Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Guest Post by Howard Shaffer: Vermont Yankee, What's In It for Us?

This Guest Post by Howard Shaffer has appeared as an op-ed in several local papers and websites, such as Vermont Digger and The Brattleboro Reformer.  I am please to print it here, with some updates (noted below).


Ever since Vermont utilities stopped buying power from Vermont Yankee in March, people who care about our energy future have been asking the question: What's in it for us, now? Why should energy consumers care if Vermont Yankee continues to operate?

In late June, a New England energy expert answered this question decisively and in depth. Jeffrey Tranen holds graduate degrees in electrical engineering from MIT. He had a distinguished career as a senior executive for energy transmission companies (but not Entergy, owner of Vermont Yankee). He chaired a founding committee of ISO-New England, the organization charged with overseeing the region's power supply. He is an energy-industry expert of the highest level.

In written testimony to the Vermont Public Service Board on behalf of Entergy's application for a Certificate of Public Good, Tranen identified four distinct ways that Vermonters may benefit from Vermont Yankee' s continued operation.

First, Vermont's ratepayers would receive between $9 million and $171 million over the next decade, thanks to a revenue-sharing agreement between the state's utilities and Yankee. According to that agreement, utility customers will receive a share of the plant's revenue whenever it sells power above a certain price, as long as the plant continues to operate.

Second, the continued operation of Vermont Yankee will likely result in lower electricity rates for all customers of utilities that purchase their power off the New England grid (including Vermont's); however, the specific amount of savings depends on the actual cost of market power. This has been true historically, because nuclear power has a low, stable price, compared to other types of energy.

Carbon in the raw
Third, an operational, carbon-emissions-free Yankee will lead to continued reductions in ratepayers' carbon-related costs. The multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative charges a hefty penalty to states that generate electricity from polluting fossil fuels. So, the more fossil fuels that New England generators burn, the bigger the bill for ratepayers.

Fourth, keeping Vermont Yankee online will continue to prevent generation shortages, while also increasing fuel diversity on the grid. Baseload power sources (such as Yankee) play a vital role in preventing transmission losses by balancing out irregularities in generation from intermittent power sources like solar and wind. The smoother the transmission system runs, the less the power costs.

Tranen's testimony is focused on benefits to ratepayers alone and doesn't even touch on the stupendous economic and social benefit of 1,000-plus jobs and $15 million in annual state and local revenue. His full remarks are available at

What can opponents say to this? Certainly they can engage in the same-old scare tactics, corporate xenophobia, or ad hominem attacks on Tranen's motivations and credentials. What they can' t do -- although I'd like to see them try -- is factually, favorably compare the economic and environmental impacts from shutting down Vermont Yankee to the benefits of its continued operation, as described above by Tranen. His expert testimony makes an undeniable point: If Vermont Yankee stays open, ratepayers will benefit.
Howard Shaffer, PE, is a nuclear engineer, licensed in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Illinois, with degrees in electrical (Duke) and nuclear (MIT) engineering, and service as a nuclear submarine engineer officer. He was a start-up engineer at Vermont Yankee and other plants. He is on the board of advisers for the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute, and is Coordinator for the American Nuclear Society's Vermont Grass Roots Project.



  • All emphasis (bold lettering) added by Meredith Angwin
  • Tranen's degree is a Graduate of Electrical Engineering, which is a degree M.I.T awards beyond the Master's degree but before the Ph.D.  The degree was earlier reported as a Ph.D.  
  • The Public Service Board website has fallen behind.  They have not yet mounted docket 7862 (that's the new docket for the Vermont Yankee Certificate of Public Good).  Testimony on this docket was pre-filed in June, but the docket is not up yet.  I obtained Tranen's testimony and placed it on the website of the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute.  The Public Service Board received the testimony in late June (that's the date) and others also received it, including me, Howard, probably media people, etc.  So I had a copy available to post.  All these filings are public documents, but our state has not posted any filings on docket 7682 yet.  (Okay, I AM hoping the Public Service Board will read this and put up the docket and the documents very quickly!)


Mike Mulligan said...

Hmmm, but is Entergy a competent and safe manager of nuclear plants? Since the credibility of VY leaking off gas pipes we had Palisades being driven into the dirt. Is the controversial plants sucking money away from the good plant?

I could make the case the economics are making the large nuclear plants owners run out of control. Maybe something is wrong with communications in large organizations?

Meredith Angwin said...

Thank you for your comments, Mike. I think there's always something wrong with communication in large organizations! However, nuclear plants do a better-than-average job of internal communications, because they have to.

Entergy has invested over $300 million in new equipment for Vermont Yankee. They are not "running it into the ground," no matter what the opponents say.

Mike Mulligan said...


$300 million dollars is mere pennies with the scale of these problems and the size of Entergy...

Did you include the million dollars for the replacement diesel generator of the Vernon tie? Did you ever see my pictures of the disgusting Vernon dam switchyard rust bucket?
If ever you could see how dysfunctional the public processes are with the NRC, it is through this. If the NRC knew what was best for our nation, they would have condemned the Vernon tie years ago and forced VY to get a DG replacement. The NRC looks totally ridicules with this treatment of my 2.206(s) on the Vernon tie.

Tom Clegg said...

Mike it seems no matter what Entergy does it will never be enough for you. The NRC is an regulator of not just commercial nuclear power plants. So do you trust them to over see nuclear medicine or X-rays or exit signs or all the other responsibility's they have. You spent years on a nuclear submarine who over saw that did you complain back then? You were underwater next to a BWR for 3 months at a time. By the way the sub was built by the cheapest bidder. I bet that made you feel safe!

Meredith Angwin said...

Mike and Tom

Mike: I am no authority on the switchyard at VY, but I doubt it was in such bad shape as you say. One thing I do know, however, is that investing $300 million in new equipment for VY was a major investment. VY opponents are always saying that the plant makes "a million dollars a day" while it is running (that was under the old contracts.) Anyhow, I decided to do my own back-of-the-envelope calculations and it came up with about $250 million a year INCOME at VY, not counting any costs, salaries etc. In other words, $300 million invested in new equipment is probably several years of plant profits. That is a sizable investment and a sizable vote of confidence in the future of the plant.

Needless to say, the plant shares no financial information with me. I am just doing my own calculations here. four and a half cents per kWh times rated capacity times capacity factor. Anyone can do this calculation.

Tom. Correction. Mike undoubtedly slept near a PWR, not a BWR, on a submarine.

I am currently in New York City, visiting family and taking our grandson on his morning subway ride to Art Camp at Harlem School of the Arts. Every time I get in the subway, I think :thank you Indian Point!