Thursday, August 29, 2013

Questions I Frequently Ask Myself about Vermont Yankee Closure

Well, we have the press release and the FAQs from Entergy.  And we have lots of opinions about Vermont Yankee closing, printed in lots of newspapers.

Here are the questions I ask myself about the closing, and the answers I give myself.

Is Vermont Yankee really closing?

Yes.  They are filing with the NRC to end their license.  This isn't some kind of chess game vis-a-vis the state of Vermont.

Did it have to close?

If Entergy says it has to close, it has to close.  Nobody asked me. Certainly, grid prices were at historic lows in New England last year.  Grid prices feel from an average price of $46 MWh to a price of $36.
From ISO-NE report 

Without underestimating the strain that this implies, I don't think the plant had to close.

Gas Prices and Vermont Yankee

When I look at the Bloomberg article about the plant, Bloomberg says: "The reactor was expected to break even this year, with earnings declining in futures years." Doesn't sound like a crisis to me.  Also, I personally expect higher natural gas prices and higher grid prices in future years, so I think Entergy is betting wrong on this one.  But I don't know the whole story.

I do note that the Entergy stock price barely moved with the announcement (see Bloomberg article above). This means that the stock market isn't expecting a big jump in Entergy profitability from this closure.  It didn't strike me as a plant that needed to close, and the stock market seems to agree with my assessment. If the stock market had thought--wow, they are finally getting rid of that DOG---the Entergy stock price would have jumped.

I hope this is not seen as an attack on Entergy management and their decision, because clearly they have more facts than I do. I don't have all the information they have.

Still,  I have some facts. I definitely have opinions.

So why this announcement right now?

Entergy had to order fuel now for the 2014 refueling. Their forward projections of profitability were negative, and they decided not to refuel in 2014.

Honorably, as soon as they made the decision not to refuel, Entergy informed all and sundry about it.  For most of us (including me) it came as a bolt from the blue, since Entergy had just won their court case, and most of us thought they had every reason to be confident of getting a Certificate of Public Good (CPG)  from the Public Service Board (PSB).

My opinion is that it might have broken the PSB's little heart to give that certificate. (The PSB had so much fun, in my opinion, with holding out to the last minute to grant a CPG for the back-up diesel. The drama!  The grandstanding!) But I thought the PSB would give Vermont Yankee their certificate anyway. As I saw it, the PSB had no legitimate reason to deny a CPG to Vermont Yankee. At least  they had no reason that would stand up in a court of law. So I figured Vermont Yankee would soon be fully approved, CPG in hand.

Therefore Entergy's forward projections of losing money and requirement to close the plant...came as a huge surprise.

So the opponents won?

Not really.  The opponents  didn't win. Entergy was ahead in the confrontation with plant opponents.  The opponents were licked in court, and they knew it.

It's more like the game was called because of rain.

Weren't you just being Pollyanna, Meredith?  Vermont Law School and some rating services were predicting this closure forever.

Yeah, well about those predictions: even a stopped clock is right twice a day.  The plant is still breaking even according to Bloomberg.  I think it was a very tough call for Entergy, not the slam-dunk obvious decision that the opponents claim it was.  And the opponents have been claiming the same thing for years.  According to some of the opponents, solar energy is totally cost-competitive with nuclear.

What happens is what happens, and sometimes it agrees with a prediction, especially if you don't put a time limit on the prediction.

So you expect gas prices to rise, and think Entergy management made a bad call?

Well, sort of.  You know, Entergy listed three reasons they were closing the plant, and I have only talked about the gas price/grid price one.  If that was the overriding reason, yes, I think Entergy made a bad call.

But I don't know enough about the economic consequences of the other reasons.

What were the other reasons?

There were two others reasons listed in Entergy's press release and FAQ:
1) the high cost structure of running a small stand-alone plant,
2) wholesale market design flaws that keep prices artificially low.

So those two were important in the decision, also? Small stand-alone plant and grid market design?  Let's start with the stand-alone plant...

I noted the first reason in a blog post earlier, about the layoffs by the end of the year,  A small plant has higher overhead.  Double-unit plants are intrinsically more cost-effective, which everyone actually knows already. Comparing two Entergy plants, I wrote:
  • Vermont Yankee is 620 MW and employs 650 people.
  • Indian Point (two units) is 2050 MW and employs 1,100 people (from Wikipedia) 
So it is more expensive, per kWh, to run a smaller plant.  That is part of the issue.

What about that wholesale market design flaw reason?  What does that mean?

I have been working on aspects of this for several weeks.  I'm not quite there yet, but...Here are the three factors I have found so far:

1) ISO-NE is now allowing negative bidding.  

This is a change from the past, when the lowest bid was zero (take our power for free).  Now the lowest bid allowed is minus $150 MWh (take our power, and we will pay you up to 15 cents per kWh to take it). I wrote ISO-NE about this several weeks ago, and called them.  I am still unsatisfied with their answer on this (which was off the record, but very polite).

Here's part of my note to ISO-NE (edited, of course):  

This bulletin
says that negative bids will now be allowed, up to minus $150 per MWh.  
ISO also says (various planning documents) that one of ISO's goals is to reduce local dependence on natural gas.
My question is the following:
Won't negative pricing availability hurt baseload plants (coal and nuclear) far more than it will hurt natural gas plants? Won't negative pricing end up giving natural gas a competitive advantage?
The answer was that ISO-NE feel that negative pricing will allow power plants to bid in more rationally, and the decision on what plants run will then be purely economic.  However, base load plants will be losing far more money in times of low demand, which undoubtedly factored into Entergy's decision, looking forward.  

Furthermore, it's even worse.  The wind tends to blow at night, and wind energy gets two types of supplements for its power:  One is a 2.2 cents per kWh production tax credit, and the wind farms can also sell their Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)  for about 6 cents per kWh.  That's 8 cents per kWh, before they get paid a penny for the actual power.

So when the wind comes up on a spring evening, wind can bid into the market at NEGATIVE 8 cents kWh (-$80 MWh) and basically break even.  Other plants, to underbid wind and get their power on the grid, would lose a lot of money.  In other words, the subsidies for wind are now directly aimed at the ability of baseload plants to function.  

There's more wind in the Midwest, and this problem is more prevalent there. The president of Exelon talked about this issue about baseload plants in a speech a year ago.  Sorry, my friends...this post is too long already. Someone else will have to look up his comments.

2) ISO-NE Offers Financial Support for Oil Generation But Not Nuclear

ISO-NE noticed what happened last winter, when a cold snap meant that gas turbines couldn't come on-line to meet demand because they could not get the gas to run the turbines.  ISO-NE needed fuel diversity for the coming winter.  But what fuel? about oil?

Yes, it is true. ISO-NE is paying $78 million to oil-fired generators to have oil available if it is needed in the winter.  Read about it yourself in this ISO Newswire: ISO-NE receives sufficient bids for implementing new winter 2013/2014 reliability program; results filed with FERC for final program approval  ISO had a bidding process open to oil-fired generators, dual-fired generators that can switch to oil, and demand response bids. They have accepted bids of nearly 2.3 million MWh, of which about 3 thousand MWh is demand-response and the rest is oil.  They will pay the generators $78 million dollars, the vast majority of which goes to the oil-burners, of course.

ISO-NE isn't paying an extra penny for the reliability that nuclear power gives them all winter.  In other words, all fuels are equal, but some fuels are more equal than others. Some fuels really get rewarded for being available in the winter.

Again, this is new on the grid.

3) Transmission Upgrades to Ensure Grid Reliability Without Vermont Yankee

In many news reports, such as this one in the Burlington Free Press, the Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO) who manages the transmission system, VELCO, has made statements about how the grid is going to be okay without Vermont Yankee.

Recently, I have found these statements more interesting, or perhaps, more ominous than I would have expected.  Here's the main statement, echoed in many articles, but extracted from the Burlington Free Press article above with emphasis added by the blogger: 

Christopher Dutton, president and chief executive officer of Vermont Electric Power Co. Inc., or VELCO, which manages the state’s electric transmission system, said his organization has been anticipating Vermont Yankee’s closing since 2010.

“From both a transmission grid reliability perspective and from a generation reliability perspective, Vermont Yankee’s closure will not have any adverse effect,” Dutton said.

VELCO and ISO New England, responsible for the wholesale electricity market throughout New England, identified about $30 million of projects that needed to be done to compensate for Vermont Yankee’s closing, Dutton said. He said all of those projects, except for a small upgrade on five miles of transmission lines in the southeast corner of Vermont connecting to Massachusetts, have been completed.

So, of all the gin joints in all...I mean, in all the possible transmission projects that VELCO could have done, they did this one.  For VELCO, getting ready for Vermont Yankee to close took a very high priority.  Interesting.  And this started pretty much when Shumlin began his heavy campaign against Vermont Yankee, and when Green Mountain Power (owned by Gaz Metro, and a strong supporter of Shumlin) began to dominate the VELCO decision-making (VELCO is owned by the various utilities).

At the time the utilities were merging in Vermont, with Green Mountain Power (Gaz Metro) buying Central Vermont Public Service, there was a great deal of concern about Gaz Metro dominating VELCO. There were fears that this dominance would lead to transmission planning that hurt the smaller Vermont utilities (mostly cooperatives). The answer (not much of an answer really) was some kind of citizen-representative on the VELCO board.

At any rate, concerns that VELCO is not-always-above-suspicion are not unique to me.

Look, I know.  All these things are just coincidence.  But who would blame Entergy for thinking maybe the grid and the market weren't being totally fair to them.

So, what's it all mean?

Just on the basis of gas/grid prices, I think Entergy made a bad call.  However, it would take a real utility-analyst to understand the financial implications for Vermont Yankee of negative pricing, $78 million to support oil next winter, a grid that has been designed to not-need Vermont Yankee, etc.

Frankly, it would take more than technical analysis (IMO) to figure out why oil gets supported and nuclear gets the short end of the stick, and the economics of it all.

Conclusion, I don't know what it all means.

Is that all of your FAQs to yourself, Meredith?

Of course not.   But that is it, for now.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Vermont Yankee to close in 2014

Today, Entergy announced plans to close Vermont Yankee in 2014.

Here's a link to their press release:, sent this morning.

I decided to copy their FAQs directly to this blog post.  The FAQs include assessments of their other plants (none in immediate danger of closing) and the fact Vermont Yankee will be put in SafeStore.

I have also boldfaced a very important part of the FAQ, for easy reading.

I will comment on this of course, but not today....


Entergy to Close, Decommission Vermont Yankee

Frequently Asked Questions

When will Vermont Yankee close?

The company anticipates shutting down the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in fourth quarter 2014, with the exact date still to be determined.

Why was this decision made?

Vermont Yankee has an immensely talented, dedicated, and loyal workforce (about 630 employees) and a solid base of support in the community. We recognize that closing the plant on this schedule was certainly not the outcome they had hoped for, but we have reluctantly concluded that it is the appropriate action for us to take under the circumstances.

The decision to close Vermont Yankee in 2014 was based on a number of financial factors, including:

(Bloggers bold-face and bullets below, not in the original FAQ)

  • A natural gas market that has undergone a transformational shift in supply due to the impacts of shale gas, resulting in sustained low natural gas prices and wholesale energy prices.
  • A high cost structure for this single unit plant. Since 2002, the company has invested more than $400 million in the safe and reliable operation of the plant. In addition, the financial impact of cumulative regulation is especially challenging to a small plant in these market conditions.
  • Wholesale market design flaws that continue to result in artificially low energy and capacity prices in the region, and do not provide adequate compensation to merchant nuclear plants for the fuel diversity benefits they provide.

Couldn't Vermont Yankee be sold to another company?

We are constantly evaluating our portfolio of assets and businesses to determine if it makes sense to hold and optimize, to sell, or to shut down. As a matter of policy, we cannot comment on any specific efforts, however, we did consider all options before making this decision. Closing the plant on this schedule was certainly not the option we hoped for, but we have reluctantly concluded that it is the appropriate action for us to take under the circumstances.

What will happen to employees?

We expect to continue operations with current staffing levels through to shut down, at which time we will transition into decommissioning. Staffing levels will change and be reduced as the plant moves through the various stages of decommissioning. The company will treat employees at the station fairly and assist them through this transition.

Beyond the financial aspect, what's the reasoning behind closing the plant?

We looked at the impact of this decision through the lenses of all our stakeholders, and while extremely tough for many, we believe the decision was ultimately the right one:

Owners -- It is consistent with our disciplined approach of constantly evaluating our portfolio of assets and businesses to determine if it makes sense to hold and optimize, to sell, or to shut down. This shutdown decision was made because this asset is not financially viable.
Employees -- It provides employees the best opportunity to properly plan their future, whether at the plant, other Entergy-owned facilities or in the broader industry. We will treat our employees fairly throughout this entire process.
Customers -- It provides more certainty to our wholesale customers and to the broader markets in which we participate.
Communities -- It allows us to move forward and constructively engage with the impacted communities as we transition from an operating nuclear facility into and through the decommissioning process. We will continue to be a key part of the communities in which we do business as that moves forward.

What has to be done to decommission a nuclear plant?

The decommissioning process is clearly defined by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 50.2 (10 CFR 50.2). The initial activities involve extensive planning to safely and efficiently decommission the station and terminate the station license. Activities include removing the plant from service, transferring used fuel to safe storage, removing any residual radioactivity and restoring the site which includes the removal of structures and, if appropriate, re-grading and reseeding the land.  

How can we be assured that decommissioning will be handled properly?

The safety of our operations will continue to be a top priority. In addition, the NRC will provide oversight during the decommissioning process.

How long will the entire decommissioning process take?

The complete decommissioning process is likely to take decades. We plan to follow the NRC-approved SAFSTOR methodology of decommissioning, where the facility is maintained and monitored in a safe condition and the decontamination and dismantling of the station occurs later. There are a number of advantages to SAFSTOR methodology, including lower potential radiation exposure for workers doing the decommissioning work and the need for fewer shipments of radioactive material to the low-level waste site.

Entergy expects to decommission using the SAFSTOR method. What is SAFSTOR?

SAFSTOR places and maintains a nuclear facility in a condition that allows it to be safely stored until the removal of radioactive materials and components, eventually permitting unrestricted use of the area. During SAFSTOR, the facility is left intact, with structures maintained in a sound condition. Systems that are not required to support the spent fuel pool or site surveillance and security are drained, de-energized and secured.

What will happen to the Vermont Yankee site after decommissioning?

Once Vermont Yankee's license has been terminated and the NRC has released the site for unrestricted use, the area can be used in any way permissible by federal, state and local laws. Entergy retains ownership of the property on which Vermont Yankee operates. Entergy has committed eventually to restoring the site by removing structures and, if appropriate, re-grading and reseeding the land.

What happens to the used fuel?

The used fuel will remain secured on site, under guard, monitored during shutdown and decommissioning activities, and subject to the NRC's oversight. Removal of the fuel from the reactor vessel to the spent fuel pool is expected to begin as soon as the reactor has cooled sufficiently, in a matter of days after shutdown. This is similar to what happens in a refueling outage. From the spent fuel pool, fuel will be moved to NRC-licensed casks. The fuel will remain onsite in dry casks until it is removed by the federal government in accordance with its legal obligations.

How many U.S. nuclear power stations/units have been decommissioned?

Since 1960, more than 70 test, demonstration and power reactors have been retired throughout the United States.

Vermont Yankee contributes about $435,000 annually to the community through open grants, site sponsorships, annual events and other charitable giving. What will happen to that support?

We will continue to be a good corporate citizen. We recognize that this is a significant event for the local economy and for surrounding communities. We will have future discussions to talk about transition plans, as it is too soon to know the specifics.

How can the public be assured of radiological safety during the decommissioning process?

The environmental monitoring program in place now will continue after the plant is shut down. The program will be modified to monitor the types of releases that may occur during decommissioning. Again, the NRC will provide oversight during the decommissioning process.

Will the closing cause electric reliability supply issues in the state or elsewhere in the region?

ISO New England will conduct a grid reliability review before Vermont Yankee's closure.

What about other Entergy plants in the region?

Each of our merchant plants has unique characteristics, some operating in different market environments, some of which are more favorable than others.

For example, Vermont Yankee and Indian Point are on two opposite ends of the spectrum. Vermont Yankee is a small, single-unit plant in a very challenging economic market. Indian Point is a large, two-unit station in a more favorable market. Indian Point continues to be a vital component of the region's power supply and we are committed to its continued and safe operation.

Regarding FitzPatrick, while in a difficult market environment, we currently expect to refuel in the fall of 2014.

While Palisades' market environment is certainly difficult, it has a power purchase agreement.

Although Pilgrim's market environment is the same as Vermont Yankee's, Pilgrim's higher power output provides greater economies of scale.

Does Entergy have the required decommissioning funds in place?

Regarding decommissioning, assuming end of operations in fourth quarter 2014, the amount required to meet the NRC minimum for decommissioning financial assurance for license termination is $566 million. The Vermont Yankee decommissioning trust had a balance of approximately $582 million as of July 31, 2013, excluding the $40 million guarantee by Entergy Corporation to satisfy NRC requirements following the 2009 review of financial assurance levels. Filings with the NRC for planned shutdown activities will determine whether any other financial assurance may be required and will specifically address funding for spent fuel management, which will be required until the federal government takes possession of the fuel and removes it from the site, per its current obligations.

How does Vermont Yankee's closing change Entergy's viewpoint on nuclear energy?

Entergy remains committed to nuclear as an important long-term component of its generating portfolio, and for meeting the nation's energy needs. Nuclear energy's benefits are numerous and important. Nuclear provides reliable and cost-effective power over the long term, it contributes to supply diversity and energy security as part of a balanced portfolio, and it provides almost two-thirds of America's clean-air electricity. Nuclear is an important part of Entergy's portfolio.

Tell me more about Vermont Yankee. How many employees are there? What type of reactor does the plant have?

Vermont Yankee is a boiling water reactor manufactured by General Electric. The plant uses the Connecticut River as a cooling source, with once-through cooling towers. It began commercial operation on Nov. 30, 1972, and it is currently licensed to operate through 2032. It has a maximum dependable capacity of 605 megawatts and employs approximately 630 people.

Where can I get more information on decommissioning nuclear plants?

The NRC maintains frequently asked questions on nuclear plant decommissioning at this site:

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Preemption: Why The State Won't Appeal the Vermont Yankee Ruling

The Crystal Ball
Appeals Court Confirms that States Cannot Regulate Nuclear Safety

Recently, the Appeals Court ruled that the state of Vermont was trying to regulate nuclear safety. By federal law, nuclear safety is regulated at the federal level: therefore, regulating it at any other level is preempted by the  Constitution.  The Constitution says that when there is a conflict, Federal laws overrule state laws (Supremacy clause).

In this blog post, I give some of my reasons for believing that the state of Vermont will not appeal the Appellate Court ruling. I think Vermont will not appeal, and the case will not go to the Supreme Court.

Okay. Deep breath here. Every now and again, I look into my crystal ball while sticking my neck out.  It's a complicated maneuver, but hey--I blog. I make predictions.

Unlike the well-dressed lady in the painting, I usually need to give some reasons for my predictions.  If I gave all my reasons, this would be a terribly long blog post.  This post is only about my preemption reasons.  But first, an overview.

Five reasons the state won't appeal 

I am not a lawyer.  The appeals court ruling is written quite clearly, and I have reviewed it carefully. Within the ruling, I can reference five different parts of the ruling that convince me that the state will not appeal it. My reasons fall into two groups:
  • Preemption: the first group  (three parts of the ruling) is about preemption,
  • Money: the second group  (two parts of the ruling) is about money.  These reasons are NOT covered in this blog post, though I touch on one of them at the end.  I will write another blog post about this subject.
In this post, I am blogging about the preemption sections of the ruling. Here's a link to the ruling itself, for reference.

Preemption As Described in the Appeal Ruling

1) Vermont was Legislating on Nuclear Safety

It is a federal mandate to regulate nuclear safety through the NRC.  Both the district and the appeals court ruled that the Vermont legislature was trying to rule on nuclear safety, and preempting this federal mandate.

The appeals court more than upheld the district court ruling, it augmented it with more examples. For example, on page 10 of the appeals court ruling, it quotes a Vermont law in which the Vermont legislature required a certain arrangement of fuel bundles in the fuel pool.

On page 35 of the ruling, the court states explicitly that it agrees with the "district courts' careful analysis of the legislative intent."  On that same page, it notes the "remarkable consistency with which both state legislators and regulators expressed concern about radiological safety and expressed a desire to evade federal preemption."

The original ruling did not include the fuel-pool-arrangement quote,  or several other safety-related quotes that are included in the appeals court ruling.  Since the appeals court ruling confirms and extends the circuit court reasoning on legislating nuclear safety, this ruling means it would not be reasonable for the state to appeal on those grounds.  There's no judicial controversy here, so no rationale for an appeal.

2) The Footnote: Federal Rights Stay with the Federal Government

The right to rule on nuclear safety belongs to the federal government: nuclear safety is preempted to be a federal responsibility.  Neither Vermont nor Entergy can waive their rights about this preemption, because the power of the preemption does not rest with them.  Agreements in which Vermont and Entergy agree that Entergy shall "waive its rights" of federal preemption are meaningless:  the federal government has certain regulatory rights, no matter what agreements Entergy or Vermont sign.

In the Appellate ruling, the judges describe how the Vermont legislature attempted to put radiological safety issues into Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with Entergy instead of into the laws passed by the legislature. In these MOUs, Entergy supposedly "waived its rights" to preemption challenges.  This MOU strategy was Vermont's deliberate legal maneuver to avoid preemption challenges in the future.  On page 41 and 42 of the Appeals Court ruling includes several quotes from legislators explaining their "put it in the MOU" strategy.

And then, there's that footnote.

While not explicitly ruling on this "they waved preemption" strategy, the court wrote the following footnote (page 42 of the ruling):

33 We cite this provision of the 2005 MOU not for the purpose of ruling on whether a party may validly waive the right to bring a preemption challenge, but only to demonstrate the impermissible intent on the part of the Vermont Legislature. But see Olympic Pipe Line Co. v. City of Seattle, 437 F.3d 872, 883 (9th Cir. 2006) (“Preemption is a power of the federal government, not an individual right of a third party that the party can ‘waive.’ [The plaintiff] could not, therefore, waive a right that it did not possess.”

Blogger note...footnotes are important. Several of the early Vermont Law School blogs on the case were ALL about the footnotes!  In this situation,  I translate the footnote above as:
"Yeah, we could rule based on this one, too,  if we had time. ("But see" this other case....) We could rule on the fact that only the federal government can "waive" preemption, because only the federal government HAS it.  But this court has plenty of other evidence of the illegal intents of the Vermont legislature, so we don't really need to go there in order to make a solid ruling.  But still, there it is...preemption is a power of the federal government, not the right of a third party.  Just sayin'. "
In this case, the appeals court is mentioning an area which the circuit court didn't even cover--that is--the inability of a third party (Entergy, the state) to "waive" the federal prerogative of preemption. In my view, when appeals court brought up this issue, they made it harder for the state to appeal the ruling.  The footnote says: "Vermont, your actions have loaded another legal gun and aimed it at yourself.  We aren't bothering to fire it yet, but we just want you to know it is there..."

3) A separate ruling confirms the fact that states cannot rule on nuclear safety. 

The appeal was heard by three judges: Susan L. Carney, Christopher F. Droney, and Paul G. Gardephe.  Judge Carney agreed with the ruling, but she wrote a separate opinion because she agreed with it on different grounds. Carney's nine-page ruling starts after page 53 (the end of the combined ruling) in the decision.

Basically, she concurs that the Atomic Energy Act was meant to prevent state legislatures from regulating nuclear safety.  She quotes the majority ruling that "the State legislative record before us is 'replete with references to radiological safety.' " She further notes that "no reader of this record can fairly claim that the statutes at issue were not "grounded in safety concerns."

But then she begs to differ.  She basically claims that the Supreme Court case (Pacific Gas, 1984) which is referenced throughout the rulings goes too far in its requirements that states avoid regulating nuclear safety.  As I read her ruling, she would prefer if states could consider nuclear safety along with other concerns in their deliberations about a power plant.

However, in the last two sentences, she acknowledges that "there is no avoiding the Supreme Court’s teachings in Pacific Gas. The statutes before us are preempted, and I therefore must concur. "

In my opinion, this separate concurrence means that this ruling is completely correct in terms of existing precedent.  In other words, the state should only appeal this ruling IF the state thinks the Supreme Court will overturn the Pacific Gas decision.

That's a pretty high bar.

Okay. While I think "Pacific Gas has to be overturned for Vermont to win" is a reason that Vermont won't appeal, I admit that it is the weakest of my set of preemption reasons.  Vermont is a state of about 600,000 people.  In other words, it doesn't really have a tax base to support mounting precedent-setting challenges at the Supreme Court level.   But it could decide to do this anyway.  As I said, it is the weakest of my reasons that the state won't appeal.

The Three Reasons Vermont Won't Appeal on Preemption Grounds  

1) Three opinions (District opinion and two opinions at the Appellate level) concur that the legislative record shows that Vermont was trying to legislate nuclear safety.  All three opinions agree that safety regulation is reserved to the federal government.

2) There's a whole separate legal argument that could be mustered about the Vermont legislature trying to hide the preempted concerns in "waivers" in Memorandums of Understanding.  The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution cannot be abrogated by third party "waivers." This legal comment was made by the judges in a mere footnote to the case.  In my opinion, that footnote was a warning to the state that they were on shaky ground in this case, eight ways from Sunday.

3) Even a judge who would have liked to rule for the state (as I read it) admitted that existing Supreme Court precedents meant she must rule against them. (Carney's separate opinion.)  If Vermont takes the case to the Supreme Court, it would not be arguing about the legislative intent any more (that is settled, see above) but about changing a major precedent. That's a harder argument to make.

Another Reason Vermont Won't Appeal

Follow the money.

This appellate ruling reversed a different section of the district court ruling--the section that was the basis for Vermont having to pay Entergy's legal fees.  The Vermont Attorney General is quite reasonably counting this as a win: By appealing Murtha's decision, I saved the state around five million dollars!

The preemption question is solid in all the courts, but the legal-fees part has gone back and forth. In other words, since the courts have already disagreed on the issue about legal fees, in a further appeal, the state risks the court reversing itself on this and making the state pay Entergy's legal fees.

I think the state will take the money, declare victory, and go home.

However, the financial implications of the ruling have to be a blog post for another day.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wind Turbine Construction Slows: Guest post by Willem Post

This guest post by Willem Post appeared as a letter to the editor in our local paper, the Valley News.  (I have a subscription, but the letter may be behind a paywall for most people.)  Post has allowed me to republish it in this blog.


To the Editor:

Things are looking up. There is a major slowdown in wind turbine construction all over the U.S.

In the first quarter of 2013, only 1.6 megawatts of wind turbine capacity was built and in the second quarter, zero was built. The main reason is the expiration of the Section 1603-c program at the end of 2012, which gave federal cash grants of about 30 percent of the project capital cost to wind turbine project developers.

This infusion of cash grants to Big Wind under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 changed the economics of the industry overnight. Projects that made no economic sense became viable with the cash grant (Lowell Mountain, etc.) In many cases, applications were rushed to take advantage of the cash grants before deadlines. The industry’s project pipeline was emptied, rushed to approval and built by the end of 2012.

During the cash grant program period, about 30,000 megawatts of new wind turbine capacity was built, more than doubling U.S. wind turbine capacity. The U.S. had never experienced that rate of growth with just the production tax credit (PTC).

With domestic, abundant, low-CO2 emitting (compared with coal), no-particulate emitting, low-cost natural gas , and continued flat demand for electricity, it’s no surprise the cash-grant-induced wind turbine bubble collapsed and will likely push installations back to mid-2000s levels, or less, if the PTC is finally allowed to expire after 24 years.

If extended, the PTC, set to expire at the end of 2013, will offset above-market wholesale prices for wind energy, but will drive just moderate levels of wind turbine capacity growth.


Willem Post is a frequent guest blogger on this blog.  His most recent post was Off-Shore Wind Versus Nuclear. Another recent guest post is Wind in Vermont is Oversold.  Many of his posts appear at The Energy Collective, where he is a high-ranked blogger.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Whack-A-Mole on Anti-Nuclear Claims: Sometimes It's Necessary

I think of pro-nuclear advocacy as something better and finer than a game of Whack-a-Mole.

You know, the game. You whack down one ridiculous accusation, but two more pop up.  It isn't my favorite game.  I like to talk about the benefits of nuclear power. I don't try to answer everyone who claims it is horribly dangerous. Duty doesn't always call me.
"Duty Calls"
Famous XKCD cartoon

 But sometimes, it's whack-a-mole time.  "A charge unanswered is a charge believed" is a political truism.  Sometimes, we have to answer.

Scaremonger Week

Last week was Scaremonger Week in the media, with three separate articles with ridiculous accusations against nuclear energy.  I am pleased to see that nuclear advocates are answering.

Today's ANS Nuclear Cafe post is Scaremonger Week in the Mainstream Media. The post has links to the scary articles and links to the answers. Congratulations to Paul Bowersox for putting this post together, and for all the people (James Conca, Howard Shaffer, the Nuclear Energy Institute team, James Hansen, and others) who actually answered the accusations.

  1. The first article is about "nuclear plants vulnerability to terrorism." This was written by a student whose graduate work was partially funded by the Department of Defense.  The press release makes it sound like an official DoD study. Semi-amusingly, a comment on the ANS blog post calls it  Pentagon-commissioned study, despite the fact it is nothing of the kind.  Ah well. If that were the only problem with this "study."
  2. The second article was a "nuclear submariner" challenging the pro-nuclear film Pandora's Promise. This article appeared as New York Times opinion piece.  The Grey Lady didn't do a very good job on qualifying the writer, whose nuclear experience is more limited than it might appear. (Please see update below.)   Read the "editor's choice" and "reader's choice" rebuttals to this post.
  3. The third was in Russia Today.  In some ways, it is the most fun, because it is the most outrageously ridiculous.  Tokyo will be evacuated when Fukushima waters contaminate its groundwater? Billions will die?  Good grief!  Howard Shaffer answers this one. Yes, our own Howard Shaffer.  By the way, I had no idea that Russia Today is such a popular site. As Bowersox writes:  RT is the 2nd-most-watched foreign news channel in the United States, with 1 billion views on YouTube (more than Fox News). The article above [about Fukushima] has 23,000 Facebook ‘likes’.
Woman Playing Whac-a-Mole
Whack-a-Mole--Sometimes It Matters

I matter how many you whack, more of these articles arise. They say the same-old, same-old, sometimes with a new twist--Tokyo water! Pentagon-commissioned!  

People who know about the subject answer.  Links to the answers are in the ANS Nuclear Cafe article. Do the authoritative answers get the kind of play that Russia Today can provide?  Maybe not.  But thanks to the knowledgeable nuclear advocates, the answers are out there, the answers are available.  

The answers are available, and that is worth a lot.


In an earlier version of this post, I said that the "nuclear submariner" who wrote the New York Times article,  Dr. John Miller, Ph.D., had not served on an active boat.  Actually, Miller did serve on a boat at sea.  He was on a boat during operations for about a year, and then he was assigned to the same boat while it was in dry dock for about two years.  I apologize for the error.

I also said that Miller was not an engineering officer. Again, I apologize for the error.  However, my statement was wrong but the issue is more complicated.  As far as I can tell, Miller took engineering training but he was a supply officer while assigned to his boat. I do not know enough about the operations of the Navy to follow all this and be accurate in what I say about his background.  To me, it doesn't seem very strong to be a supply officer and yet claim to be an expert on nuclear operations. But I really don't know.  My husband was a tin can sailor (enlisted man who served on a destroyer). So I know little about submarine officers and their duties.

Those of you with Navy backgrounds or interest might want to follow the comment stream on Rod Adam's blog post about Arnie Gundersen: Was Arnie Gundersen a Licensed Reactor Operator and Senior VP Nuclear Licensee?  In the comment stream, Miller and other Navy Nukes discuss Miller's background. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Yucca Mountain and Vermont: Scofflaws in High Places

Yucca Mountain

Last week saw two court decisions that favored the nuclear industry. Both were about groups (the Vermont legislature, the NRC) that had taken actions that were illegal for them to take.

 The first court decision was the appeals court victory for Vermont Yankee. The Vermont legislature cannot regulate nuclear safety.  This decision was discussed in my post Vermont Yankee Wins in Appeals Court.

The second decision was a Writ of Mandamus about Yucca Mountain. With this Writ, a federal Court required the NRC to continue the license review process for the Yucca Mountain repository.  Billions of dollars have been spent on building this repository for high-level nuclear  waste in Nevada. However, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is determined to keep the repository from opening.  So far, he has managed keep it closed.

Jaczko in Brattleboro, 2010
Former NRC Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko was appointed to his NRC position in order to please Senator Reid.  As Commissioner, Jaczko stopped the Yucca Mountain license review process when it was nearly complete.

Jaczko had no legal right to stop the review process, but he did it anyway.  Jaczko also refused to release the Safety Evaluation Reports which were due to be released to the public.

Winning the Lawsuit

 A consortium of groups brought a lawsuit against the NRC to force them to continue the Yucca Mountain review; the plaintiffs included the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.  They won. This week, the Circuit Court in the District of Columbia ruled in their favor, issuing the Writ on August 13.

The Wall Street Journal described the legal outcome in  Problems with Authority: Lawless Regulators and the White House earn a Judicial Rebuke.  A quote:  In a  major rebuke on Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an unusual writ of mandamus, which is a direct judicial order compelling the government to fulfill a legal obligation. This "extraordinary remedy"(was taken in a case that)..."raises significant questions about the scope of the Executive's authority to disregard federal statutes."

The Lawsuit Explained

ANS Nuclear Café has an excellent review of the case, written by one of the petitioners: Court Finally Rules on Yucca Mountain NRC License Review, by Robert L. Ferguson. Ferguson has also written a book on the subject.  Also, this video clip is short but clear.

And Yet, Scofflaws Are Still Scofflaws

Writ of Mandamus or no Writ of Mandamus, it doesn't look as if the license review will continue. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, Yucca Mountain's chief foe, has kept the funding for the review at zero.   As Senator Reid said: “With no disrespect to the court, this decision means nothing,”

Well, to me, that sounds just a little disrespectful of the court.

The Reid quote comes from the Las Vegas Review Journal article: Federal court order NRC to restart licensing process for Yucca Mountain. The video clip above is from the same article. In the video, you can see Reid make a similar statement about the meaninglessness of the court decision.  You can also see Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz whine  about lack of funding for the license review process.

The Money is There, If They Want It

Lack of funding?  Oh Puh-leeze.

Moniz talking about "lack of funding" (a lack arranged by Harry Reid) is pretty funny, because the utilities pay $800 million dollars a year into the Nuclear Waste fund. They pay a tenth of a cent to the fund for every kilowatt-hour generated by nuclear energy.  This fund is supposed to provide a repository for spent nuclear fuel. In other words, they pay almost a billion dollars a year, and the fund has been growing for about thirty years.

While $10 billion was paid from this fund to develop Yucca Mountain, more than $20 billion remains in the fund. (Unspent balance of $25 billion according to Wikipedia.) In other words, if some of the money already paid by utilities..say, maybe $20 million of the $20 billion, was freed for the license process expenses, the license process could go ahead.

It might take a small amount of maneuvering to free this money from one federal pocket to another. But the government is good at moving money, when it wants to. (Sometimes it moves money to non-existent pockets, but let's not get into that.)  Apparently, the government doesn't want to move this money or use it.  So much for the court case, I guess.

Vermont and Yucca Mountain

U.S. Constitution
First page
Here in Vermont, we also have scofflaws in high places.  Last week, Vermont legislators were also given clear notice by the courts that they were breaking the law (attempting to regulate issues that are regulated at the federal level) and pretty close to violating the Constitution (though the commerce issue was not "ripe").

Will our legislators and governor find a way to ignore the courts and go on their merry way against Vermont Yankee? Nevada seems to be doing this. I know the situations are quite different.  Still,  I fear our legislators will use some methodology that will be illegal, but perhaps not stoppable in time, even by injunctions.

I hope not.  I think not.  I hope the rule of  law will prevail.

I'm basically an optimist.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Vermont Yankee Wins in Appeals Court

We have great news about Vermont Yankee: the appeals court ruled in their favor!

The fight has shifted to the Vermont Public Service Board. Your input to the Vermont Public Service Board is still needed and valuable.

The Appeals Court Ruling

On Wednesday, the federal appeals court in New York ruled in favor of Vermont Yankee.  They basically upheld Judge Murtha's decision that the Vermont legislature had attempted to shut down Vermont Yankee on illegal grounds.  The legislature was trying to regulate on the basis of nuclear safety, which is regulated by the NRC.

You can read a good summary of the case by Dave Gram of AP. To quote the first sentence of his article: "Vermont's attempts to close its lone nuclear power plant were deceptive and misleading, a federal appeals court ruled..." Andrew Stein at Vermont Digger also has a good article.  In addition, here's a link to the actual appeals court ruling.

My summary of the state's case against Vermont Yankee was written shortly after the appeals court hearing in January.  The state claimed that they wanted to shut down Vermont Yankee due to economics, not safety.

Economics? Really?  In appeals court, Vermont claimed it had a reason to shut down a plant for too low a price, and for sharing revenue with the Vermont utilities.  In other words, the legislature claimed to want to shut the plant down because it is an economic asset.

The appeals court judges noted the legislature's real reasons for trying to shut it down. They were trying to regulate nuclear safety.

Yes, they were regulating safety

The appeals court ruling includes a long history of court cases about Vermont Yankee. Here's an example.

Go to page 10 of the appeals court document to see a quote from a Vermont law passed in 2005 (Act 74). In this law, the state legislature requires Entergy to "configure the spent fuel pool so that high-decay heat assemblies are surrounded by low-decay heat assemblies."  (Sarcasm alert)  Gee, Entergy would NEVER have thought of doing that, without this legislation!  (End sarcasm alert.)

On to the Public Service Board

Governor Shumlin is not happy with the ruling, and he issued a press release including the following statement: While I disagree with the result the Second Circuit reached..., the process does not end today. Importantly, the Vermont Public Service Board's role in reviewing Entergy's request for a state Certificate of Public Good ...will continue.

In other words, the Public Service Board must still issue a Certificate of Public Good in order for Vermont Yankee to keep operating.  Shumlin clearly hopes they will not issue the certificate.

Cheryl Hanna
Pat Bradley of WAMC interviewed several people about this ruling, including me.  (I encourage you to listen to this four-minute segment.)
  • I wondered whether the board will look at the economics of Vermont Yankee, or whether it will listen to the anti-Vermont Yankee charge being led by the Shumlin appointees at the state Department of Public Service. 
  • Cheryl Hanna of Vermont Law School said the appeal court decision was no surprise. (Hanna had written an article predicting this outcome, right after the hearings in January.) She also said that whoever wins at the Public Service Board, the other side will almost undoubtedly appeal the decision to the Vermont courts.
 Still Time to Comment

I believe you can still comment to the Public Service Board, through the end of the month.  Here's a link to the docket:

And here's a link to a recent post with some background material for comments.

Long, thoughtful comments are always very welcome, but one or two sentences in support of the plant are very helpful.  You can write a great letter, or you can write a short postcard.  Share your own reasons for supporting Vermont Yankee: the plant's community support, economic impact, and positive effects on the environment (compared to fossil fuels).

Law and Facts won this round!  Onwards!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Comments to the Public Service Board by Tomorrow

Important Update

Appeals Court Rules for Vermont Yankee!

In a sixty-page ruling, the federal appeals court upheld the lower court ruling that the state had overstepped its authority in attempting to shut down Vermont Yankee.

Here's a link to the WCAX story on the ruling, which includes a short video.  Here's a link to the ruling itself.  Here's the AP story by Dave Gram, with some excellent quotes from the ruling.

I have not read the entire ruling, but it apparently affirms the role of the state Public Service Board in approving Vermont Yankee.  So comments to the PSB are still VERY useful and important!  So send in your comments!  Here's the link to the comment form for this docket.

Comments in Favor of a Certificate of Public Good

Howard Shaffer
At a Rally for VY
Vermont Yankee requires a Certificate of Public Good from the Vermont Public Service Board  in order to continue to operate.  The Board is still accepting public comments regarding the petition. The Board does read all the comments.

As far as I can tell, comments will be accepted through the end of the month, but it is best if they are sent by Thursday, August 15. That is TOMORROW.  (The PSB schedule is a bit unclear, and comments may be  accepted later than tomorrow, but better to be safe than sorry.)

Send your comments by tomorrow night, if you can.

You can submit a comment by clicking here.

How to Get Started

Use your own perspective in your comments.  For example, if you are concerned with global warming, you might want to comment about Vermont Yankee's low-carbon electricity.  If you are involved in real estate, you could discuss the impacts the closure of the facility would have on property values in the area.

Please share this link with friends and family and encourage them to voice their support as well.

Short Comments are Fine!

Long, thoughtful comments are always very welcome, but one or two sentences in support of the plant are very helpful.  You can write a great letter, or you can write a short postcard!  We have some inspirational comments below. 

Peter Lothes
Speaking at November PSB hearing
Inspiration from Others

Here are links to three (of many) inspiring comments made to the Public Service Board in favor of the Certificate.

Dianne Amme's excellent short comment: Affordable, Reliable Electricity 
Peter Lothes comment on Vermont Yankee versus other sources: Power, Carbon and Costs
Lindsay Rose on economics: Young Workers in Windham County

The Importance of Vermont Yankee

Here are some facts about Vermont Yankee that may be helpful to your writing.

Vermont Yankee is a key component of the area's economy and community.  Here are a few reasons why its operation until 2032 is important for the region:

  • Vermont Yankee is a valuable employer. It provides more than 600 jobs in the area, and is a key source of clean and affordable electricity for the region.
  • Vermont Yankee provides millions of dollars of revenue for state and local government, as well as donating tens of thousands of dollars to local non-profits.
  • Vermont Yankee provides both jobs and critical economic activity for the State of Vermont. Closing the plant would undoubtedly cause many young Vermonters to leave the state in search of jobs.
  • Vermont Yankee is a clean, low-carbon manufacturer power source and will be a critical element of Vermont's energy future. The plant's ongoing operation can help incorporate new sources of clean and reliable power while stabilizing electric rates.
  • Dianne Amme speaking
    at November PSB hearing
  • Unlike coal and gas plants, Vermont Yankee is a very low-carbon energy source.  It also avoids the many types of air pollution (acid gases, particulates) of most other base-load sources of power.

Just Do It!

Make sure the Public Service Board hears what YOU have to say!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Local Scene: Shaffer At ANS Nuclear Cafe

Howard C Shaffer III
Today, at ANS Nuclear Café, Howard Shaffer posted about Vermont politics and energy issues--Power Play: People Politics, Electricity, Nuclear.

When Shaffer told me he was going to write an overview post for ANS, my first reaction was "don't!"  Now I am very glad he has written it, and I recommend all readers of this blog to follow the link and read it also.

So why did I say: "don't write it"?  Of course, I was wrong, but why did I say it?

You see, Vermont energy is highly-politicized situation with a constant stream of court cases, events and hearings.  In my own blog, I usually attempt to clarify one aspect or another.  I rarely give overviews.  There's just too much going on (I think). There are court cases, protests, Public Service Board hearings, Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel hearings, hearings in various legislative committees, etc. etc.  In my blog, I pick this or I pick that to write about.  Which is nice, of course.

But Shaffer's post shows why we need more than just Meredith's viewpoint.  My one-issue posts don't give the true idea of how wild and political energy policy is in Vermont.  Read Shaffer's post, for everything from the Comprehensive Plan, to wind, to flotillas on the Connecticut River to...well, everything.

Thank you, Howard, for writing this.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Vermont Is Part of the World: Guest Post by N Nadir

Reading Prong, in dark pink, from Wikipedia

The Prisoner's Dilemma

My American Nuclear Society blog post The Prisoner's Dilemma and New Types of Nuclear Energy Reactors was also posted at The Energy Collective.   In these posts  I compared the game theory example of "prisoner's dilemma" to the internecine fighting within the nuclear community.  I concluded that proponents of all types of reactors should communicate with each other. This would advance the good of nuclear energy as a whole.

Within my post, I said that I had no trouble in supporting Vermont Yankee and also supporting the development of new types of reactors, especially the LFTR.

The post immediately received a lengthy comment from a nuclear opponent, who objected very strongly to anyone supporting Vermont Yankee.  This man wrote that the people of Vermont don't want Vermont Yankee, they voted against Vermont Yankee, etc. etc. and so forth.

Blogger N Nadir replied to this comment about Vermont.  N Nadir has graciously allowed me to use his answer as a guest post.


Guest Post by N Nadir

The people of South Carolina all once wanted slavery too; that didn't make it right.

Unfortunately, the decision of the people of Vermont to abandon climate change gas free energy does not effect only the people of Vermont, irrespective of their contempt for scientists.   It effects everyone on earth.

The great climate scientist Jim Hansen has calculated that nuclear power has saved the lives of more than 1.8 million people.

As it happens, much of the fracking that will be required to replace Vermont Yankee will take place on the Marcellus shale formation, overlying the Reading Prong.   This is a uranium formation in equilibrium with radon gas.   Unless the uranium is removed and fissioned it will leak radon for hundreds of millions of years, just so the citizens of Vermont, their pitchforks in hand, can avoid the paraoxyms of fear they had over a few atoms of tritium that, like the rest of the nuclear industry which has saved so many lives, has had no health effect.

One would find it amusing to compare the number of deaths from the use of nuclear power in Vermont with the number of deaths associated with the PAH's and PM10 particulates from burning wood in Vermont.

How many people have died because of Vermont Yankee?

There are some people who have some, um, concerns about so called "renewable" wood boilers in Vermont and they've written a rather long report about some of the issues:

Has so called "renewable" energy in Vermont been more safe or less safe than the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant that everyone loves to hate, despite the lives it's saved?

The World Health Organization, in fact, reports that about 2 million people die on this planet each year - half under the age of five - from biomass burning:

For the entire 60 year history of nuclear power practiced all around the world, the loss of life from nuclear energy will not even remotely approach the loss of life from the burning of wood in New England next winter.

There are wrist watches that have more tritium in them than 20 tons of water around Vermont Yankee, not that this reality has prevented anyone from issuing hysterical demands that this life saving reactor be shut:

One would hope that no anti-nukes have tritium watch dials in Vermont, just as one hopes that they will be as upset with the millions of tons of carbon dioxide that they will soon be dumping out of fear of a few tritium atoms.

The planetary atmosphere is collapsing at the fastest rate ever observed.    When we hear things like how Vermonters hate their nuclear plant, one must admit that we deserve what we are going to get.

Vermont cannot stop the diffusion of its atmosphere outside its borders.

When an element in Vermont destroys, out of ignorance and fear, clean infrastructure, they are not doing so in isolation from the rest of humanity.   This is not a Vermont issue; it is a human issue.

....any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. -John Donne

N Nadir is a well-known blogger about energy: for a long time, he blogged at Daily Kos.  A few years ago, Charles Barton of Nuclear Green described and listed many of his posts.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Curtailment by any other name -- would be ordinary

Time for an opinionated blog post about framing and word usage.   Today's weasel-word: curtailment.

Lowell Mountain Curtailment
Wind Turbines in New Zealand
During the recent heat wave, Lowell Mountain wind farm was "curtailed" by ISO-NE, the grid operator.  In other words, although there was wind available, ISO-NE did not allow Lowell Mountain to send its power to the grid.

After this event, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin sent a complaining letter to ISO-NE. Fossil plants were putting power on the grid but the wind farm had to stop operating temporarily.  Shumlin asked ISO: Doesn't the grid operator understand the importance of Vermont's move to renewables? NoteAndrew Stein has an article about Shumlin's letter at Vermont Digger.  There are close to 100 comments.

Many people realize that the grid operator had good reasons not to dispatch the wind power during the heat wave.  For example, you might want to read the Burlington Free Press editorial: Not Ready for Prime Time. ( The idea is that renewables are not ready for prime time.) The Burlington Free Press is generally in favor of renewable energy.

Curtailment Means Dispatch

In the meantime--- What the heck is curtailment? It means that wind was available, but the grid operator did not allow the wind farm to put power on the grid.  In other words, the wind farm was not "dispatched."  Dispatch is the fate of most plants on the grid.

The rules for dispatch include physical imperatives:
  • matching load
  • not over-loading transmission lines
  • taking into account how quickly various plants can come on-line.

Secondary rules for dispatch include economics and other non-physical issues:
  • dispatching the least expensive plants first
  • giving renewables a favored position in the line-up.

To keep the grid in balance, the physical imperatives take precedence.

However, the non-physical issues are also part of dispatch.  For example, coal is now more expensive than natural gas.  Five years ago, our local coal plant, Merrimack Station,  ran 75% of the time. Today it runs about 30% of the time. Merrimack Station is no longer one of the least expensive power plants.  It's almost a peaking plant, nowadays.  (Jeremy Blackman, Concord Monitor, Extreme Weather a Testament to Bow's Plant Relevance?)

Yes, even coal plants only run when dispatched.

Wind Turbines and the Weasel Word

Wind turbines have been high on the list for  dispatch, because they are renewables. However, dispatching renewables is a secondary issue, not a physical imperative. Despite this fact, in my opinion, the turbine owners have developed a serious case of entitlement.   If the wind turbine doesn't get dispatched, someone is going to hear about it from the Governor.

What an attitude!  This attitude isn't good for the future, either.  The Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan says that 90% of all our energy is supposed to come from renewables.  Does this mean that people will use the power whenever the renewables can send it?  Perhaps we will have alarms in our house: "It's 2 a.m. and the turbines are spinning.  Time to do your wash and bake some goodies." Or are the wind turbines willing to be dispatched, just like a power plant?

In my opinion, the first thing we can do to encourage the wind farm owners to understand their place on the grid is---we can stop using the weasel word, curtailment.  We can call the situation what it is. "Due to inadequate transmission capabilities in the area of Lowell Mountain, the wind turbines were not dispatched."

There.  Doesn't that sound better?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Progressives for Nuclear Progress: Welcome to a New Blog

Welcome to the new blog in the pro-nuclear blogosphere: Progressives for Nuclear Progress. This blog, by Eric Schmitz, has the subtitle: Bringing the American Left on board for a clean nuclear future.  Together it reads:
Bringing the American Left on board for a clean nuclear future.

The blog also has a Facebook page Progressives for Nuclear Progress.

In his latest post I take a vacation and what happens?  Will Davis at Atomic Power Review welcomes  the new blog.  Davis notes that Schmitz is an engineer, and I would like to note that Schmitz is a good writer.  Let's look at his two most recent posts.

Teachable Moments   

Schmitz (so far) has taken some news item or blog post about nuclear power, and made very thoughtful (and sometimes acerbic) comments.  For example, in his post: "Fail-Safe"--when failure does NOT mean disaster,  Schmitz critiques Entergy for its communication about some malfunctioning radiation monitors. Schmitz says that the problems with those monitors was a "teachable moment." He notes that  "fail-safe" does not mean "this can never fail."  It means: "Even if this fails, safety is not affected."


In another post, Schmitz comments on the Breakthrough Institutes major post: Liberals and Progressives for Nuclear.   As Schmitz says: "I have come to realize that we (liberals and progressives) cannot afford to continue sticking our heads in the sand when it comes to the one kind of power generation that is capable of providing ample energy at nearly zero carbon cost."

By the way: please read the Breakthrough Institute post on Liberals and Progressives for Nuclear.  It features an impressive group of people, with impressive quotes.  Paul Allen, Mark Lynas, Gwyneth Cravens, Stephen Tindale (former director of Greenpeace).  Read it!

Slightly-off topic: Non-Progressives

The "other side of the aisle," is also noticing that more liberals and progressives are supporting nuclear nowadays.  Joseph Somsel writes Nuclear Power's New Friends in American Thinker.   He reviews  Pandora's Promise. He basically likes the movie, but  he warns the nuclear industry not to embrace climate change. Somsel writes: "As public opinion becomes more aware of the falsity of the claims of impending climate catastrophe, nuclear needs to maintain its distance. "

Well, I don't agree with Somsel about climate change, but there you are. Personally, I welcome all nuclear supporters, no matter what they think about global warming.  Climate change is only one of many reasons to support nuclear energy.

Charles Barton

In any reasonable discussion of nuclear communication, all nuclear bloggers must acknowledge the leadership of Charles Barton of Nuclear Green Revolution.   Barton has been blogging from an avowedly liberal political stance...since 2008!  Other pro-nuclear blogs started earlier, and were written by liberals, but Barton is the person who explicitly combined the two topics.

 I am always and eternally grateful to Charles Barton for his work in changing nuclear energy from a Republican-Democratic debate energy discussion.

I am pleased to see Eric Schmitz's blog joining Barton's blog.

Nuclear Green