Sunday, July 28, 2013

167th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs: Here at Yes Vermont Yankee

Traveling Carnival
The nuclear blog Carnival
also travels
--from blog to blog
The Past, the Present and the Future
The blogs this week look at problems from past accidents, current use of nuclear power, and the future use of nuclear power. The overall trend, (past to future) is upward for nuclear energy.  So let's get started with the blogs.

The Past: Problems at Fukushima
Two bloggers look at the recent headlines about cleanup problems at Fukushima.

Will Davis takes an in-depth look at recent events at Fukushima Daiichi that have put TEPCO back in the media spotlight recently.

Tepco now admits contamination is entering their near-port quay. However, the data that has been posted poses many currently unanswered questions. But we can be quite certain that the contamination in the quay has not reached the open sea.

The Present: The Value of Nuclear: Oil Sands, Solar Power and Climate Change

Hypocrisy is when you talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues
TVA Combustion Turbine Plant
found a whopping example of hypocrisy that should make anyone’s blood boil. A leading environmental group pretends to oppose greenhouse gas emissions while actually supporting their dramatic increase.

A recent report on "dazzling dozen"ranks states by per-capita solar installation.  Vermont is high on the list. Guy Page of Vermont Energy Partnership calculates the true source of Vermont's in-state clean energy. In Vermont, installed capacity is 1000 watts per person for Vermont Yankee, and 34 watts per person for solar. Vermont is a "dazzling" clean energy state, all right, but it's not because of the photovoltaics. (The numbers tilt even more dramatically to nuclear when you compare power-produced by these systems, not just installed capacity.)

Gail Marcus discusses a recent report by the US Department of Energy on the effects of climate change on our energy supply.  We have long heard that our energy use affects our environment, but we now are beginning to understand that climate changes can also affect our energy supply. Phenomena ranging from floods to droughts affect nearly every source of energy.  Marcus points out that advanced nuclear power concepts that don't use water as a coolant should be less vulnerable to such phenomena.

The Future: New Types of Reactors and New Reactors Being Built
Since Gail Marcus post on climate change bridged between the present to the future (new types of reactors). we will start this section with Rod Adams post, which bridges between the past (statements by Galen Winsor) and the future (use of plutonium).

Who Owns the Plutonium? How Much is it Worth? posted by Rod Adams at Atomic Insights
Plutonium in solution

Galen Winsor was a hands-on nuclear expert in the fullest sense of the phrase. Before irrational radiation protection rules were imposed, he and his colleagues directly handled used fuel. They limiting their exposure time and depended on just one of the “time, distance and shielding” trifecta of radiation protection. According to his story, Winsor and his colleagues knew enough about the material that they were handling to prevent most skin burns, but they had a job to do and did not allow a desire to lower doses below the level of immediate risk to impede their successful accomplishment.

Throughout Winsor’s talk, he points out the physical value of the irradiated material that some people insist on calling high level waste. He asks the final important questions – “Who owns the plutonium?” and “How much is it worth?” He recognizes that using it beneficially threatens a number of powerful interests.

Can nuclear advocates support existing reactors and new reactor concepts at the same time? Meredith Angwin thinks so – but sometimes nuclear activists can sound like they are in the classic Prisoner's Dilemma from game theory.  Communicating is the key to solving the dilemma.

The final blog post:  Yes, There is a Nuclear Renaissance

World-wide nuclear energy use to double by 2040 posted by Brian Wang at Next Big Future

EIA forecasts world nuclear energy will more than double by 2040.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Vermont a more "dazzling" nuclear power producer than a solar producer: Guest post by Guy Page

Vermont is a more "dazzling" nuclear power producer than a solar producer
By Guy Page

Vermont produces about one nuclear kilowatt per capita, compared to 34 watts solar

The Dazzling Solar Story

Rooftop Solar  Middlebury College VT
According to a new study by Environment America, Vermont is now a member of the “Dazzling Dozen,” the 12 states with the highest per-capita use of solar power. The Vermont Public Interest Research Group July 23 used the study to call for even more subsidized PV power generation. News about the study, including the Vermont Energy Partnership’s perspective, may be seen in the July 24 Burlington Free Press.

The big, untold story is that Vermont produces more nuclear power as a percentage of overall production than any other state in the country.  In fact, as detailed below, we produce eight times as much nuclear power as we do all non-hydro renewables, including solar power. In order to reduce carbon emissions and to have reliable, cost competitive power it will be important to keep and expand nuclear power while we also expand the use of renewables like solar. This is not only the view of the Vermont Energy Partnership; it is the view of U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz and President Obama.

Now-- the calculations

According to the U.S. Census, Vermont’s 2012 population is 626,000.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, nuclear power accounted for about three-fourths of the electricity generated within Vermont in 2011, a higher share than any other State.

Electrical output is best measured in megawatt-hours (MWh). According to the current US EIA state energy profile, Vermont produces a total of 516,000 MWh; of this, 356,000 MWh (69%) is nuclear power, all of it from Vermont Yankee, of course. By comparison, all non-hydro renewable generation together totals 42,000 MWh (8%), most of it wind.

Therefore, using MWh as a yardstick: 0.56 MWh (568,690 watt/hours) per Vermonter from Vermont Yankee alone; from all non-hydro renewables combined, .07 (67,092 watt/hours) per Vermonter.

Rather than using MWh as yardstick, however, the solar study you cite uses capacity figures. Vermont Yankee has a rated capacity of 620 megawatts. That is 620,000,000 watts. Vermont Yankee therefore has a per capita capacity of about 1000 watts – roughly a kilowatt, or about 29 times the 34 watt per capita capacity of Vermont solar power cited in the study. It is important to note that in Vermont, solar power operates at about 10-15% capacity, while most nuclear power plants are 24/7/365 “base load” plants operating at about 90% capacity.

Comparing Power Sources

1000 watts per capita for Vermont Yankee compared to 34 watts for solar power. .56 MWh per capita for Vermont Yankee, compared to .07 MWh for all non-hydro renewables – that is a truly “dazzling” comparison. It is fair to note, however, that solar and nuclear power share enviable similarities. Both are considered “carbon-free” by the U.S. EIA. Numerous studies show that their “lifecycle” carbon dioxide output per kilowatt is virtually identical. Another positive similarity: both can be produced in Vermont, thus reaping benefits of jobs and state revenue.

The Partnership evaluates every potential power source through the prism of "safe, clean, affordable, reliable." Solar admirably fits the first two criteria. As to reliability: it can help the grid as a hot summer day power "peak" provider, although I'm not sold that this benefit justifies the expense. But affordable in its current, fixed-price, "if you can make it the utilities have to buy it" standard-offer form? No.

Solar in Context

Incentives are justified by the likely economic and environmental benefit. Therefore incentives for solar hot water heaters, which "replace" oil or electric powered units at a relatively low cost, would seem to make sense. However, Vermont must do better than promulgate as "energy policy" the practice of forcing ratepayers to pay guaranteed high rates for an increasing number of 2.2 MW, 10 year solar power contracts. Standard offer supporters say the price of solar power production will eventually fall. Vermont would do better to wait, or at best move cautiously, until this hope becomes a reality. If the goal is to be carbon-free, accessing more existing, low-carbon base load power sources (notably nuclear and hydro) would be a suitable policy goal.  

In Germany, Spain, and even in the Northeast Kingdom, Vermont town of Hardwick, ratepayers are complaining that they are being forced to subsidize the guaranteed high rates of solar power production. When the government gets into the business of picking energy production winners and losers, even for the best of reasons, affordability all too often becomes the first loser.

And finally, solar power boosters have no sound answer to the problem of intermittency. The modern-day power grid can't sustain more than 20% (give or take) intermittent power without risk of blackout, brownout, fires and damage. Even now, Green Mountain Power, Vermont’s largest utility, is unable to sell all of its Lowell Wind power due to "curtailment" by ISO-New England. The planned fix - a synchronous condenser - is likely to improve, but not completely solve, this vexing problem. The technology for intermittent into baseload just isn't "there" yet, but we are acting as if it is, or soon will be. This is not prudent.

Guy Page
In short, solar power has its place, and that place may grow more prominent in the future. But current state policy underestimates the inherent economic and transmission shortcomings of solar power.

This guest post is written by Guy Page, Communications director of Vermont Energy Partnership (VTEP) . Page is a frequent guest blogger on this blog. His most recent post announced a new VTEP report: Review of the Vermont Energy Plan: VTEP Review.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Prisoners Dilemma at ANS Nuclear Cafe

Today I have a guest post at ANS Nuclear Cafe: Prisoner's Dilemma and New Types of Nuclear Reactors.

In this post I consider the question: Can nuclear advocates be simultaneously in favor of both

  • existing reactors and
  • developing advanced reactors?

I think we can be publicly in favor of both.  However, sometimes we act like the two prisoners in Prisoners Dilemma who attack each other. This ends up with a bad deal for both prisoners (or both types of reactors).

I hope you will read my blog post and comment on it!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nuclear Power for the Anti-Nuclear Set: Guest Post by John McClaughry

John McClaughry
at a recent dinner in his honor

Nuclear Power for the Anti-Nuclear Set
A Guest Post by John McClaughry

 For decades, the various New England anti-nuclear groups have waged incessant warfare against the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and Entergy, which bought the plant from a coalition of Vermont utilities in 2002. The outcome of that struggle now lies in the Federal court system, where Entergy has already won one signal victory.

 It’s important to keep in mind that, leaving the particulars of the Vermont Yankee battle aside, the anti-nukies are fundamentally opposed to nuclear energy in any form whatever. Only old timers now remember that the Sierra Club was once pro-nuclear, which it viewed as the saving technology that would make the damming of California mountain streams unnecessary.

Interestingly, the Sierra Club, at least, does not totally slam the door on nuclear even today. In its 2006 energy policy statement it said “while it is possible that a different approach to nuclear power might substantially address these issues, the likelihood is remote given the decades of research and investment already made.”

 What different approach to nuclear power might conceivably avoid the environmental issues that caused the Sierra Club’s opposition? To answer that question it’s necessary to review the origins and development of nuclear power, dating back to the 1950s.

That story is ably told in a book published in 2011 by Richard Martin, entitled Super Fuel. Martin
LFTR Image from Energy From Thorium blog
details the long battle between the demanding and acerbic Admiral Hyman Rickover, who wanted nuclear engines based on known technology right now to propel his fleet of submarines, and the gentle visionary Alvin Weinberg, longtime director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who envisioned a nationwide fleet of thorium-powered electric plants, using molten fluoride salts as moderator and coolant.

Rickover, a savage bureaucratic infighter, got what he wanted, and in 1972 Weinberg was fired. The nuclear industry put its muscle behind the hugely expensive liquid metal fast breeder reactor. It in turn was shelved in 1984 after Congress spent $8 billion on the Clinch River Breeder without turning a shovelful of dirt.

As Martin puts it, "Light water reactors and their younger cousin, the liquid metal breeder, won out because of technological intransigence rooted in the military origins of the U.S. nuclear program."

From 1965 to 1969, however, Weinberg's molten salt reactor experiment had operated successfully, in the later months with thorium-derived U-233 fuel. By 1973, with Weinberg gone, molten salt was rejected, and thorium was dead. Rickover's uranium-based industrial empire was preserved. any cheaper, safer and environment-friendly alternative was shelved.

Now, forty years later, the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) is again emerging as one of the six “Generation Four” nuclear power technologies now viewed as most promising alternatives to traditional light water reactors.

Without going too far into technical details, the LFTR would almost certainly produce electricity cheaper than coal, because of lower capital and fuel costs; use a fuel that is in almost inexhaustible supply, both in the U.S. and elsewhere; operate continuously, in baseload or peaking mode, for up to 30 years; be factory-built and deployed in compact 100-megawatt modules close to the end use of the power; contribute nothing to air or water pollution and need no water for operation; safely consume long-lived transuranic waste products from current nuclear fission reactors; produce high-temperature process heat that can make hydrogen fuel for vehicles; and be walkaway safe.

This is not pie in the sky. The physics is sound, and every part of the LFTR has been successfully tested. What has not been accomplished is the efficient integration of all of the technology features into a marketable product.

The reason it has not is the determined opposition of companies that offer competing nuclear technologies: either light water reactors like the current improved version of Vermont Yankee, the AP-1000, or liquid metal fast reactors like the Russian BR-600, or exotic helium cooled pebble bed reactors under development in China.

Most of the present anti-nuclear groups are so mindlessly opposed to anything nuclear that they’ll probably denounce the LFTR if and when it appears. Still, more rational anti-nuclear groups like the Sierra Club, which is terrified at the menace of global warming, could possibly find in the LFTR the “different approach” that would win their support (and put coal out of business.)

John McClaughry, formerly a nuclear reactor physicist, is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (

 Meredith Angwin is director of the  Energy Education Project which is part of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Note from Meredith: When speaking about the LFTR, I always want to be sure people are aware of Dr. Robert Hargraves excellent book: Thorium, Energy Cheaper Than Coal.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Layoffs Possible at Vermont Yankee

Illustration of "Okuns Law"
A relationship between
GDP and unemployment rates 
Lay-offs Possible at Vermont Yankee

A few days ago, a reporter called to ask me if I had heard anything about layoffs at Vermont Yankee.  I hadn't.

However, within a day or so, a different reporter, Andrew Stein at Vermont Digger, had written an article about the (probable) impending layoffs: Vermont Yankee owner: 'Expect workforce reductions'. Using leaked internal documents, Stein concluded that Entergy workers were "essentially being asked to reapply for their jobs" including filling out an 18 page form.  Apparently, this is part of  Entergy's "Human Capital Management Initiative."  Stein  estimated a 10% reduction in force, which would be 65 layoffs among the work force of 650 people.

When the Stein article appeared, I also received an email from Entergy. It was apparently the same Entergy statement that was quoted in the Stein article. The statement included the words: "workforce reductions will be one result of this initiative."

So I guess layoffs will happen at Vermont Yankee.


For Vermont, this Vermont Yankee announcement comes closely behind an announcement of layoffs at IBM: the Essex Junction IBM plant is laying off 419 people. IBM is one of the state's largest private-enterprise employers.  In the Vermont Digger article on the IBM layoffs, Governor Peter Shumlin is quoted as saying that businesses in Vermont are desperate to hire the great workers now being laid off at IBM.  I hope that is the case.  However, to me, Vermont seems more hard-scrabble than Shumlin claims.

The Vermont Public Radio article on the Vermont Yankee layoffs quoted two people who are opposed to the continuing operation of Vermont Yankee.

  • The state is advocating against Vermont Yankee receiving a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board. Geoff Collins is the state's lead lawyer in the hearings.  Collins said that the layoff  "would appear to have an impact on the magnitude of the economic benefit that they’re (Entergy is) claiming." He wouldn't speculate on the amount of effect the layoff would have on the economics for the state.
  • Ray Shadis, a long-time plant opponent, asked if Entergy was "asking permission to go ahead and lose money for another 20 years?"    

In Context

For once, I don't have cheery upbeat things to say.  I wish these layoffs weren't happening.  However, it doesn't mean Entergy is going to shut the plant down.  If anything, it shows a commitment to keep operating the plant.

Entergy's "Second Quarter Earnings Guidance" press release listed various reasons for revenue shortfall.  In my experience, companies almost always arrange a layoff when revenue drops.  They announce the layoff,  and then the company's stock usually goes up. A few months later they are hiring again.  That's my experience in working for big companies, anyhow.

In Context With Other Nuclear Plants

However, I think Entergy will try to continue to run this plant lean, and will not hire again very rapidly.  I tried to analyze plant staffing, and I came to the conclusion that Vermont Yankee has been at the high end of the staffing curve.

Vermont Yankee is a stand-alone plant, which means it has to have its own security, chemistry lab, and many other things. It cannot share these relatively fixed costs  with another unit.  For example, a chemistry lab needs about the same equipment and staff to serve a double-unit power plant instead of serving a single unit plant. So a chemistry lab is a higher overhead cost for a single-unit plant.

I did an ad-hoc financial review of plant staffing: how many people does a plant employ per MW?  With a short investigation, this is what I found.
Seabrook Station

Single or Double

The double units (two units on one site) have less than one employee per MW: they have closer to one employee per two MW.  Therefore, the double units have a clear cost advantage.  The single units run slightly less than one employee per MW. Vermont Yankee is running slightly more than one employee per MW, which is why I said it was at the high end of the staffing scale, as far as I can tell.

By the way, people knew about the economies of scale at the time these plants were built. Both Vermont Yankee and Seabrook were supposed to be one part of a two-plant site.  That didn't happen, unfortunately.

I am not happy writing about layoffs.  Getting a job is never easy, and losing a job is always hard.  But I decided to write this because I don't want to be Pollyanna.

Layoffs as Part of Business

There will be layoffs at Vermont Yankee.  I hate it and I hope that none of the people that I know are laid off. (That is selfish of me, but there it is.) However, from my analysis, these layoffs do seem to be a business decision, and will only bring the staffing down to the levels (employees per MW) at other stand-alone plants.  The "will they be able to run the plant safely?" and "are they about to go out of business?" stuff strikes me as just the usual negativity from people who hate the plant.

That said, I hate the fact that there will be layoffs.  I just hate it.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Live and Local Podcast: Assessing the Energy Plan in Vermont:

Energy Safari group 
at Lempster Wind Farm
The Comprehensive Energy Plan and My Op-Ed

The Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan, issued in 2011, asserted that Vermont would obtain 90% of all its energy from renewables by 2050.   I have been studying the land-use implications of that plan, and my husband and I are preparing a report for the Ethan Allen Institute. (I am the director of the Energy Education Project, which is part of that Institute.)

With our preliminary results, I wrote an op-ed: Vermont Renewable Plan is Wishful Thinking. This op-ed was printed in several newspapers in Vermont.  Most particularly, the op-ed was printed in The Commons, a weekly independent, nonprofit paper in Brattleboro.  I want to give a hat tip to Jeff Potter of The Commons, because he truly welcomes voices from both sides of this controversy.

Chris Lenois is host of the Live and Local radio program in Brattleboro (WKVT 1490 FM).  Lenois saw the op-ed in The Commons, and he invited me to speak on his show.  I was on Live and Local yesterday.

The Podcast

WKVT mounted a podcast of the discussion on their site: Meredith Angwin --VT Energy Policy.

Lenois asked me:
  • How I estimated Vermont's future energy use
  • Whether an ambitious renewables policy could encourage innovation in renewable energy
  • How I derived numbers such as "400 miles of ridge line for wind turbines"
  • The role of efficiency and conservation in Vermont's energy policy
To answer Lenois' questions, I needed to go into depth about land-use issues and my research methods.   I think you will find the podcast interesting.  

Thank you to Chris Lenois for inviting me and asking me serious questions.  I also thank him for his role in quickly mounting the podcast on the WKVT website.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review of the Vermont Energy Plan: VTEP Review

VTEP study surveys Vermont’s progress towards 90% renewables goal

The Vermont Energy Partnership today published its latest study, “The Three-Legged Race: Vermont’s Pursuit of 90% Renewables by 2050,” an overview of progress towards reaching the Vermont Department of Public Service goal of using 90% renewable energy by 2050.

Findings explained in detail here, include:

In order to reach its interim home energy efficiency goal for 2020, the state must weatherize 80,000 homes over the next seven years. At its current pace, Vermont will likely only meet half that goal.

Transportation accounts for 36% of Vermont's total energy consumption, and 59% of carbon emissions. Today, one in 1,756 of Vermont registered cars are electric plug-ins.

Reaching 90% renewable total energy by 2050 will require Vermont to triple its electricity consumption. Yet Vermont now makes less electricity than any other New England state, about half of which is produced by Vermont Yankee.

To move Vermont just 5% closer to 90%, Vermont would need either 262 new 2.2 MW solar plants, five new Lowell Mountain wind projects, or 300 small existing hydro dams.

The chasm between Vermont’s renewables present and renewables future – about 3 million renewable megawatt-hours on this side of the 37-year span, 18 million on the other – may simply be a bridge too far, barring unexpected changes.


Guy Page with
Governor Urban Woodbury
his great-grandfather
The Vermont Energy Partnership ( is a diverse group of more than 90 business, labor, and community leaders committed to finding clean, affordable and reliable electricity solutions.  Its mission is to educate policy makers, the media, businesses, and the general public about why electricity is imperative for prosperity, and about the optimal solutions to preserve and expand our electricity network.  Entergy, owner of Vermont Yankee, is a member of the Vermont Energy Partnership.

Note: Guy Page, the lead author on this report, is a frequent guest blogger at Yes Vermont Yankee.  His most recent post was Nuclear is Green Energy

Sunday, July 14, 2013

New EPA Radiation Guidelines: Please Comment Today or Tomorrow

New Guidelines for Response to Radioactivity Releases

The EPA published new guidelines for response to radioactivity releases.  These guidelines can be considered to be "in light of" Fukushima, where hasty evacuations caused hundreds of deaths.  Here's  the EPA announcement.  Tomorrow is the deadline for comments on these guidelines.
You can email comments to:
Be sure to mention Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2007-0268.


An ANS blog post describes the guidelines: New EPA Guidelines for Response to Radioactivity Releases by Jim Hopf.  Among other things, the new guidelines say that a public dose level of 2000 mrem the first year and 500 mrem in subsequent years is the guideline for evacuations.  Apparently, this is not much of a change from previous guidelines.

Meanwhile, the IAEA has issued a publication called Actions to Protect the Public in an Emergency due to Severe Conditions at a Light Water Reactors. (Note: that link leads to a long pdf which will take time to download.)  The IAEA publication might be considered the international version of the EPA proposed guidelines. It seems more complete in its analysis, and more liberal in its guidelines for health and safety.

Okay.  I haven't done the hard work of comparing these two documents, but it seems that both sets of guidelines are well thought out. The EPA document has been broadly attacked, and it is worth supporting it with a brief email. I did.

A little context on the numbers. You can get about 500 mrem a year by living in the granite hills around here, for heaven's sake. According to the NRC, the average American gets 620 mrem per year: half from background and half from medical, air travel, etc. Move uphill on a granite mountain and the background dose will surely go up.

Hargraves Review of the EPA Guidelines

Dr. Robert Hargraves has reviewed the EPA and IAEA documents, and this is the email he wrote to the EPA in support of their new guidelines. Basically, he concludes that the EPA document is over conservative.
Dr. Robert Hargraves
THORIUM Energy cheaper than coal


I appreciate the importance of your work to guide emergency response in the event of a radiological emergency. The lack of such guidelines for Fukushima drastically increased the harm to the public from overly aggressive evacuation and relocation. Having rational guidelines in place will strike a balance between radiological harm and relocation harm. You published PAG Manual, and asked for comments.

The IAEA has just published a similar document, Actions to Protect the Public in an Emergency due to Severe Conditions at a Light Water Reactor, I recommend that the EPA draft document be compared to this IAEA document and that the differences be explained, rationalized, or eliminated. It makes little sense for documents from EPA and IAEA to differ. Why should US guidelines be so different from international guidelines?

The differences are enormous. The EPA guideline document is far too conservative. For example, on page 7 of the EPA PAG draft, relocation of the public is recommended if radiation doses will exceed 20 mSv in the first year, or 5 mSv/year thereafter.

"2 rem (20 mSv) projected dose first year
Subsequent years, 0.5 rem (5 mSv)/year
projected dose"

In the IAEA document, page 59, relocation is recommended only for radiation doses exceeding 200 mSv/year (25 microSv/hour).

EPA's guidelines are excessively conservative, by a factor of 10 (200 mSv/20 mSv) in the first year, and a factor of 40 (200 mSv/5 mSv) in the subsequent years. Repeating my observation...


Over 1000 people died near Fukushima from the stress of unnecessary relocation. The EPA-recommended guidelines will cause similar, unnecessary public harm in a US radiological emergency.

I recommend that the EPA review its draft recommendations and set radiological dose exposure limits based on evidence of observed public harm from ionizing radiation.

Friday, July 12, 2013

LocalVolts plus the Legislative Process

Day lily in my garden
Plant received from a friend
A summer's day, and I thought I would cover two separate issues, in a not-too-organized fashion.  So here goes.


The horrendous rail crash in Quebec has added fuel (so to speak) to Vermont's usual summer protests. Pat Bradley of WAMC interviewed several people in the radio segment: Disaster Spurs Debate Over Energy Transport in Region.   Protests against gas pipelines and tar sands pipelines are planned for the near future. Quitting the use of all fossil fuels is a major goal of the pipeline protestors.  In Bradley's  interview with me, I noted that we are dependent on fossil fuels, and no-fossil-fuels is not something we can accomplish quickly.   A three-minute radio segment.

President Obama's message on what we need to do about climate change might be described as "all of the above" (natural gas, cleaner coal, conservation, nuclear, renewables).  However, around here the general message is "none of the above."  Tim McQuiston,  editor of Vermont Business Magazine, spoke about energy on VPR yesterday.  (Another three-minute radio segment).

McQuiston noted that people in Vermont are protesting everything: gas, oil, nuclear, wind, pipelines, transmission lines.  His conclusion is that we should be looking at "localvolts."   He expects that "Vermont Yankee (may) get a second look here once Governor Shumlin steps down..." McQuiston concludes that "Just as with the localvore movement, where we take responsibility for our food supply, maybe we should initiate a 'localvolt' movement to take more responsibility for our electric supply."

I agree.

Note: Kenyon Webber spoke at the Public Service Board hearings last fall.  Her statement is similar to this "LocalVolts" idea: Buy Local and Help Your Community.

Getting Inside the Legislative Process

Howard Shaffer
In a recent post at ANS Nuclear Café, my friend Howard Shaffer explains how he was invited to speak about nuclear fuel storage to a Vermont legislative committee.   This committee has a history of inviting people such as Arnie Gundersen and Robert Alvarez. As a matter of fact, these were the other people who testified about spent fuel.  Indeed, it sometimes strikes me that the Vermont legislature is Rick's Cafe Americain for nuclear opponents: everybody comes to our legislature!

I was very pleased that Shaffer was asked for his opinion. Shaffer's post includes the history of the invitation, and ways people can make similar invitations more likely.

After his testimony, the committee clerk thanked Shaffer for his clear communications. His post at ANS Nuclear Café includes the text of his testimony. Shaffer supplied a package of information to the legislators and the media, and I link to pdfs of that packet at the Energy Education Project website.

 An inspiring story.


We are finally having some lovely weather here, after weeks of muggy weather, rain, and flooding. I plan to enjoy the good weather. I took the picture of my day lily this morning.

Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Vermont's Renewable Plan is Wishful Thinking

Decision Tree

The Comprehensive Energy Plan Isn't a Plan

In 2011, the Vermont Department of Public Service issued a Comprehensive Energy Plan that asserts that 90 percent of all energy used in the state ­— including electricity, transportation and building heating — will be provided from renewable sources by 2050.

Who could argue with the idea that almost all of the state’s energy should come from renewable energy by mid-century?

Probably nobody would argue, until they realize that what is called a “plan” isn’t actually a plan; it’s a collection of roughly sketched ideas, some good, some not so good. At a hearing of the Vermont Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission, one woman made a very clear statement. She said that the state energy plan is a collection of slogans, not a planning document. She was basically correct.

Nevertheless, the energy plan is guiding many statewide energy decisions: expediting small hydro installations, attempting to close Vermont Yankee, supporting ridgeline wind development. The realization that the 90% goal is influencing statewide energy policy is particularly troubling when you examine some of its implications.

We Will Need Much More Electricity

For starters, it is hard to use renewable energy for transportation and heating unless we use electricity for these sectors. We can make electricity with renewable energy, and then use it to run electric cars and heat pumps. Both these choices will increase the demand for electricity.

Right now, Vermont uses 6,000 GWh of electricity per year. (A GWh is a million kilowatt hours.) My estimate is that Vermont would need 18,000 GWh annually to achieve the 90% goal by switching to electric cars, heat pumps and so forth. That’s an outrageously big number, but it coincides with two other rough calculations I’ve seen from renewable advocates. In a recent op-ed, Charles McKenna, a local Sierra Club member, estimated the state would need 15,000 GWh in order to achieve the 90% renewable goal. In a recent Green Energy Times, David Blittersdorf, a renewable developer, said that the 90% goal will require three times the electricity we use now. (Three times 6,000 is 18,000.)

To put this number in perspective, consider that Vermont currently buys approximately 2,000 GWh from Hydro-Quebec. This is about a third of our current electricity demand, but it would be only a small fraction of the electricity needed for a 90% renewable goal.

Diffuse Energy Sources

Chihuahua Dog
Unfortunately for Vermont, renewable sources tend to be diffuse, not energy dense. If we really tried to make this much electricity with renewables, we would have to devote much of Vermont’s land to energy generation. For example, Lowell Mountain’s wind turbines each sweep the area of a football field because wind is not a dense energy source. The average wind can blow some trash around, but it can’t pick up a small dog and move it. If you want to make enough wind-based electricity to make it worthwhile to put in a transmission line, you need to build a wind turbine with a blade that is more than half the length of a football field. Then the blade can capture enough wind.

I did another rough set of calculations to estimate how many wind turbines, biomass plants, solar panels and so forth would be needed to generate 18,000 GWh of electricity. The results are appalling. For example, making 18,000 GWh using wind turbines would take about 2,000 turbines, covering 400 to 700 miles of ridgeline. Vermont is only 160 miles long. Making the same amount of electricity from biomass would require 12 million acres of woodlands, sustainably harvested. That’s twice the size of Vermont.

Of course, the state would be using a mixture of renewables, not just one type. These are crude estimates, and my husband and I are working at improving them for a report on the land use implications of renewables.

Unrealistic Plan Interferes with Realistic Choices

Energy Safari group members
Lempster Wind Farm
Adopting an unrealistic, over-arching energy plan that calls for almost all energy to come from renewable sources essentially confers a blessing on all proposed renewable projects.  Every project advances the “plan.” Objecting to to any project supposedly reveals the person as an opponent of good environmental policy or a so-called NIMBY — someone who will try to stop any development in their proximity.

People who are against overly extensive renewable development are not NIMBYs. They are not blithely ignoring environmental considerations or greedily focusing on financial factors. It is quite possible to be in favor of moderate renewable development and environmental stewardship. Indeed, in my opinion, moderate renewable development and environmental stewardship are two ideas that go well together.  For example, a goal of 20 percent  of electricity supply from new in-state renewables would be ambitious but within reach.

We also need to encourage conservation, and to its credit, the Comprehensive Energy Plan is very clear on that. On the other hand, future conservation is built into my estimates of electricity demand. Even with conservation, there will be significant energy demand, and we have to plan for it.

What a Plan Needs to Be

Basically, a plan has to be a plan.  In particular, a state's energy plan needs to be more than a collection of slogans.
Meredith Angwin worked in many sectors of the utility industry for more than 20 years. She is the director of the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute, a Vermont public policy research organization that emphasizes free-market solutions. Angwin and her husband, George Angwin, are developing a report for the Institute that will analyze the land use implications of the Vermont Energy Plan.

An earlier version of this op-ed appeared in my local paper, the Valley News, and I hope it will appear in more papers in Vermont.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Economics and the Public Service Board Hearings.

Public Service Board Members
David C. Coen, Chairman James Volz,  John Burke
Photo from PSB Board Member Biography web page
The Hearings

The Vermont Public Service Board has finished its hearings on the docket for the state license (Certificate of Public Good) for the power plant.

This last set of hearings were technical hearings: parties to the process testified and cross-examined each other.  The public could attend, but not comment.  One major issue was economics.

Vermont Economics

One might expect the Board to focus on Vermont's interest in jobs or inexpensive power or whatever.  That is, the Board could be expected to focus on how the plant operation will affect the state.  After all, the Board is a state quasi-judicial regulatory panel.

However, the Board's focus seems to be on whether the plant is profitable for Entergy.  In my opinion, that is more Entergy's business than the Board's business. If Vermont Yankee isn't profitable, it is still only a part of a company.  Vermont Yankee is part of Entergy, and the chances that "the company" would have financial issues is very slight.  (And by the way, the Board doesn't have a particularly good track record at seeing problems coming: think Burlington Telecom). 

Actually, the Board's economic concern with Vermont Yankee profitability is a very thinly veiled nuclear safety concern, in my opinion. Is Entergy making enough money to operate the plant safely? (I am shocked, of course, that the Board is treading so close to federally pre-empted issues.  Shocked, shocked....)

As reported by WCAX, Peter Bradford of Vermont Law School said that: "Most nuclear plant owners are responsible and in any case recognize there is nothing more against their self-interest than an accident, but there's always the possibility somebody will cut a corner..." Commenting on the hearings, WCAX states that: "State officials say the continued economic health of Entergy is vital." 

WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

National Economics

The next step for our local activists was to sue the NRC about Entergy finances.  A group is suing the NRC: it  claims that emergency NRC action is required because Entergy is not "financially qualified" to operate the plants. The suit asks that the NRC take emergency enforcement actions against Vermont Yankee's license (and Pilgrim's license, and Fitzpatrick's license) on the basis that Entergy is operating these plants at a loss. 

Nuclear plants and coal plants are currently struggling because of the low price of natural gas. Still the price of natural gas is about twice as high as it was a year ago, and nobody expects it to go down to the $2 level again.  Nuclear and coal are doing better than they did last year, but it is still not a great situation for merchant plants.  I discussed this at some length in my recent ANS blog post: Philosophy, Shale Gas and the NRC National Meeting.

The NRC inspects plants for safety, not economics.  If a plant cannot meet the safety criteria, the NRC will shut it down until it meets the criteria.  If the plant cannot afford to economically meet the criteria, it will close permanently for economic reasons.  But it will not be closing because the NRC inspected its balance sheet!  The NRC would be concerned if an entire company were about to file for bankruptcy.  How profit and loss are divided within a large company is not something that the NRC would try to regulate. (Note: the NRC does track the adequacy of decommissioning funds.)

Entergy Economics

And what about Entergy itself?  How's the company doing?  Everyone read the UBS report predicting Entergy would close Vermont Yankee: I discussed this report in my blog post: Vermont Yankee is Refueling, and I Sort of Told You So. (Well, actually I sort of trashed the UBS report in that post, by doing a careful analysis of the places where their conclusions didn't match their data.  Hint: always look at the data.)

For further reading about Entergy, I suggest the Seeking Alpha report from last August:  Entergy Corporation: Inside The Numbers.  It reviews Entergy results in several ways, and concludes: This shows that Entergy Corporation is very profitable, and very efficient. Based on the nine tests, overall, the company is showing very strong results.

And that report was written when natural gas prices were  lower than they are today!

Or you can look up Entergy prospects any place on the web.  Any particular plant may operate at a loss or a profit, but the company is a financial powerhouse.

How Thin Was Their Veil

The concentration on Entergy's economics (rather than the effect of Vermont Yankee on the state's economics) is a thinly veiled attempt, once again, to regulate nuclear safety.

Sigh.  I am shocked, shocked....

Coming Attractions in this blog:

In recent days, three main issues were discussed before the Board:
  • Plant economics 
  • River water quality (especially thermal discharge) 
  • Entergy and trust
I plan to cover each issue in a separate post over the next  few days.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Vermont Governor Salmon Supports Vermont Yankee

Governor Salmon Speaks in Favor of Vermont Yankee 

On June 19, the Ethan Allen Institute celebrated its 20 year anniversary with a dinner "roasting" its founder, John McClaughry.  I am director of the Energy Education Project, which is part of the Institute. Two former governors spoke at the dinner: Jim Douglas and Tom Salmon.

Tom Salmon was Governor of Vermont from 1973 to 1976.  He is a Democrat. During his term, financial crises in Vermont caused his fiscal viewpoints to become more conservative.  More recently, Salmon testified in favor of Vermont Yankee's continued operation at the Public Service Board hearings in November 2012.

Last month, Salmon again supported Vermont Yankee, this time at the anniversary dinner. I embed the video of Governor Salmon's remarks at the dinner.

I encourage you to move the slider to the 8:30 minute mark, where Salmon talks about the policy areas in which he now agrees with John McClaughry.  He starts with a spirited defense of Vermont Yankee: the state's "assault on Vermont Yankee" makes no sense, and turning our back on baseload power will not help people in Vermont.  Governor Salmon is inspiring.

More information:

For more videos from the dinner, visit the Ethan Allen Institute website page on videos and highlights from the dinner.

Here is Vermont Digger's report on the dinner.

I feel a little guilty about not including more information about Governor Douglas or John McClaughry at the dinner. So I decided to include their pictures, at least! The video-highlights link includes their remarks.

Governor Jim Douglas

John McClaughry