Friday, April 12, 2013

Nuclear Makes a Lot of Electricity. Controversial Renewables Make Very Little.

Where Does Electricity Come From? 


Vermont Yankee went back on-line after refueling.  The outage lasted 26 days and included replacing a pump motor and transformer, as well as other maintenance.

Power produced: Vermont Yankee is 620 MW and operates over 90% of the time.   At a 90% capacity factor (actually it is higher) this would be about 560 MWyears of energy. (620 MW multiplied by 0.9 capacity factor)


Opponents of big wind are pretty much stymied by the permitting process in Vermont.  The Public Service Board and the Siting Commission do not have to pay any attention to local planning.

However, two enterprising Vermont senators from the town of Windham are trying to get around the fact that the towns can be ignored in wind siting decisions. The town plan for Windham bans industrial wind, and these senators have sponsored a bill in the legislature which says that wind turbines cannot be built in the town of Windham.

In my opinion, there is no chance that this bill will pass. Still,  the senators will be able to tell their constituents: "I sure tried to stop big wind around here."

Power produced: The controversial Kingdom Community Wind (Lowell Mountain) project is 21 turbines, totaling 63 MW and can be expected to operate (capacity factor) less than 30% of the time.  Lowell is the largest wind installation in Vermont and can be expected to produce less than 21 MWyears of energy. (63 MW multiplied by 0.3 capacity factor)


There's a biomass plant being planned for Springfield, Vermont. It is running into a fair amount of opposition.  The VPR article by Susan Keese is headlined:  Sustainability of Springfield Biomass Plant in Question.  Meanwhile, Susan Smallheer reported in the Rutland Herald that the state is critical of wood-fired project's forestry plan.

A leading state forester, Steven Sinclair, recommended that the harvest plan should include that about third of the slash be left on the land for the health of the forest.  His office also removed the word "renewable" from their website when describing wood-fired projects.  For wood-fired projects, Sinclair said that “The science on both renewableness and carbon-neutrality is in question.”

Power produced: The Springfield biomass plant would be 35 MW.  Biomass plants capacity factors are variable, but on the average they have lower capacity factors than coal.  A recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory chart shows biomass with an average capacity factor of 70%. Therefore, the Springfield plant could  be expected to produce about 25 MWyears of energy. (35 MW multiplied by 0.7 capacity factor)


Rutland Vermont is going to be a solar city.  Green Mountain power plans to "give Rutland the highest solar capacity per capita of any city in New England."  This quote is from the April 9, Green Mountain Power announcement of a Request for Proposals for a solar installation in Rutland.

Montpelier is also planning to install solar energy: Gayle Hanson of the Rutland Herald wrote about this in Capital City eyes going solar. In that article, the chairman of Montpelier's energy committee was quoted as follows: “The city gets a predictable future energy cost, and the bill for the city will be well below the cost from the utilities, so the more we have the more we save.”

Electricity from solar tends to be expensive electricity, but with net-metering (the power company buys electricity from solar arrays at a high price, but sells back-up electricity to the array owner at a lower price), a solar installation can save money for its owner.  This news release from All Earth Renewables describes these zero-cost solar programs.

Power Produced: Rutland will start with a 150 KW solar farm. Montpelier is looking at 150 to 500 KW solar arrays.   Capacity factor for sun in this area is about 18%, that is, average of 4.3 equivalent  sun hours per day.  Energy produced for the 150 KW installations would around 0.027 MWyears. (0.15MW multiplied by 0.18 capacity factor)


Anonymous said...

Burning wood and other biomass is quite hazardous to human health and the environment. Not many people know it, but the leading cause of lung cancer in third world countries is burning wood. The combustion produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are basically the result of incomplete combustion (soot, smoke, biogases, etc.). When injested, particularly in enclosed spaces, you get nasty health effects.

It is not a carbon-neutral process, although it is often portrayed as such. The problem is the time constants are different. Harvesting biomass removes carbon that is in a relatively immobile form (trees, leaves, plants, etc.) and puts it into a highly mobile form (smoke, soot, etc.) which elevates the carbon burden in the atmosphere to very high levels over a short period of time. If the biomass were left to the normal decay process, the transfer coefficients would be smaller, and occur over a longer time period, allowing absorptive processes to maintain a relative equilibrium.

jimwg said...

I can see summer and autumn tourism wars by mid-Atlantic vs New England states right now; "Come drive and ski through our windmill-free natural hills and mountains..."

I wonder how many acres of nature a nuke plant can spare from being plowed under by fields of solar cells which are also far more vulnerable to vandals and terrorism. Sure mucks up one's driving vistas from miles away!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Anonymous said...

In my state we have the Blue Creek Wind Farm that has been the center of some controversy because of visual and environmental impact. I have stood at the boundary line of this monstrosity and have seen an otherwise bucolic landscape marred by the hulking towers that seem to march endlessly across the land. They say those turbines make no noise but it isn't true, you can clearly hear an audible whoosh-whoosh-whoosh as the blades turn. If you are downwind you can feel the pressure waves washing over you. It is not a benign environmental impact, that I can tell you.

jimwg said...

You got it, Anon. Just what manner of fear is it to willingly sacrifice one's natural heritages just to placate one's FUD nightmares?

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Kit P said...

“Not many people know it, but the leading cause of lung cancer in third world countries is burning wood. ”

Because it is not true. Rich Americans worry about cancer. For the billions without power who depend on biomass for heating and cooking.

I stopped heating with wood except in an emergency because of the effect on indoor air quality.

Most biomass power plants were built to provide a better alternative to waste biomass. It can be used to produce power cleanly.

“Sinclair said that “The science on both renewableness and carbon-neutrality is in question.” ”

If this clown can not find the answers on how to use biomass to improve the environment he is an idiot. There are many LCA that document the benefits.

Anonymous said...

These lawmakers and policymakers should get out more and visit some of the sites that have been impacted by these monsterous, ugly things. They should go to the Kamaoa wind farm at South Point in Hawaii, where dozens of abandoned windmills are falling apart, rusting on the ground because the facility went bankrupt. They should go to the Tehachapi Gorge in California, where the abandoned Airtricity site with its derelict Storm Master and Wind-Matic turbines lies rusting into the ground. Hawaii and California have no laws requiring the owners of abandoned windmills to clean up their sites when they go broke and are shut down. Contrast that with nuclear, which is required by law to prove financial assurance that their plant sites can be restored to a natural state when the plant is finished operating. In fact, the state of Hawaii had to go to court to get the Kamaoa site declared a public nuisance, so they could go in and haul away the junk windmills (at taxpayer expense, of course).

Meredith Angwin said...

Thank you all for your comments.

There are many environmental impacts from these plants, but in return they produce....very small amounts of power!

In other words, these plants do not generate a good return for the public or the land.

Meredith Angwin said...

Hello Kit

You are correct that the problem with biomass in the third world isn't cancer, it's much more direct than that: COPD, emphysema, etc from indoor air quality from using biomass, or even outdoor air quality affecting a woman who is constantly leaning over an open fire to cook.

I have a friend who has asthma, and she hates the effect of Christmas on air quality. People who never use their old-fashioned fireplaces suddenly decide it is Yule Log time, and the air quality goes downhill fast. She often sends out an email blast around the holiday season; "do you really need to do this?"

That said, from what I have read, and I admit it is not extensive, there is controversy about the Life Cycle Analysis /CO2 analyses effects of harvesting logs for biomass. I don't consider Sinclair a "clown" for stating his opinion.

Alvin said...

This is cool!