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.

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