Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nuclear Opponents View of New Hydro in Vermont

New Hydro Power in Vermont

I blogged recently about the potential for new in-state hydro power in Vermont.  Quoting many studies, I concluded that not much new in-state hydro power is available for Vermont.  My estimate was about 25 MW possible. Please read the entire post for the justification of this number.

Vermont Yankee opponents, on the other hand, often say there is much more hydro available for Vermont.  Among the opponents, VPIRG is the most honest: their  Repowering Vermont report predicted only 15 MW expansion in hydro power.

Other opponents wave their hands in the air and claim that new hydro in Vermont can be a serious addition to the fuel mix in Vermont.  They don't state numbers and they don't state references. They don't adhere to the generally accepted rules of evidence.  They don't...

Aw heck.  I'll just quote them.

Evidence, Pre-Filed Testimony, and Loaded Questions

On February 14, I attended a Public Service Board hearing about the Certificate of Public Good for Vermont Yankee. At that hearing, Entergy presented Jeffrey Tranen as an expert witness.  You can read Mr. Tranen's resume here, and you can read his pre-filed testimony for the Board at the relicensing docket.  Tranen has held responsible positions with grid operators and utilities. Tranen testified on the need for reliability and a good fuel mix on the grid.
Vermont Yankee (620 MW)
Vernon Dam (34 MW)

In general, substantive issues are supposed to be entered into the docket as pre-filed testimony.  You can see volumes of pre-filed testimony at the relicensing docket site, above.

New England Coalition is an old-line nuclear opponent, and an intervenor in the docket.  The lawyer for the New England Coalition was Brice Simon.

Examination is supposed to be on the basis of the pre-filed testimony.  However, the Public Service Board is quasi-judicial, not a court of law, so there is some leeway.  Also, in most courts of law, while leading questions are sometimes permissible, loaded questions are not.  Loaded questions assume an answer, and the classic loaded question is described in Wikipedia as follows:

"Have you stopped beating your wife?" indirectly asserting that the subject has beaten her at some point.

Okay, cutting to the chase here.  Brice Simon's questions for Tranen seemed so inappropriate that I obtained a copy of the transcript for that day so that I could quote the exchange directly. The transcript is a public record, but it is not on the Public Service Board website.

See what you think of these questions.

I Know and You Don't--So Hah-Hah!

Context: Discussion of Vermont Yankee's role in diversifying the fuel supply mix in this area, an area which has limited natural gas pipelines.

(Questions by Brice  Simon, NEC lawyer; answers by Jeffrey Tranen, Entergy Witness; Objection by Robert Juman, Entergy Lawyer; Comment by James Volz, Chairman of the Public Service Board)

Illustration from
Renewable Energy Vermont
Q. Just to follow up on that one, isn't locally produced hydro power one type of fuel that can step in to meet that need rather than Vermont Yankee?
A. Local hydro is already factored into the dispatch.
Q. What I'm asking is increased local hydro over time could come in to meet that need, correct?
A. I question whether there's enough increased local hydro of the magnitude of a Vermont Yankee power plant, but in general any other source of power than gas which is economic -- more economic than gas to operate in the dispatch would reduce the amount of gas that's required during the operating day.
Q. Are you aware of how much untapped hydro resources there remain in the State of Vermont?
A. I don't have specific numbers, but when I was actively involved in management with regard to New England it was my understanding that there was very little economic new hydro in New England to be developed.
Q. And when was that?
A. A decade ago.
Q. A decade ago. So you're not aware of all of the wonderful improvements that Vermont hydro developers are seeing that are increasing the available economic hydro in the state, are you?
A. I am not aware of the -- to what extent there could be new hydro that would be economic to develop in Vermont.
Q. Are you aware of the recent developments in run-of-the-river hydrologic turbines?
MR. JUMAN: Objection. What developments are you referring to?
MR. SIMON: I'm asking if the witness is aware of the developments that I'm aware of that I'm not going to tell about.
MR. JUMAN: Then I object to that question. You're asking him about something you're not sharing with him.
MR. SIMON: I don't have to share it with him.
MR. JUMAN: You're asking him to read your mind.
MR. SIMON: No. I'm asking his state of knowledge. I don't have to tell him.
CHAIRMAN VOLZ: I think it's fair to ask him if he's -- we are -- what developments in hydro technology is he aware of.
MR. SIMON: I'll rephrase the question happily.
BY MR. SIMON: Q. What, if any, developments in the area of run-of-the-river hydrologic turbines are you aware of?
A. I am not aware of any hydroelectric technology developments that would make new hydro development economic in competing with gas fired generation to any great extent.
Q. Thank you. ..

My Conclusion

A fishy fish from Wikipedia
Mr Simon did not even attempt to justify his implied assertion that recent improvements had greatly expanded hydro power availability in Vermont.  He didn't enter anything about these new improvements into the pre-filed testimony. (All the NEC pre-filed testimony is about fish and cooling towers.) Instead, Simon resorted to loaded questions and "I know but I'm not telling." With this, he tried to convince the Public Service Board that there is lots of new hydro available to Vermont.

Simon seems to be claiming that there is new hydro available, on the same scale as Vermont Yankee power, but as small run-of-the-river plants, using an unreferenced new technology.  And he doesn't have to tell anything more about it.

Hopefully, the Board is smart enough to see through this type of questioning.


jimwg said...

Re: "Hopefully, the Board is smart enough to see through this type of questioning."

This is not an aspersion of the parties concerned but a hope; Are they? More to the point, if they are that sharp, then also how briefed are they about nuclear power's record and operations? It's incredible how many Vermont's citizens are so willing to destroy a postcard landscape and all the state resources being expended solely based on fear to eradicate an existing proven pollutionless small footprint energy source whose rare very worst accidents 60 years world-wide altogether have reaped only as many fatalities as can be seated on a Greyhound bus. Meanwhile north where I live in Westchester County there's a dam which if breached by an earthquake that Indian Point's designed to ride out, would flush out the city of White Plains and environs in minutes, yet we hear squat concern from Greens or media about this, despite the sad fatal scorecard of broken dams. So yes, while the hydro advocates whirl the pols up there, let's pray the board members are getting the straight stuff about a proven exemplary but Hollywood-maligned energy source that nightmares are so hell-bent to extinguish.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Meredith Angwin said...

And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
And if there is no room upon the hill

Yes, James. I agree.

Anonymous said...

Vermonters seem determined to ride the hydro bus to ruin. If they really believe their state has that much hydro potential and are willing to destroy a key component of their bucolic landscape (pristine streams and rivers) to get it, then I guess they don't care all that much about their environment. If they admit that the hydro potential in Vermont isn't that great, but are still bound and determined to use it, then they'll have to go to the Canadians for it. As much as Shumlin complains about an out-of-state company (Entergy) doing (perfectly legal and harmless) business in Vermont, why is he so willing to sell out Vermonters to a foreign country? Why don't the Vermont media and voters ask him that question? Are they afraid of him, like some timid kids afraid of the playground bully?

Bill Rodgers said...


First comment is that I can understand why you needed to look at the actual transcripts. Mr. Simon's comments were something out of 5th grade.

"I know something you don't so I am better then you are!" (hard to type sarcasm and schoolyard insults into a comment.)

But anyway, not to take away from Mr. Simon's moment illustrating his maturity level; the other issue of new hydro is not just available capacity but also licensing.

New hydro needs to walk the path of licensing with FERC. It is one thing to read a few research articles in Hydroworld and proclaim some sort of illusory victory. It is entirely something else to actually make a transition plan to new hydro work so all will benefit and none will suffer. New hydro can take anywhere from 5 to 15+ years to get licensed.

And with the current FERC leadership preferring natural gas plants over all other generation sources to back up wind, it is highly doubtful significant new hydro would be licensed anyway. Especially since actual environmental groups would come out and protest licensing activities.

Then there is the construction costs, number of sites that would have to be used to get even close to the output of VY, issues with run-of-the-river dams where water is already needed for other uses, not hydro-generation. Oh the list goes on and on.

Then there is the dreaded drought year or years. What then?

Mike Mulligan said...

Well, you know what I think, hydro is exorbitantly expensive electricity. It is designed to leverage electric price...not to serve the greater public with moderately priced electricity. With state green mandates, this electricity cost is really out of the reach of most of us.

So the whole lot of you...both the greeners, pro nukes and the antis...don't really serve our greater common national interest. It is only your own interest we talk about here!

And you both think the government is the terrorist...

Anonymous said...

Maybe, but I'm not impressed with this approach of "I-know-something-you-don't-therefore-you're-an-idiot". It's childish and abusive and has no place in rational debate. I've encountered this before with anti-nukes. When pressed, they either shut up or try to mumble their way out of answering exactly what it is they know of that is so great it can do away with hundreds of megawatts of baseload capacity with a 90+% capacity factor. Unicorn farts, I guess.