without subsidies, has simple paybacks of 1-5 years AND reduces CO2 more effectively AND requires no changes to the grid AND is INVISIBLE. Doing energy efficiency first and renewables later is a no-brainer. There is no money to do both at the same time.

The German government had budgeted a certain amount for PV solar subsidies for 2010. Because of the rapid rate of installation of PV solar systems this amount is depleted.

The German government, already under budget pressures, is finding it politically difficult to rein in the inefficient PV solar sector which will become more harmful to the overall efficiency of the economy as it gets bigger.

The German government, over much opposition, has decreased the FITs at a faster pace than originally planned, and is planning still faster FIT decreases, to slow the growth of the sector to a more affordable rate. There were FIT reductions of 10% on 1 January, 2010 and another reduction of 15% on 1 October, 2010. Additional reductions are planned for 2011. These reductions are on top of the scheduled reductions.

Supplementary Websites

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Vermont Farmers, Vermont Yankee and VT4VY

Picking Potatoes

My husband and I have a share in a CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture) of Killdeer Farm in Norwich. Once a year, Killdeer opens their potato fields to CSA people, and we can each pick about a peck of potatoes and/or carrots. For free!

Yesterday I drove to the upland fields to pick my potatoes. Following directions in the Killdeer email, I drove north about ten miles from my house along Route 5, with the Connecticut River on my right. At Farrel Farm road I made a left uphill to the potato fields. A VY4VT lawn sign was prominently displayed at the intersection with Route 5, undoubtedly put there by someone who lives on Farrel Farm Road. I have no idea who placed that sign. There about ten houses on that road, so I am unlikely to find out who put the sign up.

VY for Farmers

Diary Farms: I suspect that a farmer put that sign in place. Farmers and small manufacturers are very sensitive to electricity prices. While the potato fields are mostly tilled with fossil fuels, potatoes are a very minor part of Vermont agriculture. Dairy farms are more typical of Vermont, and dairy farms require a lot of electricity: milk pumpers, fans in the barns, milk chillers. Selling milk to the Cabot Cheese cooperative is the mainstay of many a Vermont farm family.

Maple Syrup: The other iconic Vermont product is maple syrup, and maple syrup depends on electricity these days. Many sugar makers use vacuum pumps on the trees, a new way of collecting sap. Once you have the sap, you traditionally started boiling it down to make syrup. Many sugar makers are moving away from that. They start the concentration process without boiling. Instead, they find it is far more fuel-efficient lower the water content of the sap with a reverse-osmosis (RO) machine that uses electricity.

At the end of the process, syrup is finished by boiling. Clouds of steam will rise each spring from the sugar houses, and that is not going to change. But the first steps in the process are changing drastically, even as we speak.

Last spring, I interviewed a young man setting up his sugar house on his dad's land. (His dad had never bothered with sugaring.) This young man goes to University of Vermont, and he believes that top quality syrup depends on using wood for your fires. He believes that oil-based fires can give the sugar an off-taste. So this young man has a RO machine to start the process, and a huge woodpile to finish the sugar.

His opinions are not necessarily those of all sugar-makers. I know people who use fuel oil boiling from start to finish, and the syrup tastes great. I gather the issue is how you handle the oil-fired start-up, but I am no expert on this. However, many people are going to RO for purely economic reasons. Electricity prices have been stable and fuel oil prices have not been stable. Using electricity means you need to use less oil. Vermont Yankee is a major reason for the electric price stability.

VT4VY: A New Website

In a recent post, I made the case for IBM needing inexpensive electricity in order to stay in Vermont. In an earlier post, I also talked about the economics of smaller manufacturers and Vermont Yankee. The same is true for farmers, who are small manufacturers in their own way. They manufacture food.

I was happy to find that Entergy has a new website about how Vermont Yankee supports Vermont businesses: On this site, they post interviews with a ski operator, wood pellet maker, and farmer (among others). These people's words are very convincing. You can hear them when you got to the VT4VY supporters page and watch the thirty-second video clips. I particularly recommend the clip with the dairy farmer.

In conclusion, I saw a Vermont Yankee support sign in a very rural area because Vermont needs Vermont Yankee. Vermont farmers need Vermont Yankee. From IBM to the dairy farm, Vermont Yankee supports the businesses of this state.


I want to welcome the Nuclear Fissionary blog, which was on a long hiatus. Glad to see it back!

Graphics: Picture from his study window, courtesy of my husband, George Angwin (that's the Connecticut River in the foreground.) Graphic of VY4VT sign courtesy of Entergy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Twenty-Fourth Carnival of Nuclear Energy: The Economics of Energy.

The 24th Carnival of Nuclear Energy

The latest Carnival of Nuclear Energy is up at Idaho Samizdat. Dan Yurman puts together a terrific compendium of posts, many of which deal with the economics of energy. Some of the links include:

Solar Versus Nuclear: This fall, a Vermont Law School adjunct professor Mark Cooper wrote a widely-ballyhooed study "showing" that solar is less expensive than nuclear. Mr. Cooper holds a Ph.D. in sociology. You might remember that study. It's the one the New York Times wrote about...and then had to apologize for the imbalance and mistakes in their article. The New York Times explained what it should have done to review the study, but that was not equivalent to a real review.

Today's Carnival links to Solar Cheaper than Nuclear, Think Again! in MasterResource, a free-market energy blog. This post does a masterful job of deconstructing the shoddy arguments made by Mr. Cooper. There were several major errors, such as forgetting about the subsidies when talking about solar economics, taking Cooper's own original flawed paper as an authoritative reference, and so forth. Worth reading for anyone interested in energy economics.

Obama Versus Nuclear? Yes, President Obama supports nuclear energy, but Charles Barton of Nuclear Green gives him an F for energy policy, while Jim Hopf at ANS Nuclear Cafe hits the exclusion of nuclear from Renewable Energy Standards. Some improvement required, Mr. Obama. Let's see a better report card in a few months.

Gas Versus Nuclear: The Carnival linked to my recent post on the Conservation Law Foundation and its mutual support of Natural Gas Plants. I also highly recommend Rod Adams post on natural gas and nuclear at Calvert Cliffs, in Rod's home state of Maryland. As Rod points out:
Once they begin to run, the ongoing cost of fuel and operators (for a nuclear plant) is quite low compared to other alternatives. Each new 1600 MWe EPR displaces a need to burn about 300 million cubic feet of natural gas each day. At today's "cheap" natural gas prices, that amount of gas would cost $1.2 million per day, but once gas prices return to the levels that existed in 2008, that amount of gas will cost almost $5 million per day. In comparison, the nuclear fuel for an EPR costs about $190,000 per day. Power companies can lock in nuclear fuel prices for many years into the future if desired.
In other words, it's the same story in Maryland (Calvert Cliffs) as it is New Hampshire/Vermont (CLF Natural Gas plant versus Vermont Yankee). Don't be fooled. There's big money in being "non-nuclear." Gas money.

Irony Alert

Peter Shumlin's has made endless attacks on the "pollution" caused by Vermont Yankee. As I noted in earlier posts, he makes up his own facts, including saying there is strontium in his neighbor's wells (there isn't). He makes statements that the leaks at Vermont Yankee from the underground pipes will result in the biggest environmental disaster in the history of the state. I don't feel like repeating it all here. If you want to read this stuff, use the search box to search this blog for Peter Shumlin.

Irony Happens. Todd Bailey is a director of the League of Conservation Voters of Vermont, and an important person in the 527 organization Green Mountain Future, the "Attack Ad Company."

On the Vermont Tiger blog, Todd Bailey claims that Art Woolf misquoted Shumlin and took Shumlin's words out of context. Read Bailey's comments on Woolf's post at Vermont Tiger. Poor Mr. Shumlin. After repeating early and often that VY is the biggest environmental disaster in Vermont, Shumlin doesn't want to be quoted as having said that VY is the biggest environmental disaster in Vermont.

Todd Bailey may be great with attack ads, but he can't successfully defend Shumlin. Because really, there is no defense. Shumlin says what he says. People quote it. That's what happens.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Will IBM Stay In Vermont if Yankee Leaves?

Liar Liar Two Years Ago?

IBM's wafer fab plant employs thousands of people in Essex Junction. It is the biggest private employer in the state. If Vermont Yankee is voted off the island, will IBM sail away?

Today, Vermont Public Radio (VPR) described this issue in a short article: Shumlin Works to Change Image. VPR has these quotes from about two years ago. John Dillon of VPR reports:

(Dillon) The moment was classic Shumlin. And although it happened two years ago, similar issues have come up in this campaign.
A lobbyist for IBM - the state's largest private employer - blasted Shumlin's proposal to force Vermont Yankee to cover the full cost of its decommissioning. John O'Kane, the IBM lobbyist, complained the bill would raise electric rates. Shumlin confronted him.
(O'Kane) "Money has time value, and you're changing the time."
(Shumlin) "We are not asking for the money. You're lying about that. We are not asking for the money. The bill says..."
(O'Kane) "Peter, that is.. You just called me a liar.."
(Shumlin) "I said you're not telling the truth about that, John."
(Dillon) Shumlin later apologized.

False Claims Today?

Shumlin apologized, but he hasn't learned his lesson.

Late last month, his group put out a press release saying that Dubie made false claims that IBM would leave if Vermont Yankee closed. "False Claims" is toned down a little from "You're lying about that."

Shumlin claiming someone is a liar is not really news. (Predictable statements are not news.) However, some of the fallout from his "false claims" press release is news.

IBM Might Leave?

In a highly-unusual move, the Commissioner of the Department of Public Service, David O'Brien, commented on the Shumlin press release. O'Brien wrote:

Further I have heard from IBM officials throughout my seven year tenure that their power costs are too high in Vermont and it has a profound affect on their ability to compete for work and retain or add jobs in Essex Jct. Specifically they have referenced the possible loss of VY as a major threat to their ability to attract capital investment from corporate and add jobs here in VT.

“I don’t think we’ve said anything about moving jobs specifically around the electricity goals,” Couture said. “There was nothing specific, or an ultimatum.”....Couture did say that increases in power costs could affect jobs.
As a former corporate employee, I recognize that this statement is as close to an ultimatum as corporations give. If a corporation is saying "no ultimatum" that means there is an ultimatum. (My opinion, at least.) Otherwise, the corporation would say something like: "IBM is committed to its facility in Essex Junction Vermont, and we expect to work with whatever electricity choices are made by the people of this great state." IBM didn't say that.

Corporations have to be very careful what they say, because everything they say can be taken as a promise. That's why corporate employees listen to the rumor mills, and business reporters have "sources" within the companies they cover. If you do listen to the PR people, you have to read between the lines. You have to think about what they don't say, as well as what they say.

Looks to me as if IBM might leave, O'Brien is right, and Dubie was not making "false statements."

More Analysis

Jack Harding, chairman of Vermont Tiger blog, did a thought-experiment about a rise in electricity rates would affect IBM. How much money is IBM likely to lose, and how many layoffs is it likely to have?. His post, IBM Unplugged, was posted both on Vermont Tiger and Vermont Digger blogs. Harding pointed out that a rise in electricity costs was likely to:
  • Lead to the layoff of about 400 employees at IBM Essex Junction
  • Wipe out IBM's world-wide energy cost savings advances
  • Perhaps cause IBM headquarters to pull the plug on the Essex Junction facility.
Harding concluded that Dubie was correct to be concerned. By the way, you might enjoy some of the comments on the Vermont Digger post. Especially the comments by Howard Shaffer and Willem Post, who have both been guest bloggers on this blog.

Fun with Layoffs

Well, not really. But I must recommend Art Woolf's tongue-in-cheek post End Supply, Stop Demand. Woolf suggests that we close down IBM for emitting ammonia. After all, if 1000 picocuries of tritium is the Worst Environmental Disaster in Vermont's History, according to Shumlin, what must all that ammonia represent? Vote both IBM and Vermont Yankee off the island! Stop demand and end supply!

Art Woolf is a very funny economist. (He's a professor at University of Vermont.) After I read his post, I laughed till I cried.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Conservation Law Foundation and the Energy Education Project

Following the Money Again

On September 30, the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute held its first meeting in Norwich Vermont. John McClaughry, of the Ethan Allen Institute, introduced the speakers and attended the meeting.

A few days later, McClaughry posted about the meeting at Vermont Tiger: Conservation Law Foundation's Interesting Strategy. (Vermont Tiger is a non-partisan, free-market-oriented blog that covers taxes, energy supply, environment and business climate in Vermont.)

In his post, McClaughry discussed Bob Hargraves' explanation of the Conservation Law Foundation's opposition to Vermont Yankee. The CLF "Venture" affiliate helps build natural gas plants, and recently helped a large company (AES) construct a large combined cycle natural gas plant (720 MW) in New Hampshire. AES is a Fortune-1000 company that has built fossil plants in 26 countries. I blogged about the CLF and the gas plant in my post: Follow the Money. As McClaughry wrote:

So the nonprofit CLF hollers for shutting down Vermont Yankee, which would produce a 600 Megawatt electricity deficit. At the same time, CLF’s for profit subsidiary is working to create a 720 megawatt natural gas fired plant to take its place.

That self interested arrangement makes it pretty hard for me to believe anything CLF says about nuclear power.

For Profit? Not for Profit?

However, though CLF Ventures was working for a multinational company, and doing the kinds of things law and PR firms do for their clients, John had one thing incorrect. CLF Ventures is a not-for-profit. CLF was quick to respond to his post. Karen Wood of CLF wrote this comment:

(CLF Ventures) is a NON-PROFIT consulting affiliate of CLF. CLF Ventures advances CLF's mission to protect New England's environment by working with business, government and other non-profit organizations to help them operate sustainably and successfully.

Around the time Ms. Wood posted this, I had also written a comment referring people to my February post on Follow the Money. My comment received an angry response from Sandra Levine, one of the lead CLF lawyers who brings suit against Vermont Yankee. Ms. Levine wrote: The information in this post is old and out of date – much like Vermont Yankee. ("this post" refers to my February follow-the-money post.)

In subsequent comments, I pointed out that
  • The information in my February post was taken directly from the CLF Ventures website that was posted at that time
  • Ms. Levine, lawyer-like, did not say my information was incorrect, because that would have implied the CLF website at the time had incorrect information. Instead, she side-stepped by saying it was "old and out of date," implying it was incorrect
  • Since CLF Ventures did the kind of tasks for a multi-national firm that law firms do for big firms, (such as advising the owners on a permitting strategy), thinking that CLF Ventures is for-profit was an easy mistake to make.
Finally, Rod Adams of Atomic Insights blog had a great comment, pointing out that:

The point here is to recognize that the effort to shut down nuclear plants is not a battle of evil, money hungry corporations on one side and altruistic grannies on the other.

There is a LOT of money involved in destroying nuclear plants and building replacement power plants. There is even more money involved in replacing the rather small quantity of fuel required to operate the nuclear plant with a much larger quantity of no longer "cheap" natural gas.

A 720 MWe gas plant will burn 110 million cubic feet of natural gas every day, even if it is a super efficient plant operating at 60% thermal efficiency. That much natural gas, even at today's relatively low price costs nearly $500,000.

And so, it always comes down to....follow the money.

Ethan Allen Institute and John McClaughry

The Energy Education Project was recently announced on the Ethan Allen Institute website. You can also link to both presentations at the first meeting in my post about the meeting.

I have been very lucky to work with John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute. He is a former Vermont State Senator and founder of the Ethan Allen Institute. He also holds a M.S. in nuclear engineering. McClaughry has been writing about energy in Vermont for a long time, and I recommend that people read McClaughry's commentaries on Energy and Climate at the Ethan Allen website. I always agree with McClaughry about Vermont Yankee, and usually agree with him on other energy issues. (Good thing, since the Energy Education Project is part of the Institute he founded!) All McClaughry's comments are well-reasoned, direct, and worth reading.


Since I just started a branch of a not-for-profit, I sure wish I knew how a law firm can do law-firm stuff for a Fortune 1000 company and still be a not-for-profit. Many not-for-profits take grants from big companies, of course, but helping a company with a siting strategy is a horse of another color. There are moments that I wish I were a lawyer.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Taking It Personal. Shumlin Accuses Dubie of Serving the Interests of "Entergy Louisiana"

The link below shows part of a debate between the two gubernatorial candidates in Vermont: Lt. Governor Brian Dubie and Senator Peter Shumlin. The energy section of the debate starts when reporter Terri Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free Press says "turning now to the environment." (Note, I have not been able to embed the video successfully, as you can see by the comments on this post. Therefore, I am providing a link.)

Link to the video here.

This is what passes for political discourse in Vermont, with one of the ugliest campaigns I have ever seen. If Shumlin were just getting nasty with Dubie, it would be too bad, but it wouldn't be much of a subject for a blog called "Yes Vermont Yankee." However, Shumlin is running against Vermont Yankee as much as he is running against Dubie. If you listen to the clip, you will hear Dubie respond to Shumlin's accusation that Dubie is most concerned about the "shareholders of Entergy Louisiana"

(Dubie) "I don't work for the shareholders. I resent you questioning my integrity. I take it personal. I'm a lieutenant governor who's served my state. I'll continue to serve my state. Please refrain from questioning my integrity, senator, and I won't question yours."
(Shumlin) "My experience with both you and the governor is that you are an apologist for Entergy Louisiana stockholders and Entergy Louisiana and you won't stand up for Vermonters."

Transcript from Vermont Public Radio.

A few minutes after this insulting exchange, Shumlin says that Entergy Louisiana doesn't want to sell power to Vermont anyway!

Shumlin is on the attack partially because 1000 picocuries per liter tritium was found in one drinking water well on the plant site. This is 1/20th of the EPA limit for tritium in drinking water. When I discuss 1000 (as opposed to 20,000) picocuries per liter, I can't really use bananas as an analogy anymore. 1/400 part of a banana? This is not easy to visualize. I may have to move on to comparisons with potatoes, a less potent source of dietary potassium and beta radiation. Beta irradiation from mashed potatoes kind of matches the level of radiation from drinking the water in this well.

Oh yeah. Did I mention? The well is on the plant site, and has been closed as a precautionary measure for months. Nobody drinks the water.

In his post at ANS Nuclear Cafe this week, Howard Shaffer has a concise summary of the differences between the two candidates.
  • Lt. Governor Dubie thinks that regulatory agencies should be allowed to regulate.
  • Senator Shumlin wants to take over the regulatory roles himself.
Howard also some quotes from Shumlin. For example: The NRC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the industry.

Out of State is Evil?

One of Shumlin's tricks is to constantly describe the plant as "Entergy Louisiana" as if it were not located in Vermont at all. This is a deliberate policy. As I noted in May, Shumlin issued a press release addressed to Entergy Louisiana, on the subject of a photographer visiting the plant during an outage. Some TV anchors have picked these words up, and are now referring to Vermont Yankee as Entergy Louisiana.

This is so weird and naive. What kind of yokels does Shumlin think we are, here in Vermont? What on earth is wrong with a plant being owned by a Louisiana company?

When I lived in California, most of the big companies I worked for were "Delaware Corporations." Meanwhile, my husband worked for a startup, a nice little homegrown place. The startup was sold and went through a series of owners, including Sony (Japan) and TeleAtlas (Holland and Belgium). The layoffs at each merger were certainly subjects for discussion. The fact that the new owners were out-of-state (or out-of-country) was not considered as important.

Letter to the Editor

We are not hayseeds up here, Mr. Shumlin! We are willing to work for out-of-state companies!

I just wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper. It may be printed soon. But you have read it here first.
Senator Shumlin says that "Entergy Louisiana" and its "stockholders" are a major source of evil in Vermont. He accuses Lt. Governor Dubie of being in league with these out-of-staters. Senator Shumlin has said "Entergy Louisiana" so often that TV commentators are beginning to refer to the company the same way.

I find Senator Shumlin's statements quite bizarre. Many Vermont employers are owned by bigger companies from out of state. Will we begin scornfully saying "IBM New York" or "Energizer Missouri" or (heaven help us) "Ben and Jerry's Rotterdam" ? After all, Ben and Jerry's is part of Unilever, a Dutch-British food conglomerate.

Most states actively recruit national or multinational companies to open branches and factories. Right now, Governor Douglas is headed to China to encourage Chinese investment and tourism in Vermont. Except for Senator Shumlin, I have never heard of a politician who choses to attack a company as undesirable because its headquarters are out of state. This attitude does not bode well for jobs in Vermont if he becomes governor.

For Sticklers About Facts

Entergy Louisiana is a real company, which has nothing to do with Vermont Yankee. It is a utility serving Louisiana. Entergy Nuclear owns Vermont Yankee. Both are owned by Entergy itself. Why Shumlin would accuse anyone of being an apologist for Entergy Louisiana stockholders is unclear.

Not that this matters to Shumlin, who has never needed a fact-checker. He just makes them up as he goes along.
Need a fact to bolster an anti-Vermont Yankee argument? Shumlin has one! Of course, it isn't a fact. It's a fantasy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Carnival of Nuclear Energy (Fresh New Information) and Tritium (Old News Rewarmed)

The 22nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy

The latest Carnival of Nuclear Energy is posted now at ANS Nuclear Cafe, the American Nuclear Society blog. Gail Marcus introduces her new book, Nuclear Firsts, which covers the early days of nuclear power development. Dr. Marcus has been Deputy Director at the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Energy Agency at the Office of Economic Development. She holds a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from M. I. T. Her book describes advances during the development of nuclear power, covering eighty facilities and ten countries. This book is a real asset to the industry. I sometimes get tired of reading about Mr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and the big boom. I'd rather read something upbeat once in a while, and Dr. Marcus has provided the book.

Meanwhile, at Nuclear Green Revolution, Charles Barton reverse-engineers the future of energy, and makes an excellent case for advanced reactors that can provide load-following and process heat. At PopAtomic, Suzanne Hobbs has designed a nutritional label for utilities. Gosh, who knew coal had so many calories? Oops, I mean: Who knew coal had such huge carbon dioxide emissions? Well, yeah, we all knew it, but the graphic makes it visible.

And there's more! Update on Vogtle construction, the true story of the SL-1 reactor accident, the future of nuclear fabrication. Always something new at the Carnival!

Something Old: Tritium

Rewarmed news. The tritium leak has been fixed for months, but you would never know it if you read the papers around here.

Months ago, when Vermont Yankee found tritium in shallow wells near the plant, they immediately closed down an on-site drinking water well. A sample from this well now shows 1,300 picocuries per liter of tritium. The drinking water standard is 20,000 picocuries of tritium per liter. On the banana scale, the sample in this well isn't even measurable. Maybe 1/400th of a banana? Since two liters at 20,000 picocuries is about 1/20 a banana's worth of radiation, then 2 liters at 1,00o picocuries is 1/20th of 1/20th of a banana. Feel free to check my math (20 x 20 equals 400)

Of course, the local outcry from plant opponents is terrific. People who were very anxious that the tritium was going into the river are now equally anxious that some of it may go into an aquifer. They generally admit that the tritium will be diluted and probably undetectable but Dilution is No Solution to Pollution.

Aside: Plant opponents say Dilution is No Solution to Pollution frequently, whenever someone says that the amount of tritium is not detectable in some body of water. I have noticed that the opponents still get their chimneys cleaned. They cheerfully put all their combustion pollution into the atmosphere, instead of blocking their chimneys and containing the smoke in their homes. Don't they know dilution is no solution? I hope they learn the error of their ways. End Aside.

Anything special happening with this warmed-over news? Well, according to the Brattleboro Reformer, Arnie Gundersen is worried about radioactive strontium turning up in the groundwater, despite the fact that radioactive strontium has never found in test well water. (A small amount was found in a soil sample near the leak.) Mr. Gundersen believes the situation is a gravity problem.

What worries Gunderson (sic) and many others is the possibility of Strontium-90 and Cesium-137, radioactive isotopes, moving into the ground water. "If Entergy keeps shucking and sucking the tritium out of the soil, it'll prevent the isotope from moving," he said. Gunderson (sic) added that the recent rainfall had nothing to do with the sample being found. "Rainfall can't be attributed to anything 2 or 3 feet below the ground," he said. "This a gravity problem, which is pulling the tritiated water down further into the groundwater."

According the same article: more than 265,000 gallons of tritiated water have been remediated from the ground into storage tanks.

The Worst Thing That Ever Happens To You

No Vermont Yankee problem would be complete without a pronouncement from Peter Shumlin. Here's Shumlin's take on the problem, according to WPTZ.

"I have been saying for some time, the leaks at Vermont Yankee from the underground pipes will result in the biggest environmental disaster in the history of the state. The next governor needs to have the courage to stand up to Entergy Louisiana."

This reminds me of my grandmother. She didn't put up with whining. If I complained about something, she would stare me down and say: "May that be the worst thing that ever happens to you." Kind of kept my problems in perspective.

In this spirit, I do hope these leaks are the worst environmental disaster Vermont ever has. However, Vermont already has some environmental problems that are far worse.

Strafford is a lovely town about ten miles from me. It is home to a beautiful Meeting House with a summer series of poetry and fiction readings. Less elegantly, Strafford is home to an old copper mine, the Elizabeth Mine, an unremediated Superfund site that leaks acid drainage into the Ompompanoosuc River, occasionally turning the river orange.

I usually don't write about such things, because I have taken the informal Vermont Oath. According to this oath, I have promised to always say that Vermont is lovely and unspoiled and free of industrial pollution. I have broken the Vermont Oath now! But I had to say it.

The Elizabeth Mine is an environmental disaster, and the VY tritium leak is no big deal.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Some More About the Grid, Vermont Yankee, and a Little About the Smart Grid

Vermont Yankee and Connecticut

In a recent post, I described how a lack of transmission lines in eastern Connecticut caused that area to fall below ISO-NE reliability standards. Therefore, ISO-NE to took action by issuing an RFP for diesel generation in that area.

I thought I was done with Connecticut and the Grid for a while. I had used the state as a Warning Example of what could happen here, and it was time to move on. Except that it isn't. Turns out that the Connecticut is quite concerned with its grid reliability and electricity prices if Vermont Yankee closes. Today, in Hartford Business Journal Online, Brad Kane wrote Power Down … Prices Up:Vermont nuclear fight drains Connecticut.

As the article states:
The loss of Vermont Yankee would drop the grid beneath the reliability standards established by Congress in the wake of the August 2003 blackouts, meaning an alternative source of power would have to be found. Since Vermont — like Connecticut — uses more power than it generates, the state must improve transmission and/or import power from less-efficient, more costly plants.....With Vermont replacing the relatively cheap nuclear power with more expensive, less efficient generators, that will drive up electricity costs for all New England....

On top of wholesale prices, each ISO d (sic) state pays costs of transmission. Congestion on the Connecticut grid and losses from sending power over long distances drives the state’s electricity prices 15-16 percent higher than the rest of New England, and rank behind only Hawaii in the nation.

Wow. Connecticut is up there next to Hawaii in costs. Who knew? It was easy enough to look up electricity costs in the Department of Energy EIA report (Numbers quoted are for June of this year.) I found that it was not quite as bad as all that. Connecticut is 19.47 cents per kWh residential, while Hawaii is 28.36 cents. Quite a difference.

On the other hand, Connecticut is indeed the second-most-expensive state, with the U.S. average at 11.92 cents per kWh. Hawaii is expensive because Hawaii electricity generation is mostly diesel. I hope this sort of energy is not part of Vermont and Connecticut's future.

Can the Connecticut Legislature Lower Those Expensive Prices?

Right now, the New England ISO uses the Clearing Price Method of setting costs. For example, if 300 MW are needed in the next five minutes (power is priced in five-minute increments), and they have
  • one bidder for 100 MW at 2 cents,
  • another bidder for 100 MW at 4 cents, and
  • a third bidder for 100 MW at 9 cents,
then all three bidders receive 9 cents. The highest bidder sets the Clearing Price, which in this case in 9 cents.

On the other hand, in the same example, if the grid only needed 200 MW, the Clearing Price would be 4 cents and the lowest two bidders would receive it.

The Clearing Price Method is the standard method for price setting on the grid, though honestly, it always seems a little counter-intuitive. If someone offers to sell me something at 2 cents, why would I pay him 9 cents? But that is how it is done.

According to the Hartford Business article quoted above, the Connecticut Legislature also thinks the Clearing Price Method is counter-intuitive. However, the Legislature believes it may be able to lower prices by passing a law requiring ISO to use the Bid Price (Paid As Bid) as the actual price, and not use the Clearing Prices. Last year, the legislature passed such a bill, the governor vetoed it, and the issue is likely to come up again.

Would Paid As Bid save money? I don't think so. The people who own power plants are interested in figuring out a price structure that will allow them to keep running and make a reasonable profit. After all, they are in a competitive power market. It's regulated, but it is competitive. In the example above, the 9 cents per kWh generator doesn't get to sell any power when the demand is down. Only the 2 cent and 4 cent generators continue to sell power.

I think that if ISO changes its pricing structure to Paid as Bid, this would simply encourage the generators to change THEIR bid prices in response. I don't think you can lower the cost to the consumer this way.

(However, if you believe that the generating companies are not really competitive, and are just sitting there minting money at consumer expense, then you would predict that changing the pricing structure will lower prices to the consumer. If you don't believe they are minting money, then changing the pricing structure will cause the generating utilities to temporarily hire some computer programmers and economic modelers. After a short flurry of activity with these people, the generators will adjust their rates to the new system. Prices to consumers will remain the same.)

In my opinion, electricity prices are set by reality: the cost of natural gas, the losses of power on transmission lines. They are not set by regulatory action. For example, the ISO-NE annual report for 2009 contains this graph:

Double clicking to expand the graph will show that the green line of electricity market prices and the blue line of natural gas prices move together very closely. Natural gas prices basically set electricity prices. This will not be fixed by legislative action, in my opinion.

ISO and Prediction

Intermittent sources (renewables) will require ISO-NE to do an even better job of predicting energy supply and demand than it does now. This video from CNET shows how they are beginning to address the problem.

Removing Vermont Yankee will add difficulties and expense to the grid at a time when the ISO should be working on the major problem of the future: effective integration of renewables. Spending time and money replacing Vermont Yankee baseload with diesels is not the best choice for ISO efforts, for the grid or for Vermont.

Transmission line graphic from Wikimedia commons.
There is no copyright notice on the ISO Financial Report document, and ISO is a quasi-governmental body. I have taken the liberty of assuming that the gas/electricity price graph in that document is in the public domain.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Energy Education Project Update and the 21st Carnival of Nuclear Energy

Off to a Good Start

On Thursday night, September 30, we held the first meeting of the Energy Education Project at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich. We had a nice turnout, more than twenty people (not including the speakers). This was great for a rainy night in this area, especially because I felt I had done only a so-so job of announcing the meeting.

I was pleased to see that a couple of people came because of an ad I had put in the local paper. I wasn't sure if advertising would be effective or not. It was effective. Also, we were lucky that Mark Morgan, a local cinematographer, volunteered to record the meeting. We hope to have parts of the meeting on YouTube soon.

The meeting started with John McClaughry, acting president of the Ethan Allen Institute, introducing the two speakers: myself and Dr. Robert Hargraves. The Energy Education Project is part of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Grid Reliability

I spoke first. Basically, there's a paradox about understanding the grid and Vermont Yankee's role in grid reliability. Therefore, I talked about ISO-NE (the grid system operator) and how the grid is managed. The paradox is:
  • People opposed to Vermont Yankee claim that VY is "only 2% of the grid capacity" (implying there is no problem with shutting it down)
  • However, as I posted recently, ISO-NE refused to let VY drop out of the forward energy auction, because Vermont Yankee is necessary for grid reliability.
However, while Vermont Yankee is only 2% of grid capacity, there would be a reliability problem with shutting it down. That's because Vermont itself is only 4% of grid load. In other words, if you "act locally," VY is essential for grid stability in the southern Vermont, southern New Hampshire area. I have posted a pdf of my slides at the Energy Education Project website.

The History Of Vermont Yankee

Bob Hargraves updated a talk he gave this spring to the Hanover Rotary club. Bob told the history of Vermont Yankee, and the near-impossibility of replacing its power with renewables. Do Vermonters really want to devote twice the acreage of the Green Mountain National Forest to tree farms for biomass? Are 250 huge wind turbines on the highest ridges a good idea? Bob's somewhat updated presentation is available at the Ethan Allen website.

The Ethan Allen website version is a pdf, so you can scroll through it quickly. For the full story, however, you might want to listen to the earlier Rotary Club version, which has a voice-over.


Howard Shaffer and I are used to distributing material we have copied by ourselves. Fighting to keep clean air and nuclear in Vermont has been a self-financed business. Recently, Entergy has woken up a bit, and now provides people like us with lawn signs. We had a bunch to give out at our meeting. The signs were lovely (picture above) but rather big. To my delight, ten lawn signs went home with people attending the meeting. People who are pro-nuclear are serious and enthusiastic. In the past, pro-nuclear people had few places come to meetings, hear interesting talks, pick up lawn signs, or eat chocolate chip cookies.

Further Plans

While you are there, click on the PayPal button. Membership is $30 a year, and it means a lot to the future of energy in this country. And thanks to those who have already joined!

In October, the Energy Education Project has three events planned, and more in the works.
  • A second talk on Vermont Yankee and grid stability
  • A debate about nuclear power. The Education Project did not plan this debate: it is part of a series of events at Castleton College near Rutland. However, Howard Shaffer is debating a man from one of the well-funded anti-nuclear organizations in Washington D.C., so I am listing it as an Energy Education Project event.
  • A talk about Vermont Yankee and economics. This will take place mid-month, near St. Johnsbury. Date and time to be announced shortly.
Hope to see you soon. And if you can't come, donate!

Carnival of Nuclear Energy

The 21st Carnival of Nuclear Energy is up at Next Big Future. Is the Sierra Club is for nuclear? They used to be shills for natural gas, but that may be changing. The first thorium molten-salt reactor is on track to be built. And the taxes in Germany...well, let's face it. Nuclear makes profits, and profits are targets.

Always something new at the Carnival!