Sunday, January 30, 2011

Some Notes on IBM and Yankee. How I Found Vermont's Energy Plan.

The Puzzle

On Wednesday, IBM said they might close their large plant in Vermont if Vermont Yankee closes and their electric bills rise. A day later, the governor said he thought there was a plan for electric supply for Vermont: a plan that did not include Vermont Yankee. But, according to VPR, the governor says he can't find such a plan. The plan never existed, or it has gotten lost.

Seek and ye shall find. I am proud to say that I found the plan. Yes I did. Keep reading.

IBM Makes An Announcement about Energy Use and Continued Operations

The background about IBM:
  • IBM has a huge wafer fabrication plant in Essex Junction, Vermont. It employs thousands of people.
  • IBM spends $35 million a year for electricity.
  • On Wednesday of last week, IBM said that they were very concerned about Vermont Yankee closing.
  • IBM further said that they would not be able to operate in Vermont if their electricity prices rise and they expect the prices will rise without Vermont Yankee.
At that point, high-up people in the Vermont government responded.
  • Legislators suggested to IBM that they could build their own power plant on the IBM wafer fab plant site.
  • IBM answered that they were in the wafer fab business, and had no intention of building and operating power plants.
  • Governor Shumlin tried to deal with the IBM announcement by saying "the statement I read was ‘We’re out of here,’ meaning we’re out of business, not that they’re moving somewhere else.” (Yes. You read that right. I often scratch my head about Shumlin's statements.)
  • Shumlin further stated that he had been shocked, shocked to find out that the state had no energy plan for the future that did not include Vermont Yankee
C'est Moi, the Energy Sleuth

Well, gosh, I was shocked too. So I did a little digging on my own blog, and I found the missing plan.

As a matter of fact, the plan for going forward without Vermont Yankee was explained during a recent debate which I posted on my blog: Howard Shaffer and I debated James Moore of VPIRG and Vermont Senator Dick McCormack.

Senator McCormack sits on both the Senate Natural Resources Committee and the Finance Committee. The Natural Resources Committee deals with energy issues, and the Finance Committee deals with utility regulation (among other things). Therefore, McCormack's authority and his explanation of the Vermont energy plan are very credible. You can hear him explain it in his own words on the video below:

The Energy Plan on Video

To hear the energy plan, you have to move the slider to about 22 minutes in to the tape.

At this point, I have just finished explaining the possible grid-level consequences of closing Vermont Yankee, as described by ISO-NE, the grid operator.

Senator McCormack does not dispute my description of post-Yankee grid problems, and adds that he is on the Senate Finance Committee which reviews ISO-NE reports. He says that people ask him about "where will the electricity come from without Yankee" as if nobody in the legislature ever thought of it before. People who want Yankee's license to be extended will ask that question, and his tone of voice implies that they are a bit silly.

McCormack says the transition will be difficult, but the utilities have assured the legislature that the grid has plenty of excess power and can make up the loss from Yankee. He also says energy efficiency is important.

At this point, I thought I had a pretty clear idea of the energy plan. I thought it was that Vermont would buy from the grid and also improve energy efficiency. McCormack understands there will be grid problems and other problems, but that is the plan. Buy from the grid at market prices. Okay. I don't like this plan particularly, but it seemed realistic at least.

Now we are around 24 or 25 minutes into the tape, and McCormack begins to to describe the long term plan, not the transition energy plan. In all honesty, this may not be the official plan, but only McCormack's own plan. But since McCormack describes the earlier plan as "the transition," I think this is the official longterm plan. Also, he is on all the relevant committees in the Senate, and he is describing the longterm plan, so I think this is it. I think I found it.

We DO Have A Plan

As McCormack explains, the long-term plan is about cutting back on our electric use. (I got the impression these will be big cut-backs, not some little wimpy measures.) Vermonters will cut back voluntarily, or at least McCormack hopes we cut back voluntarily. If not voluntarily, we will still cut back. (McCormack does not outline the mechanism for non-voluntary cutbacks.) He further says that that the idea that everyone can have all the electricity they want is outmoded. If you listen for about five minutes, between 21 and 26 minutes on the video, you can hear the entire conversation.

So there it is. The Vermont energy plan, on video, in the words of a ranking Senator from both significant Senate committees. The long-term plan for replacing VY is simple: Vermont just can't keep using all that electricity.

Look, I know IBM won't like this. I don't like this. However, I only stated that I found the plan and I am happy to share it with Governor Shumlin. I never said I liked the plan, I just said that Vermont has a plan. The Governor can start with that knowledge, and go on from there.

Vermont will just stop using so much electricity. This will be easier, of course, if IBM shuts down and stops drawing all that power.

The Backstory on this post: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

In building this post and finding the plan, I acknowledge and thank many writers and reporters, as well as other reporters linked within the text above.

My first and foremost tip of the hat is to Rod Adams, for his two posts:

The second tip of the hat is to Jack Harding of Vermont Tiger for his post

And finally, for the WCAX reporting (with video) that first covered the story.

And finally, I appreciate VPR for Bob Kinzel's interview with Shumlin, and especially for these quotes:

"The extraordinary thing to me is that I stand here as your governor - 16 months before the shutdown date that was scheduled when we approved it 40 years ago - and state government has one plan. That's to continue to operate it beyond its design date. There was never a second plan, which might have been: What if it is actually shut down when it was scheduled to be shut down?"

"I sit here with my team frankly scrambling to put together a shutdown plan that should have been designed over the years."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

37th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs Plus Areva!

The Blog Carnival

The 37th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up now at Idaho Samizdat. As usual, Dan Yurman has done a masterful job of putting it together. It's a real feast this time, partially because there were so many terrific blogs during National Nuclear Science Week.

Rod Adams of Atomic Insights explains how a paid-off older nuclear plant can make electricity that might indeed, be too cheap to meter. He notes that this can anger the proponents of competing technologies! I describe Gwyneth Cravens visit to Vermont in two blog posts, including one with a video of her Sheraton Economic Series talk in Burlington. CoolHandNuke outlines Canada's interest in small modular reactors, while Ulrich Decher of ANS Nuclear Cafe analyzes the economic and carbon footprint of a wind turbine. (Hint: think about the back-up power.) Next Big Future talks about nuclear growth world-wide, and notes that Flexblue underwater nuclear reactors is targeting a prototype date of 2013 and a commercial date as soon as 2016. Nuclear Green shreds a British report that recommends energy rationing instead of nuclear power.

The host blog, Idaho Samizdat, pays homage to the Challenger deaths, and to all the other deaths of those who have sacrificed their lives to move knowledge, technology and science forward. To move human life forward. The Samizdat post reminds me of the motto of my alma mater, University of Chicago. Crescat scientia; vita excolatur "Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched."

A Personal Story Of Nuclear Medicine

My favorite post from the Carnival is Nuclear Fissionary's Jack Gamble's personal story of being treated with radioactive iodine for Graves' disease. He works in a nuclear plant, and had to take extensive leave from work because he would set off the alarms after being treated. Then he came back to work, and, as he describes it:

21 days after the treatment, I decided enough time had passed since I-131 has an 8 day half life. It was time to go back to work. Of course, when I got to the gate, I was greeted by the klaxon of area radiation monitors protesting my entry into the plant. When a radiation protection technician, otherwise known as Rad Pro, came out to assess my condition, it turned out that my neck was giving off 3 millirem per hour of radiation. To put that in perspective, if you were to stand next to me for 20 minutes, you would have received as much radiation as the people who lived near Three Mile Island in 1979 during the partial meltdown (an entirely harmless amount of radiation).

He comments:

Now consider the fact that nearly 30 days after receiving a relatively routine amount of medical radiation, I was too radioactive to get INTO a nuclear power plant and yet five minutes after taking the pill I was allowed to walk right out the front door of the hospital. There were no men in yellow bubble suits that tackled me to the ground and dragged me to a decontamination shower. There was no EPA at my house declaring it a disaster area even though I left a trail of contamination everywhere I went.

Now consider that antinuclear activists are up in arms over a mere few thousand picocuries of tritium at Vermont Yankee even though none of it will ever make its way to their tap water. ....Now ask yourself why those fanatics are not standing in front of every hospital in the country with their ridiculous picket signs.

Areva: Energy, the Story That is Still Being Written

The Areva website currently hosts the most amazing 60 second video, showing energy use from slavery in Egypt through coal and finally, on to nuclear and wind and solar. The music and graphics are astounding and inspiring. Worth more than 60 seconds of your time! (I have watched it about four times already.)

Come to the Carnival. Have fun! Learn stuff! See the power of Energy!

The Carousel image is my own photograph of the main square at Avignon. The University of Chicago seal, through Wikipedia, is fair use for identifying University of Chicago. The thyroid gland graphic is from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Truth About Tritium: A Guest Post By Thomas Curphey

This letter appeared in the Valley News (my local newspaper) on January 19 2011. I have never met Thomas Curphey, but I phoned him when I read the letter. He graciously allowed me to use his letter as a guest post in my blog.

The Truth About Tritium

To the Editor:

A Valley News editorial some time ago decried the rise of "truthiness," the attitude that facts matter not at all and that perception is everything. The editorial closed by saying, "History is full of frightening examples of what can happen when individuals and political factions come to believe they are entitled to their own facts. Let's not go there."

In light of these noble sentiments, it is unfortunate that the Valley News continues to publish articles misrepresenting the risk of exposure to the radioactive element tritium. For example, on Jan. 12, the Valley News published an Associated Press article ("Hearing on Vt. Yankee Leaks") stating that tritium "is a carcinogen when ingested in high amounts." This statement is a particularly slippery example of "truthiness," one designed to play on our fears of radioactivity and cancer.

How has tritium been linked to cancer? In none of the ways that the reader is likely (and perhaps intended) to assume. As pointed out in previous letters to the editor, there is no documented case where a human has ingested large amounts of tritium and has subsequently developed cancer. Results of animal studies have been ambiguous. There are no statistical studies linking tritium exposure to cancer. In fact, the so-called link between tritium and cancer is purely hypothetical: because tritium is radioactive and exposure to radiation can lead to cancer, therefore, exposure to tritium leads to cancer.

Perhaps to cover up a paucity of actual facts and to lend credibility, the qualifiers "ingested in high amounts" are added. Why? Because the radiation emitted by tritium is of such low energy that it cannot penetrate human skin or even a piece of paper. Therefore, to have any chance of causing cancer, tritium, would have to be ingested in large amounts.

A balanced assessment by the California EPA of the health risks from tritium may be found on the Web at
I urge readers interested in learning the facts about this issue to read this document.

Apparently, for the Valley News, some people, in this case environmentalists opposed to Vermont Yankee, are entitled to their own facts.

Thomas J. Curphey

The writer is a retired research professor of pathology at Dartmouth Medical School and a retired adjunct professor of chemistry at Dartmouth College.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gwyneth Cravens In Burlington

Gwyneth Cravens gave two talks in Burlington on January 20. The evening talk was recorded by CCTV of Burlington.

Concerned about the devastating impacts on public health and the environment caused by fossil-fuel combustion, environmental writer Gwyneth Cravens concludes that nuclear is the only large-scale, practical, environmentally friendly, nonpolluting energy source available. Her book Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy documents her findings which are shared in this first 2011 Sheraton Economic Series presentation.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Debate Gets Weird

The Debate

In December, Howard Shaffer and I debated James Moore of VPIRG and State Senator Dick McCormack (formerly on the VPIRG board) about Vermont Yankee. I blogged about it in my post The Debate Goes On. If you have the time, you can even watch the entire debate on that post. Little did I know that the debate recently caused James Moore to call the Vermont Attorney General's Office and the Montpelier Police Department, believing he had received a death threat.

The death threat did not happen during the debate. It apparently happened in a newsletter, written by John McClaughry, the head of Ethan Allen Institute. The Energy Education Project, which I direct, is part of the Ethan Allen Institute.

The Statement

Back to the debate with Moore and McCormack. At least twice during the debate, James Moore said that Vermont Yankee hadn't killed anybody "yet" with an emphasis on "yet." The implication, of course, was that the plant was about to kill someone. During the debate, I found this hard to answer.

Moore had made a a bizarre statement, when you think about it. What he said is true of just about anyone or anything. My lawn sprinkler hasn't killed anyone "yet." I haven't killed anyone "yet." I presume James Moore hasn't killed anyone "yet." By saying "the plant hasn't killed anyone yet," Moore managed a soundbyte that was threatening but ultimately meaningless. Moore didn't give a reason or method that Vermont Yankee might kill someone in the future, he just said that it hadn't happened "yet."

Aftermath, Part 1

For a few days after the debate, at random moments, I had random thoughts. Some of my thoughts included:
  • I should have challenged Moore. I shouldn't have let him just say that with no explanation. I should have asked him why and how he expects the plant to kill someone.
  • I should have asked him if they should never open the Kleen Energy Plant in Connecticut because it already killed six people when it blew up shortly before opening.
  • Or maybe a natural gas plant gets to kill someone and it's okay. Maybe if a natural gas plant kills someone already, that is better than a plant that has not killed anyone yet.
  • I should have....
After a while, though, I forgot all about this exchange and all the answers I did not give. I am bit of a worry-wart. I am always sure I could have done a better job of debating. Or a better job of whatever I do. After a while, I let it go. You might say that I let "yet" go.

Aftermath Part 2: The Joke

However, what I worry about, others think is funny. Apparently, someone watched the video and made a joke to John McClaughry. This person said that the plant hadn't killed anyone yet, and he hadn't killed anyone yet, either, but he was thinking about James Moore as a candidate. McClaughry published the remark in his newsletter. To see the original joke within the newsletter, follow this link and look at the bottom of page 6.

Aftermath Part 3: The Police

Anne Galloway of Vermont Digger saw the remark in McClaughry's newsletter. The comment about the debate was two sentences long. She notified James Moore and then posted a lengthy blog about what happened next. An excerpt follows:

When I asked Moore about it earlier this week, he hadn’t seen the newsletter. But when he read the comment, he immediately called the Vermont Attorney General’s Office and the Montpelier Police Department.

“Most people agree that we should not tolerate violence in public discourse, much less promote it,” Moore wrote in an e-mail. “This kind of threat is really irresponsible and runs counter to Vermont’s proud history of community debate and discussion. The Ethan Allen Institute should know better than to spread this kind of dangerous rhetoric through its official newsletter.”

McClaughry’s response? “I think Paul Burns (VPIRG’s executive director) should lighten up.”
“It was a droll remark made after Moore introduced the subject of killing,” McClaughry elaborated.

Moore said it isn’t the first time VPIRG staff have been threatened, though not this personally in a long time.

He was somewhat relieved to hear that McClaughry said it was a joke, Moore said: “There are people out there who aren’t mentally stable.”

Bob Stannard, a lobbyist for Citizens Action Network, an anti-Yankee group, who has worked with Moore for three years, said McClaughry crossed “the line of civility here in Vermont.”
“It is unconscionable that John McClaughry would publish this quote with emphasis on YET,” Stannard wrote in an e-mail. “McClaughry has made a career of being a public figure. He knows the rules. He’s either getting old or is much more vicious than most people would be inclined to believe. At the very least he owes Mr. Moore an apology.”


Now, I haven't been hiding under a rock for the last few weeks. I am fully aware that we are more concerned with the dangers of death threats against public figures since the horrible event in Arizona. Still, two sentences in a newsletter doesn't seem to me to be worth quite this much angst. We aren't talking about stalkers, people who are obsessed with other people, or anything like that. It was clear to me, reading the newsletter, that the sentences were a joke.

However, the sentences were not directed at me, so I admit it was easier for me to see that they were a joke.

Even if they had been directed at me, though, I would look at this a little differently. John McClaughry is a former Vermont Senator, and a man who has held many responsible positions. If he had heard a real death threat against Moore, he would not have taken it lightly. Someone made a joke, McClaughry published the joke, and meanwhile...

Meanwhile. Times changed. A gunman in Arizona changed everyone's opinion of what is or is not a threat.


And yet, even with Giffords in our minds, I think this entire incident is overblown. I am truly sorry Moore felt threatened. I also wonder how much he exaggerated the idea of being threatened for his own rhetorical reasons. I don't like to hear McClaughry described in nasty ways. I wish none of this had ever happened. I had forgotten about all the "yet" business, and I plan to forget it again. It's all too bizarre.

However. I think it's all going to get even more bizarre around Vermont as the winter and spring roll forward. I am pretty sure that I haven't seen anything yet.

Image of The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse, 1902. From Wikipedia. Trying to discover the events that haven't happened yet.

36th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs --and a Video.

The 36th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

In this Carnival, we learn
  • Zion plant may be sold instead of being decommissioned. (Atomic Insights)
  • Electric cars are only a small pollution-control advance over gasoline engines if they start with electricity from coal. Electric cars will be a great advance if they start with electricity produced in nuclear power plants. (PopAtomic)
  • Popular support for nuclear energy is on the increase in the United States. (ANS Nuclear Cafe)
  • Alvin Weinberg's predictions on energy were almost always correct. In this way, they are very different from Armory Lovins predictions. (Nuclear Green)
  • Dan Yurman's recent predictions that the Chinese would have to slow their rate of nuclear construction were correct. The Chinese are still building a lot of plants. They are just not building 80 GWe in 10 years (Idaho Samizdat)
  • In Canada, concerns about privatization of AECL are taking a back seat. Plans for a new nuclear plant are moving forward. (Canadian Energy Issues)
  • What does the new congress mean for nuclear? It's complicated. (Nuke Power Talk)
  • Gwyneth Cravens is visiting Vermont and giving several talks, including one at the State House in Montpelier. (Yes Vermont Yankee)
  • Uranium extraction from seawater looks promising (Next Big Future)
  • Talking bears are featured in a new video that "paraphrases every conversation I have ever had with an anti-nuclear activist" (Nuclear Fissionary)
The video is excellent, and I share it below. As Dan Yurman describes it in the Carnival:

This video is the perfect vehicle for sending this message and it is all because of monotone. The monotone, unwavering and robotic delivery of the animations inserts a fresh breath of calmness and seeming neutrality to this heated debate.

Come to the Carnival. Learn. Have fun. Watch a video!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Energy Education Project Hosts Gwyneth Cravens in Vermont Thursday

The Energy Education Project: Gwyneth Cravens Visit to Vermont This Thursday

On Thursday, January 20, the Ethan Allen Institute Energy Education Project will host Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World. She will appear in Vermont, and Vermont needs to hear her reasoned message about nuclear power at this crucial time. Her thoughtful approach and clarity of expression is an important antidote to the overblown energy rhetoric of recent months.

Cravens will appear at several events on Thursday, two of which are free and open to the public. Ethan Allen Institute Energy Education Project is proud to have arranged this visit.

The first event is a State House Round table. At 12:15 p.m., Cravens will speak at the Montpelier Statehouse. We will provide a complimentary copy of her book, Power to Save the World, to Vermont legislators. The Round Table event is open to the public, and we hope to see many non-legislators (as well as legislators) in attendance. The announcement for this event is at the right, including the coupon which legislators have received.

At 7 p.m., Cravens will speak in Burlington, at the Ethan Allen Institute Sheraton Economics series at the Sheraton Burlington Emerald Ballroom. This Economics Series talk is free and open to the public. At this event, her book will be available for sale and book-signing. The announcement for this event is at the top of this blog post.

Cravens will also appear at a few smaller venues, such as the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at University of Vermont. Due to space restrictions, these talks are not open to the public.

As usual, double-click the graphics to enlarge them.

If you want to know more about Cravens approach, you can follow the links below to hear Cravens on a recent Vermont talk radio show: the Mark Johnson Show.

I have also appeared on several radio shows to discuss her upcoming visit.

Cravens' talks in Burlington and Montpelier will give you an opportunity to ask questions of a knowledgeable pro-nuclear speaker. Your questions are probably the same questions Cravens considered when she started out. She was very skeptical of nuclear energy. She changed her mind through years of study, travel, and interviews with scientists. Cravens combines knowledge with clarity in a very approachable way. This is an excellent opportunity to learn why nuclear power is indeed, Power to Save the World.

I hope that many of you will be able to attend.

NOTE: Most of this blog post is a copy of an email I sent to Energy Education Project supporters. Just for fun, I include a picture of myself at a radio show yesterday morning.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

35th Blog Carnival at NEI Nuclear Notes

The 35th Blog Carnival of Nuclear Energy is up at NEI Nuclear Notes. I love the title of this post:

Bullish Views, Big Perspectives and Burgeoning Economies

Depleted Cranium gives an excellent view of what progress (including abundant energy) has done for us to date: food safety, warm houses, safe travel. Suzy Hobbs discusses how the nuclear industry can improve its physical appearance. Several blogs such as Areva , Idaho Samizdat and Cool Hand Nuke, trace the story of plants proposed or under construction, and Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues explains why China is eating our lunch. (It's like this. If we give in to those who try to make electricity more expensive, and China keeps building modern nuclear plants, we will end up with the energy crisis and the Chinese will end up with the industrial powerhouse country.) In the same vein, Gail Marcus describes the cautionary tale of how feed-in tariffs for solar are stressing Germany's power grid.

Several bloggers describe nuclear communication and its challenges. Margaret Harding points out ways in which BP mishandled communications during its crisis, providing lessons-learned for communications about any large technology. Rod Adams described opposition to power uprates at existing nuclear plants, and Jack Gamble refutes a critic who worries about the effect of nuclear on "the grandchildren." Other bloggers described hopeful new futures for nuclear power, including Robert Hargraves and Ralph Moir on thorium and Brian Wang on fusion.

It's always a pleasure to come to the Carnival, especially a Carnival full of good ideas, good news, and good ways to communicate. In other words, a Carnival of Bullish Views, Big Perspectives, and Burgeoning Economies!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Shoulder Season

Vermont Yankee issues are very active right now because the legislature is back in session. On the other hand, my husband had shoulder surgery yesterday. Therefore, I am not very active in following Vermont Yankee for a few days.

I have asked some friends to write guest posts, and I plan a blog post on Gywneth Cravens upcoming visit to Vermont. Stay tuned! (You can double-click on the image below to enlarge it and make it legible.)

Shoulder image from Gray's Anatomy (the book, of course, not the TV show) and Wikipedia.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Carnival and a Welcome to New Blogger Guy Page

The 34th Carnival of Nuclear Energy is up at Next Big Future. I welcome vermontpressconnections, a new blog published by Guy Page.

34th Carnival of Nuclear Energy

In the 34th Carnival of Nuclear Energy, Brian Wang has assembled a deep and world-wide view of nuclear.

The first two linked posts are Charles Barton's post at Nuclear Green. Barton demolishes Mark Z. Jacobson's views that nuclear war can be prevented by not building nuclear power plants. (I call these Mark Jacobson's views because Jacobson has such a proliferation of factual errors that I can't call his work a research paper.) Read Charles Barton's posts. Follow Barton with gun and camera, as he tracks Jacobson's errors to their source.

In more international news, Dan Yurman of Idaho Samizdat explains why the recent fuel recycling breakthrough in China is only a partial breakthrough. Writing as a guest blogger at ANS Nuclear Cafe, Yurman describes why India is looking to Russia and France for its nuclear technology, and how America has fallen behind. At Yes Vermont Yankee, I go international a bit, widening my view from Vermont to Iowa and all the way to England.

Brian Wang, once again, puts it all into perspective at Next Big Future, with posts on the Asian builds and China's grid upgrades. Wang also follows the fusion story. Many of us (myself included) have mostly given up on fusion, but new and hopeful processes are being developed. It is great that Wang keeps us abreast of the real progress.

Come to the Carnival! Enjoy yummy food-for-the-intellect, gathered for your mental pleasure. Watch nuclear grow world-wide. Be happy!

Welcome New Blogger! Guy Page and vermontpressconnections

Guy Page has started a new blog, vermontpressconnections. This blog covers the ever-changing Vermont media scene.

Page is a skilled newspaperman whose credentials include Burlington Free Press, Caledonian-Record, St. Albans Messenger, News & Citizen, and Chittenden Observer. He has also worked with many not-for-profits in Vermont, including the Vermont Lung Association, Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, and Coalition for a Tobacco Free Vermont. At Vermont Energy Partnership, Page supports Vermont Yankee with skill and clarity. He also regularly gets attacked for his support...see the comment stream on the article linked above.

When the Coalition for Energy Solutions (I am a member) published Vermont Electric Power in Transition, we wanted to do a press release and hold a press conference. Everybody we asked about press conferences told us that we should get in touch with Guy Page. They said that he had the best media contact list, and he would be able to give us the best advice. I am delighted to see him starting this blog. I expect his blog will be useful for everyone who does business in Vermont.

Welcome, 34th Carnival of Nuclear Energy. And Welcome, vermontpressconnections!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Inauguration: Finally, I Understand the Honeymoon Concept

Peter Shumlin was inaugurated as Governor of Vermont today. During his campaign, he described himself as "Vermont Yankee's worst enemy." In his inaugural speech, he laid out an ambitious agenda, including health care, broadband, and education. He didn't mention Vermont Yankee. You can read his inaugural speech or you can listen to it.
  • Perhaps Shumlin didn't mention Vermont Yankee because he is sure it will be shut down, and it is time to move on to new plans.
  • Perhaps he didn't mention Vermont Yankee because now he is governor, and having unemployment rise on his watch isn't going to be good for his chances for re-election.
  • Perhaps he read one of my blog posts which noted that he was losing the election when he was running against Vermont Yankee. He only pulled ahead when he chose a more positive, standard-Democratic-policy approach.
  • Perhaps he has decided to hold a positive mood and not saying anything negative in his first speech as governor.
  • Perhaps he realizes that Vermont Yankee needs to stay open, and he doesn't want to back himself into a corner.
  • Perhaps...

Enough speculation. As many have noted, running for office is quite different from holding office. Someone asked me what I thought Shumlin would do as governor, and I answered: "Disappoint a lot of people." He made many campaign promises, and they will not all be fulfilled.

I Finally "Get it" about Elections and Honeymoon Periods

I finally understand the "honeymoon" period that newly-elected officials usually receive from the press. I never understood it before. I thought it was just an odd courtesy that the press traditionally extended. Actually, it is very necessary.

The new office-holder needs time to define what he or she is going to do, in office. You can't judge them by what they said on the campaign trail. What they said during the campaign may or may not be relevant.

Shumlin will hold his inaugural ball tomorrow night. It is time for his honeymoon to begin. I honor it with the classic Vermont song.

Widening the View: From Vermont to Iowa and England

Starting in Vermont

This morning, the Brattleboro Reformer had an interesting and controversial op-ed about Vermont Yankee. Since Howard Shaffer and I had visited the Reformer offices recently to have a background-style talk, I was interested in the editorial.

The op-ed claimed that Vermont Yankee is unlikely to close "on schedule." It pointed out that Entergy could bring several types of lawsuits against the state-ordered closing. Any of these lawsuits could extend the plant license for twenty years (if Entergy wins) or for a couple of years (while the lawsuits wend their way through the courts) even if Entergy doesn't win. The potential suits fall into three categories:

  1. Federal pre-emption. What were all those Vermont Senators doing when they inveighed against the dangers of tritium and insisted the plant must close down? Weren't they aware that radiation safety is an NRC issue, and cannot be decided by a state? The Senators were giving grounds for a lawsuit on pre-emption of the NRC.
  2. Contract violation. Entergy signed a Memorandum of Understanding that said it agreed that it would abide by a Public Service Board issuing (or not issuing) a Certificate of Public Good. After the contract was signed, the Legislature voted itself the privilege of telling the Public Service Board whether or not it could issue that Certificate. This legislative veto power was not in the original contract.
  3. What is an MOU? A Memorandum of Understanding is a contract. On the other hand, with some lawyers getting into the act, an MOU could also be considered non-binding, or it could be considered more binding than the usual contract. Fun for all, I suppose.
I covered many of these topics in two February 2010 blog posts called The Day After the Vote and The Morning After. I discussed pre-emption, contract law, and the possibility of lawsuits. I would call myself a real fortune-teller, except that I expected the lawsuits to begin more-or-less immediately at that time. No lawsuits began. Entergy quite reasonably decided to find and remediate the tritium leak before getting lawyers involved.

There's still time in the future for a lawsuit. At this point, these lawsuit ideas are simply speculation.

Expanding to Iowa

A local blog, Vermont Tiger, discussed the Reformer op-ed in a post Drop Dead Date for Yankee? Vermont Tiger compared the fierce opposition to Vermont Yankee with the general acceptance of the license extension recently granted to Vermont Yankee's sister plant, Duane Arnold in Iowa. Duane Arnold is a 615 megawatt BWR: it even has a low bank of cooling towers, just like Vermont Yankee. (picture above). The Iowa paper describes Duane Arnold as an employer, a provider of taxes, a provider of energy, and a "valuable corporate neighbor."

I appreciate Vermont Tiger for widening my view of how people look at nuclear plants. Too many people in Vermont declare: "We are Vermont and we are very very special. Nothing is quite good enough for us." These people give Vermont a smug problem. Without Vermont Yankee, Vermont will have gas-fired generation, and we will also have a smog problem. Nice to know that Iowa has a different view of nuclear!


And now, looking across the seas, Centrica, a UK gas company, moved into the nuclear market in 2009. They made this video to educate their employees about their investment in the UK nuclear program. This video shows why Britain needs nuclear energy. It also shows why Iowa and Vermont need nuclear energy. Or basically, why the whole world needs nuclear energy.

Images from Wikipedia and NRC.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Variable Pricing and Vermont Yankee: Another Reason the Hydro-Québec Deal Shows Legislative Desperation

Variable Pricing and Vermont Yankee

Recently, I published a post called A Bad Deal with Hydro-Québec. This post was later featured on the Energy Collective, where it had many readers and some interesting comments.

DaveL made several comments, and I would like to answer one of them in this blog. He asked (paraphrase): "Why are you attacking the HQ deal because it is a variable price contract? After all, variable price contracts save the ratepayers money when the price of electricity goes down, which is more than a fixed rate contract will do."

Here's an expanded and edited version of my response.

The Legislators of Vermont Hated Variable Pricing

DaveL: I need to put my remarks about variable pricing for HQ power in context. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Vermont power purchases after 2012 with Entergy was signed in 2002. It says that for ten years after 2012:
  • Entergy will sell at the market AND
  • If the market goes above 6.1 cents, Entergy will split the extra money with the utilities.
The MOU agreement with Entergy was a variable price contract with revenue sharing. If the market was below 6.1 cents, Entergy would just sell at the low market price. If electricity prices went up, there were estimates from the DPS (Department of Public Service) and others of Entergy returning tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to the utilities over the length of the contract. This money could have improved transmission lines, implemented the smart grid, or been returned to ratepayers in the form of lower prices.

The Senators and Representatives in Montpelier said this agreement, though signed, was totally unacceptable. That lousy Entergy wasn't giving Vermont a fixed price! Those Entergy scumbuckets were trying to get away with just stonewalling them! The newspapers were full of statements such as: "Negotiations stall as Entergy refuses to name price."

The Legislature was trying to pressure Entergy into changing the MOU. However, a contract is a contract, and it takes agreement from both sides to change it. Entergy preferred the MOU, and the MOU was a good deal for Vermont. If the price was electricity was low, that is the price Vermont utilities would pay Entergy. If the price went up, Vermont utilities got partially re-imbursed.

However, the legislators wanted a fixed price. Entergy has now given them a fixed price, and they don't like that, either.

Comic Relief

In one of the legislative committee meetings I attended in Montpelier, one of the legislators asked a utility consultant: "Why can't Entergy give us a fixed price AND keep the revenue sharing agreement?" The consultant had to explain that: "You can sell a kWh at market price and share the revenue, or you can sell it at a fixed price. You can't do both. A revenue-share on a fixed price is just a lower fixed price."

This question was a wake-up call for me about the level of knowledge of some of our legislators. In fairness to this legislator, VY currently has a fixed price agreement for most of its power, and a sort-of revenue sharing agreement for the power involved in a recent plant uprate. However, the legislator's follow-up questions did not show any knowledge of the uprate power contract. It was clear she thought 1) a low price fixed-cost power agreement is good, and 2) revenue sharing is good, so why can't we have both?

Capitulation to Hydro-Québec
Despite this hatred of variable-priced contracts, the legislators of Vermont were willing to buy market-price power from HQ. By doing this, they support HQ profits and HQ jobs while letting Vermont people hit the unemployment lines. These are Vermont people whose company offered a better deal for Vermont than HQ did.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is a much better deal for Vermont than the HQ contract. The MOU is public, it includes revenue sharing if the price rises, it's transparent, it's cheaper power, if only because of transmission costs at the same ISO price. End of story.

Instead, the Legislature chose to roll over and play dead for Hydro-Québec. Let's face it. The Legislature was desperate, as I noted in my blog post about the HQ contract.

As my Canadian friend said: Don't you guys realize that we only want your money?

Addendum: Some interesting links

I recommend Guy Page's op-ed in the Burlington Free Press about the future of Vermont Yankee and the consequences if it closes.

I was a participant in the latest Atomic Show podcast, led by Rod Adams of Atomic Insights blog.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy Birthday, Yes Vermont Yankee!

This blog is one year old as of January 1. I feel happy that the blog has affected the dialog in Vermont. There is now a place for pro-Vermont Yankee information, opinions, and support.

I'm not doing a blog-retrospective here because I wrote one at Looking Backward, Looking Forward. This was a guest post on the American Nuclear Society blog, Nuclear Cafe. The post was also featured on the Energy Collective.

Thank you to all my readers, and all the other supportive nuclear bloggers, and all Vermont Yankee supporters. This will be a crucial year for Vermont Yankee, and we will be very active in this year. Once again, we will make a difference.

A special huge thanks to the Ethan Allen Institute for helping me start the Energy Education Project this fall. The Energy Education Project sponsors local talks and talks by outside experts. Howard Shaffer and I are also appearing on TV and radio. We will continue to help the people of Vermont understand their real energy options.

The Energy Education Project is especially proud of bringing Gwyneth Cravens to Vermont later this month. She will speak at a Legislative Round Table in Montpelier and a presentation in Burlington. Here's the announcement about the Round Table. As usual, you can doubleclick the image to see a bigger version.

I encourage people to click the PayPal button on this blog to join the Energy Education Project. A year's membership is $30, but we accept any level of donation. Right now, we have raised the money for the Cravens visit, and are raising money for pro-Vermont Yankee flyers and FAQ publications. Your $30 will go a long way!

A Happy and Healthy New Year to all who read this blog!