Thursday, January 7, 2010

Potluck with the Walkers

Because I am with the town Energy Committee, I decided to go to the potluck "event" for the Anti-VY walkers, who are spending the night in White River Junction. I call it an "event" because it wasn't supposed to be all-about-VY, it was supposed to be about how to cut our electricity use by 1/3 so we don't have to keep VY running. The Energy Committee was very interested in how the neighborhood group was going to address this.

I admit, at first I was seriously crabby about this event. I don't like the idea that anti-VY and pro-conservation were all blended together. As a matter of fact, I called it a "wolf in sheep's clothing." Still, I decided to go, especially if nobody else from the Committee could go. Nobody else could go. It was up to me.

The potluck was at a private residence, and I called the hostess and said I was pro-VY and I was only coming for the conservation part of the meeting, for the Town Energy committee. She didn't seem totally pleased, but she was very polite. I said the same thing to others at the potluck, walkers, friends of walkers, etc. I said I was there for the Energy Committee about conservation, my personal views were pro-VY, and I wasn't there to argue. I also brought Vegetarian Baked Beans I had made from the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker cookbook. Navy beans and maple syrup and summer savory. Pretty good, if I say so myself! And they are vegan, so they are a good potluck dish.

The beans were well accepted, and so was I. I had a great conversation with an anti-VY walker from Brattleboro who builds energy efficient houses. We talked about my house, about solar hot water (a good idea, under most circumstances) and just had a great time. As he said: we don't have to agree on everything. Even some of the people who were annoying at the Putney clown-farce turned out to be sweet at this meeting. They thanked me for being brave enough to come. I thanked them for being so welcoming.

Actually, the potluck made me sad in some ways. Putney made me sad, but that was an angry kind of sad. "Will Nukem" "Wet Dreams" "No increase in global warming from shutting down Yankee!" Insults and lies, in other words.

This potluck made me sad in a deeper way. I remembered starting out in the energy field, a member of the Sierra Club, eager to promote renewable geothermal energy. Excited about the Geysers in California, a geothermal field that was being developed. Only to find the Sierra Club was strenuously trying to block the power plant. "We're not against geothermal energy; but this is not the right place for a plant." Of course. Some other plant, some other place, might be just fine. Sure.

This potluck made me sad for all the nuclear plants, and all the renewable plants, that "weren't the right plant." And all the fossil plants that got built instead.


Larry Gilman said...

"This potluck made me sad for all the nuclear plants, and all the renewable plants, that 'weren't the right plant.' And all the fossil plants that got built instead."

Hm -- this is interesting: you seem to think that opposition by groups like the Vermont potluckers and the Sierra Club has been a primary reason for the stagnation of US nuclear plant construction since the 1970s. That would be ahistorical: the disastrous economics of the ambitious LWR building program of the 1970s led to a definitive crash in orders even before Three Mile Island. It was the dollars, not the hollers, that did in the nukes.

Nor is it clear to me, reading your piece, whether you would admit that siting concerns can ever be authentic and reasonable, or if they are always an occasion for sadness -- each incident just one more of the technophobes' "hypocrisies" (the tendentious word appears twice on your page).

As for Vermont Yankee, it WAS built, so you surely can't be grieving for that. It was built; but it could no longer be built today, as you know, for its basic design no longer meets the minimal safety standards required of new nuclear plants. For example, the turbine building is oriented so that in the event of an turbine or generator breakup, shrapnel could penetrate the reactor building. Such a layout would not be permitted today.

I'm no technophobe: I have a PhD in Engineering Sciences from Dartmouth, 1995 ( And with 100 or so other people I walked 7 ugly, cold miles to the State House in Montpelier on January 13th to ask the Legislature to heed the will of the large plurality of Vermonters who want this plant closed ( and not relicense this obsolete plant.

I find myself feeling like a citizen, not a hypocrite.

Meredith Angwin said...


Thank you for your thoughtful post and interesting links.

You are correct. I am cynical, jaded, and bitter about the ability to site renewable plants. I was one of two or three women project managers at Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). I was in the renewable resources division and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. My job was doing research and helping build renewable power plants. I had a real role in this, and commanded real dollars.

And we all saw project after project go down in flames. "We're not against renewables! It's just that THIS renewable is in the wrong place." Over and over.

I am sure James Moore is one of your leaders. I have heard him say: "If we want renewables, we will have to get used to looking at them." I couldn't agree more. Have you heard him say that?

Was anybody listening?

You are not a technophobe. However, your background is medical, not utilities. In terms of siting renewables, I have far greater experience than you do. I earned my cynicism honestly.

One other thing. It was the holler, not the dollar that stopped nuclear. The holler made plants expensive, but they were still built. When Shoreham was built but denied an operating permit, all reasonable money managers walked away from nuclear. It was the holler that did it.