Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Smiling Sharks at the State House

A guest post by Howard Shaffer III. He reports on a visit to the Vermont Law School and several visits to the Vermont State House where (surprise surprise) the people who are asked to testify are devoted to closing Vermont Yankee.


Late January events

On January 27th, the Joint Natural Resources and Energy Committees (House and Senate committees) met to hear testimony . The Vermont Energy Education office was the first one to present their information. The Energy Education mission is to look at all sources of energy, and to teach about advantages and disadvantages. Though there are many forms of energy used in this country (for heat, transportation, etc) the presenters only talked about electric power; how it is generated and how it can be conserved. Oddly, they never mentioned steam power generation of any kind. They spoke only of wind and solar.

The next speakers were Beyond Nuclear speakers Kevin Kamps, and Lorriane Rekmans. The announcement describes Ms. Rekmans as follows:

Lorraine Rekmans grew up in the Serpent River First Nation community from Elliot Lake, Ontario. Her community has experienced increased cancers, and devastating environmental damage from exposure as a result of uranium mining.

In Montpelier, Rekmans tried to persuade us that bad uranium mining practices in Canada fifty years ago, adversely affecting indigenous peoples, are somehow a fault of Vermont Yankee. Also, shutting down the plant will correct these mining practices. Or else it was an emotional ploy. I heard Mr. Kamps again, this time with Paul Gunter, the next night in Norwich at a Sierra Club meeting.

Still in Montpelier, though, after the Joint hearing, I briefly attended a Senate Finance Committee hearing where the Department of Public Service reviewed all the issues under consideration. VY was not mentioned. I moved on to the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee where the Gundersens were describing the trail of submissions related to VY's underground piping. The conclusion was the Legislature was misled.

The committee recessed to attend the governor's press conference, where Governor Douglas said VY had lost the trust of the people over the buried piping issue. The Committee then reconvened to hear the rest of the testimony, and do a Q&A. It wasn't pretty. The Chair, Rep. Klein said he is an anti nuke. (No surprise there, since an article containing some biography said he was raised near Indian Point and his parents were suspicious of nuclear.) H He also said that the Legislature is doing the regulator's job (emphasis added) and once a vote is taken the Legislature will be out of the loop.

Early February

On the evening of February 9, there was a meeting about Vermont Yankee at Vermont Law School. The Gundersens were on a panel with Jim Moore of VPIRG and Prof. Don Kreis of the Law School. Mr. Moore had been asked to review some of the Vermont Legislative history of VY and he reviewed it.

The Gundersens discussed the situation at VY and also made a remark that made the NRC sound special and not subject to Congressional oversight. I questioned that. In response to my question about the NRC being like the other regualatory agencies, Mrs. G. said that the Commissioners were in the pocket of the industry.

Prof. Kreis reviewed more of the legal history. During the Q&A he criticized Mrs. G. for disparaging the NRC Commissioner's integrity. He said such smearing is not helpful to the process, having been a Regulator himself.

As part of the legal history review of the VY situation, Prof Kreis said that it is an OPEN QUESTION whether or not the Vermont Legislature can do what is being attempted - block VY's consideration by the Public Service Board for an extension to its Certificate of Public Good., thus keeping the plant from continuing to operate beyond the end of the current certificate, which expires on the same day as the current NRC license. In conversation with him after the program, I raised the issue of the famous Supreme Court case under Justice Marshall in 1810. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that a following Legislature can't pass a law negating contracts with the State which were approved by a preceding Legislature. He said the Law School has a contract with the Legislature to provide advice on these matters, and could not say more. I said I understood. The moderator of the Q&A period, Prof Mears said all the lawyers expect the VY issue to wind up in court.

On February 10, I was back in Montpelier for a session of the the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. They had chosen to have Mr. Ray Shadis, a well-known antinuclear activist testify by phone on the nuclear fuel cycle. I learned that all mining problems are a reason to shut down VY and that thorium is fissionable!!

Next on the agenda was a Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee hearing. I have attended many different committee hearings over the past years while tracking and learning about the Vermont Yankee and energy issues. This hearing was moved from the committee's small room to a larger hearing room. On deck were Arnie and Maggie Gundersen to enlighten all about the VY situation. WCAX-TV was set up to tape the entire testimony, which was linked to a Burlington Free Press article that day. See an earlier post on this blog to watch the testimony. Better than that, read a good review of the testimony at Is Arnie Gundersen Devious or Dumb.

Before the hearing on February 10 with the Gundersens, I spoke to one of VY's Lobbyists, from a Montpelier firm. I said it looked to me like sharks circling in the water, but he has probably seen it before. He said yes, but never this bad. The sharks were smiling too.


Bill Rodgers said...


Thanks for the updates on the VY politics and situation as a whole.

It is amazing that Vermont people are considering closing their primary power source and tie themselves to Wall Street traders.

I see Twitter is ablaze with calls for people to write their Vermont representatives to close VY down. That would be incredibly shortsighted of the Vermont legislature it it did that.

Natural gas prices will only stay this low for about 3 more years so to use a highly variable priced commodity to take the place of relatively stable nuke power or tying Vermont to HydroQuebec is very, very shortsighted.

Unknown said...

good news on the natural gas prices. that means we have 3 more years to install wind, solar, and hydro.

Bill Rodgers said...


What do you think will back up wind and solar? It will be natural gas which is why I brought the subject up. Wall Street traders are salivating at the thought of VY closing down since they will more then likely have an open door to pull an Enron on the Vermont consumers.

Wind and solar both have time of day and variability issues that can not be overcome. So natural gas will be used to handle those numerous times when wind and solar are not available. Unless of course you like to burn diesel in your portable electric generator at night.

I am not against wind or solar but to say we can rely on them for our society's needs is denying the data from this website from BPA which shows the issues of wind.

It is the 7-day rolling wind generation data from Bonneville Power Administration on the Columbia River Basin in Washington and Oregon for about 2700MW installed capacity which is considered some of the prime real estate for wind power.

As the graph shows as of 2/20/2010, the only significant wind generation happened during the night of Feb 16th when demand was low. The peak power for the past 7 days was 1000MW for about 2 hours at best.

This data will be similar for any wind generation site throughout the country. Not exactly something I want to rely on for 24/7/365 power.

GRLCowan said...

"that means we have 3 more years to install wind, solar, and hydro."

Your best chance of that is to keep VY running.

Learn from Connecticut's experience. I don't know, but I guess in the runup to Connecticut Yankee's shutdown, the same renewable soft-soap was being peddled. Once the shutdown had happened, it all blew away like morning mist, and what they got was the Kleen Energy plant.

The "renewables" charade is motivated by fossil fuel money. If you want it to be executed enthusiastically, with lots of sharing by government of its fossil fuel income, the real enemy to that money has to be still standing.