Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Legislators visit Vernon and are shocked to find economic pain.

Quotes and Comments

On Monday, October 28, two legislative committees went to the Vernon Elementary School to listen to local companies and residents discuss the next steps after Vermont Yankee closes.  They had an afternoon session in which business groups addressed them and an evening session open to public comments.  The two committees were the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, and the Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

On the Save Vermont Yankee Facebook page, I have seen this visit described as a "dog and pony show"  and that the legislators "couldn't care less."  Other comments were less flattering.

So I thought I would devote this blog post to quotes from the newspaper articles about the meeting, along with some commentary about the quotes.

Where the Money Comes From

In the afternoon meeting,  the various business groups presented their issues and questions. This meeting was reported by Terri Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free Press. Windham County asks state for help as VY prepares to shut down.

A quote from that article:

Meanwhile, the Legislature should be wary of forcing Entergy to pay more taxes and fees without knowing where that money is coming from, Tom Buchanan, chairman of the Windham Regional Commission’s Vermont Yankee Study Committee.

There is a risk if lawmakers levy a new tax on Vermont Yankee to pay for spent fuel, for example, that that money could come from the plant’s decommissioning fund, he said. That would simply slow the decommissioning process, he said.

Blogger comment: Very true.  Later in the article, Mike Twomey of Entergy explains some of the things for which the decommissioning money can be used.

In my opinion, the legislature saw Vermont Yankee as the ultimate cash-cow (Money for the Clean Energy Development Fund. Town of Vernon shares property taxes with the state, etc.).  Perhaps as the plant closes, the legislature will come to their senses and recognize that their golden goose is leaving town.

This issue reminds me of the time when Entergy first filed a federal lawsuit against Vermont.  Shumlin immediately arranged for the legislature to pass a law that Vermont Yankee would pay for the state's costs in defending against that lawsuit!  The law was never enforced (Attorney General of Vermont Acknowledges "Shaky Concept" in Charging Entergy for Vermont's Expenses) but it gives an idea of the legislature's ideas on what they think they can do---just by  passing a law.

The Legislature Has Responsibility

Andrew Stein at Vermont Digger wrote Windham County Seeks $2.2 Million in State Aid to Recover from Vermont Yankee closing.  A quote from that article:

Martin Langeveld, a Vernon resident, told the legislators that they should feel responsible for mitigating the impact of Vermont Yankee’s closure.

“In this situation, the governor and the Legislature did the exact opposite of what you usually do,” he said. “Instead of trying to preserve jobs, instead of trying to attract and support a large employer, they actively sought to close one down. That is unique. That is what makes this one different.

“I suggest you need to consider what the Legislature’s responsibility is now that it has gained that objective it sought for so long,” Langeveld said. “In this case, you have a special responsibility to permit a mitigation effort to go forward and to generously fund that mitigation effort.”

Blogger comment: Langeveld said it well.

Tony Klein Notices Real People

Susan Smallheer at Times Argus wrote State Catches Heat for Vermont Yankee Closing.  The final two paragraphs of that article:
Rep. Tony Klein

Rep. Tony Klein, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, and a leading Yankee opponent, told the gathering he had a “greater appreciation of what’s going on down here. That’s a big accomplishment.”

“You’re not just a nondescript face any more,” he said. “We have heard it first-hand and we have a greater appreciation of what needs to happen.”

Blogger comment: Oh puh-leeze. Klein has been a determined foe of Vermont Yankee.  I have heard him say that the presence of Vermont Yankee could destroy the Vermont "brand." (On the other hand, Klein is a great supporter of wind turbines.)

Around the time of the famous vote in the Senate (2010), many people from Vermont Yankee came up to talk to the legislators.  They reported that the legislators avoided them, ran into the committee rooms to hide, wouldn't look the plant employees in the eye, etc.  I did not blog about this because I didn't know which legislators did what.  I try for accuracy on this blog.  Sometime I think I try too hard for too much accuracy.

Well, for Tony Klein, I think it IS a "big accomplishment" that the people of Vernon are not "nondescript face(s)."  People in the nuclear industry should be grateful for whatever progress we make with anti-nuclear committee leaders. Right?

Okay.  Time to end this post. I'm getting snarky...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A State of Extortion: Conditions for a Vermont Yankee Certificate

John McClaughry
at a dinner in his honor
The Prediction: John McClaughry

Shortly after Entergy announced it would close Vermont Yankee in 2014, Governor Peter Shumlin decided that people should work together, not fight with each other.  Specifically, Shumlin said that his administration would “use this opportunity to build better relations with Entergy.”

John McClaughry doubted that statement.  McClaughry is one of the founders of the Ethan Allen Institute, and he predicted that better relations between Entergy and Shumlin were not going to happen.  Better relations weren't in the cards (to use a fortune-teller analogy).   Governor Shumlin would continue to behave the way Governor Shumlin behaves.  

In early September, a few days after Shumlin's announcement, McClaughry wrote an op-ed which was published many places in Vermont:  Governor Shumlin's Unlikely Olive Branch to Entergy. Here's the quote with the prediction:

With this long, outspoken, and unbroken record of opposition to the nuclear plant and its corporate owner, can we expect Peter Shumlin to now seek “better relations” with Entergy? It’s far more likely that he, his regulators and lawyers, and his legislative friends will spend the rest of his time in the Governor’s office extorting every last dime out of Entergy to fund their own pet projects, and when that is pushed as far as it can go, forcing Entergy to spend as much as possible through more of the “cumulative regulation” that Entergy says contributed to its decision to close the plant.

The Pondering: State Weighs Conditions for Entergy

When Entergy announced it was closing the plant, the state "weighed the conditions" they would put
Commissioner Recchia
from DPS site
on Vermont Yankee's continued operation for a final year. 

The Public Service Board was still considering a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) for Vermont Yankee when Entergy announced it was closing the plant.  Entergy quickly filed an amended petition with the Board, asking for a CPG for through the end of 2014, instead of through 2032.  Under Shumlin's administration, the Department of Public Service (DPS) had opposed the 20-year extension.  Would they also oppose a one-year extension? 

When Entergy filed for a one-year extension,  Chris Recchia, commissioner of the department, said the department was considering its options about the one-year extension. Here's a quote from Andrew Stein's article in Vermont Digger

“The options are to support it (the one-year certificate) with conditions or oppose it unless there are conditions,” he (Recchia) said.

The Prediction Fulfilled: Also Known As The Shake-Down

First, we have to admit that the state learned some very expensive lessons in various courts.  The DPS considered recommending a time-table for decommissioning, or recommending how the plant should handle spent fuel.  But then they thought better of it. Recchia noted that these areas fall under the purview of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  

“We felt we needed to focus on areas where we have jurisdiction,” Recchia said.  (From Oct 25 article Terri Hallenbeck in the Burlington Free Press.)

If DPS tried to regulate safety, they could lose in court. Gathering money from Entergy seemed a more reasonable tactic.  DPS recommended that the Public Service Board should extract money from the plant in return for a fourteen month CPG.  Specfically, DPS recommend that Entergy must
  • Put $60 million dollars in a separate trust fund for decommissioning within 21 days of receiving a certificate of public good from the state (Anne Galloway article in Vermont Digger)
  • Put $4.65 million dollars into a fund "for the state to disburse" for dislocated worker assistance (Terri Hallenbeck  article). 
Another justification given for Entergy contributing $4.65 million to the state is that the state will lose its "generation tax" revenues when Vermont Yankee stops generating power.  As Galloway wrote in Vermont Digger:

"Once the plant closes, that source of state revenue (the generation tax) will disappear. Recchia says Entergy should be required to continue to make some kind of payment to the state to make up for the economic impact of the sudden, unplanned shutdown."

In other words, McClaughry predicted the situation accurately.  The scenario (extract money and attempt to make decommissioning as expensive as possible) is unfolding exactly as McClaughry predicted it would unfold.

Note from blogger: "Sudden unplanned shutdown"?  Huh?

Second note from blogger:  Will these "generation tax" substitutes actually be used for Vermont Yankee employee assistance?  Your guess is as good as mine....

The Good News and the Bad News

Good News:  This is the state's final chance to extract money. In Andrew Stein's article in Vermont Digger (State Weighs What Conditions to Place on Vermont Yankee Closing) Stein quotes Ray Shadis, a long-time plant opponent.

"It is unclear at this point if Entergy VY, if it closes in 2014, will ever have to appear before the VPSB (Vermont Public Service Board), or for that matter, any state regulatory body ever again,” he (Shadis) wrote to the board. “Chopping the proposed period of extended operation really appears to narrow that possibility and proportionally heightens the need for the VPSB and the parties to ‘get it right.’”

Bad News:  It's not really bad news. More like "major uncertainty."  If the Public Service Board puts tens-of-millions-of-dollars of conditions on a certificate of public good, and Entergy had planned to operate the plant only for a few more months--what will Entergy do?  

It may not be worthwhile for Entergy to litigate in the hopes of merely several months operation.  Also, if Entergy doesn't sign the new CPG, they don't have to abide by its multi-million dollar conditions.  In other words, Entergy might quite reasonably decide not to sign, not to litigate, and simply to close the plant a few months earlier. 

I hope this would not happen, but it could. 

"Building better relations with Entergy" indeed!


You can link to the complete, 50-page DPS filing from the Vermont Digger article.  I link to it here for convenience. I am always grateful when Vermont Digger links to the original documents. 

John McClaughry, the man who made the prediction, is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute ( The Energy Education Project (directed by Meredith Angwin) is part of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Having Emotions: My post at ANS Nuclear Cafe Today

The Vulcan is
the guy with pointy ears
I have emotions

I have a guest post at ANS Nuclear Cafe today:  We are not Spock: Emotion and Nuclear Power.  When Entergy announced that Vermont Yankee would close next year, opponents were quick to respond with glee. They gave parties, they chanted, they wrote celebratory op-eds.

How did I respond to the news?  I responded by "trying to understand this." Logic, not emotion.  I think I was channelling Spock from Star Trek. But Spock is not fully human, and I am.

My personal journey has now led me to acknowledge how sad I feel about Vermont Yankee closing. I wrote a post about this journey, which is quite different from my usual posts.  It's about people being laid off, and  feelings of futility and....sorrow.

Please read it. I hope you will read it and perhaps comment.

Thank you.

Governor Shumlin's Emotions

Okay.  After getting sad, I get snarky sometimes.

Yesterday Governor Shumlin visited the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (a private development group). Susan Smallheer wrote about this visit in an article in the Rutland Herald.  Her article is behind a paywall, but I have brief quotes below.

At this occasion in Brattleboro, Shumlin made several statements about his emotions.

Shumlin said "it was no secret he was glad Yankee was closing"  but his administration would try to mitigate the impacts of the plant closing.  Shumlin admitted there was a "tough transition" ahead, but also said that the area would “get more than our share of love and attention” in the coming year. (Emphasis added by blogger.)

I am sure that makes everybody feel much better.

Well, you might feel better unless you live in Vernon. Shumlin actually said "Brattleboro and Windham County" will get the attention.  He didn't mention Vernon. (Vermont Yankee is located in the town of Vernon.)

In honor of Shumlin's emotions, I am sharing this video.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Board Gives Bad Advice

VSNAP Votes on Decommissioning

 On Wednesday October 16, the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP) met in Brattleboro to discuss decommissioning Vermont Yankee.  VSNAP is an "advisory panel"  to advise the Vermont legislature.  At the meeting in Brattleboro, William Irwin, Vermont State Radiological Health Chief, made a motion that the plant be decommissioned quickly (basically, prompt decommissioning, not SAFSTOR).  Entergy has announced that they plan to put the plant in SAFSTOR.

Representative Mike Hebert
Speaking to PSB in November
The motion for prompt decommissioning did not pass. In the seven-member panel, several panelists were absent or abstained. The lonely "no" vote came from plant supporter Mike Hebert, the state representative from Vernon. (Vote reported by Dave Gram of AP)

Since the vote failed, VSNAP will meet again tomorrow, this time in Montpelier.  I suppose they will vote again on Irwin's motion. I also suppose it will pass this time, since most of the panel members are appointed by the legislature and the governor's office. Governor Shumlin has always made it very clear he wants prompt decommissioning.

An Imperial Motion Made, but Withdrawn

A Times Argus article by Susan Smallheer (unfortunately it may be behind a paywall) reported on another motion put forward during this meeting by state Senator Mark MacDonald: "MacDonald had initially made a motion that all of Vermont Yankee’s profits, from now until it shuts down, be put into an escrow account to be used toward decommissioning." Senator Mark MacDonald is a fervent (and often noisy) foe of the power plant.

Senator Mark MacDonald (Grey sweater)
at Entergy presentation
Entergy Exhibits, April 2010
MacDonald withdrew his motion when Irwin put his own motion forward, and when Representative Hebert criticized MacDonald's motion.

Apparently MacDonald thinks that if the Vermont Senate passes a law or resolution, then that law is---a perfectly legal law.   For example this would be legal: "We will seize all the profits of this business and force those profits to be used for a good cause."  However, MacDonald chose to withdraw this interesting financial suggestion in favor of Irwin's "safety" suggestion that the plant be decommissioned quickly.

The Advisory Panel

When I posted about these motions on the Save Vermont Yankee page on Facebook, one person commented to the effect that: "That's why VSNAP is an advisory panel. These guys can say anything they want and it doesn't make a bit of difference." That is one way to look at the situation.

More Hearings and a Video

I recommend Howard Shaffer's review of the continuing anti-Vermont Yankee activities in his post The Challenge Continues at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Andrew Stein's article in Vermont Digger (early September): Entergy May Be Closing Vermont Yankee, but Litigation Goes On. 

I blogged about a previous meeting of VSNAP at ANS Nuclear Cafe-- Vermont State Advisory Panel: Safety Again!

I also recommend this video about Vermont Yankee decommissioning options.
WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

State of Vermont Sues in Favor of Federal Pre-Emptive Regulations

Wood Boiler
from University of New Hampshire site on heating with wood
Please Regulate Woodburning at the National Level!

Vermont has joined a group of seven states that are suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency.  The states are attempting to force the EPA to regulate wood boilers.  For those of you who don't live in rural areas, here's how a New York State website describes wood boilers:

(Outdoor Wood Boilers) OWBs....are fuel burning devices (1) designed to burn wood or other fuels; (2) that the manufacturer specifies for outdoor installation or installation in structures not normally occupied by humans; and (3) that are used to heat building space and/or water through the distribution, typically through pipes, of a gas or liquid (e.g., water or water/antifreeze mixture) heated in the device. A typical unit looks like a small metal storage shed with a stack. OWBs can also be used to heat swimming pools, greenhouses, milk rooms, etc.

As the Wall Street Journal notes in its article about the lawsuit:

EPA data says emissions from wood-burning devices account for 13 percent of all soot pollution in the nation.  

As the University of New Hampshire cooperative extension website states:

The "classic" outdoor wood boilers that have been on the market for years have raised public health and environmental concerns. Fuel frequently burns incompletely, resulting in heavy smoke and high emissions.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the stacks on these devices are often shorter than surrounding structures and do not disperse smoke adequately, concentrating it near the ground.

The illustration above is from the New Hampshire website.

State's Rights

I would guess that half the posts on this blog concern Vermont attempting to regulate nuclear safety, and fighting the idea that nuclear safety is regulated at the federal level.  Okay.  Acknowledged.  "State's Rights" are important to Vermont.

Clearly, Vermont thinks it has the expertise to regulate nuclear energy, but it also seems to think that the federal government had better step in and regulate the far more complex situation of wood boilers.  States can't be expected to have their own regulations about such things.

Well, actually....wrong.

Vermont Level of Responsibility?

Vermont actually has a half-hearted attempt to regulate wood boilers.  There's a law (not enforced, apparently) outlawing old wood boilers within 200 feet of a residence or healthcare facility.  There's also some money to help people put in new wood boilers. It is first-come first-serve at obtaining the money.

As the Vermont Air Pollution Control Division (APCD)  describes the program:

 “One way you can look at this is as a friendly-neighbor program,” said Dick Valentinetti of the APCD.

Other States Take More Responsibility

Other states have taken stronger measures.

Washington State has outlawed wood boilers.  From the Washington State FAQ

Are any outdoor wood-fired hydronic heaters legal in Washington?
Not at this time.

New Hampshire has state-level regulations controlling wood boilers. These regulations include stack height, setbacks, and fuel use.

Maryland says it is illegal to own and operate this type of equipment in Maryland. However, in fact, Maryland only responds to complaints about such boilers.

If a unit is causing a big problem, we can issue an order to shut it down.

In Fairness to Vermont

Bruegel illustration of cat-belling
It's hard to regulate wood boilers.  Some of them are used responsibly, some of them pollute entire valleys in the winter. (I know.  I've driven through such valleys.)

Maybe it is politically expedient to let Uncle Sam take the heat on this one.  As the WSJ article explains about New York State:

New York state adopted regulations in April 2011 to require all new wood-fired boilers sold in the state to burn at least 90 percent cleaner than older models. A plan to extend the rules to existing boilers was shelved after a public outcry, particularly in rural areas of northern New York where numerous farms and homes that rely on the heaters would be forced to pay thousands of dollars to replace them.

Clearly, the people in Montpelier want the Federal Government to bell the cat about wood boilers.  If the federal government acts:
  • The right hand of the people in Montpelier can encourage the use of wood boilers to meet Vermont's renewable energy plan
  • Montpelier's left hand can sue to restrict the use of wood boilers at the federal level.  

This could work, I guess.

In Fairness to Vermont Yankee

Perhaps we need a federal Wood Boiler Act, like the Atomic Energy Act. This new act would move wood boiler regulation to the federal level because it is so complicated. Stack height!  Distance from houses! Particulate measurements!  Far too complicated for a state to regulate.

Once the Federal Wood Boiler Act was passed, we could expect the Vermont legislature to challenge the federal jurisdiction.

At that point, our legislature might find the political courage to regulate wood boilers, instead of merely filing lawsuits against the federal government.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Uranium Exploration and Mining: Something a little different

Uranium Comes From the Earth

Producing nuclear energy is a highly-engineered, specialized discipline.  Yet, when you get right down to it, the source of that energy is uranium.  Uranium comes from the earth.  Uranium ore is a mineral.  It is part of nature, just like everything else on this earth.

In graduate school, I chose to study mineral chemistry.  Today,  I am devoting this blog post to the intersection between minerals, mining and nuclear energy. With videos.

Movie Time

The first video explains how companies explore for uranium. The second is an overview of uranium mining and milling technology.  I hope you enjoy these videos.

Exploring for Uranium

Fission Uranium Corp PLS 3D Fly-Through from Fission Uranium Corp. on Vimeo.

Mining and Milling Uranium

From the Heritage Foundation:

Geology and Me

When I was in grad school, I worked toward a Ph.D. in geochemistry. My thesis advisor, Dr. Ole Kleppa, granted degrees in chemistry and in geology. I have always been very interested in minerals, geochemistry, and mining. 

Another connection.  My husband's family were hardrock miners. The Angwins come from Cornwall, where they have been miners for generations. Maybe "generations" is too short a description.  "Thousands of years"might be better?  At any rate, whether or not the Angwins were mining it,  tin has been mined in Cornwall since the early bronze age (2000 B.C.E.)  

I hope that someday I can meet one of my husband's cousins: Michael Angwin of the Australian Uranium Association. Another mining connection.

Various Acknowledgments 

ANS Nuclear Cafe hosted an excellent "nuclear matinee" on uranium mining, this summer.

People interested in uranium and the fuel cycle will probably enjoy following Andrea Jennetta's blog: I Dig U Mining.  I especially recommend her latest post: Uranium Opponents Ask the Wrong Questions.

 I did not complete my Ph.D. degree with Dr. Kleppa. I only have a master's degree. Don't introduce me as "Dr. Angwin." It's wrong.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wind on the Grid: Location, Location, Location.

Wind Farm in Austria
The Plan and the Reality

The Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan calls for a great expansion of renewable electricity. Can we achieve it? Some of the difficulties the state may encounter came to light this summer in the Northeast Kingdom.

The biggest renewable project to come online recently is the Kingdom Community Wind Project — commonly known as Lowell Mountain — which is owned by Green Mountain Power. During the mid-July heat wave, the regional grid operator, ISO-NE, did not allow Lowell Mountain to put all of its power on the grid. The wind was blowing, but the transmission lines were running at full capacity, and the grid operator told Lowell Mountain that the grid could not accept all of its power. The wind farm had to back off and not generate as much electricity as it could. It was “curtailed” by the grid operator.

As you can imagine, this incident led to quite an outcry. First off, it didn’t look good for the future of renewables. While Lowell Mountain has been controversial, it has also been a showcase for major new renewables being built in Vermont. If Lowell can’t send all of its power to the grid, it doesn’t bode well for the future growth of renewables.

In response, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin wrote a letter to ISO-NE, asking why the grid operator had called upon the generating capacity of fossil-fuel plants but not that of Vermont renewables, pointing out that Vermont is very committed to renewables, etc., etc. Shumlin was clearly grandstanding. On a hot day, ISO-NE did what it is supposed to do: keep the grid functioning. To understand why that overriding concern led ISO-NE to shun power from Lowell Mountain, it’s helpful to realize that, in one regard, the grid is like the real estate market: It’s all about location, location, location.

The Reality of the Grid

ISO-NE’s first responsibility is to keep the grid meeting its physical and reliability requirements. It matches power generation with power use and avoids overloading lines. ISO-NE’s secondary responsibility is to dispatch power from generators according to various economic and contractual priority rules. These rules tend toward priority dispatch for renewables. (Though the grid operator is strictly fuel-agnostic, the rules tend to favor renewables.) However, such priority rules come second, after the grid’s physical constraints are met.

Those physical constraints are often about location, location, location.

Wind farms are usually located in rural areas, which generally do not have transmission lines capable of handling large amounts of power. In the case of Lowell Mountain, the nearest high-voltage lines also carry Hydro-Quebec and power from other sources. On a high-electricity-use day, these power sources fill the transmission capacity.

Two Kinds of Upgrades

Transmission capacity in that area would have to be upgraded significantly to accommodate all the power generated by the wind turbines on a high-use day. At the time the Lowell turbines were built, it apparently was known that the turbine power sometimes would have to be “curtailed.” However, “curtailment” has happened more often than some expected. (That’s the simple version; it’s always more complicated on the grid.) There are other factors. Depending on the type of generator, its location and the transmission lines, additional equipment may be needed to match a generator to the grid. Lowell Mountain needs something called a synchronous condenser to “tune up” its output and match it to the grid. The Lowell Mountain developers persuaded the Public Service Board to let them connect to the grid without this expensive piece of equipment, but now the grid operator says that it will have to be installed. The condenser is now being built, and it will cost $10 million. With it, Lowell will be able to put power on the grid more often.

However, without additional upgrades of local transmission lines, Lowell may still be kept off the grid when power use is high. So, two upgrades would be needed for Lowell Mountain to have reliable access to the grid. Electricity consumers ultimately will pay for the work, but which consumers?

Green Mountain Power consumers will pay for the synchronous condenser, because GMP owns the plant. Determining payment for transmission line upgrades is more complicated because transmission lines are shared across states. If a transmission upgrade makes the entire New England system more reliable, Vermont ratepayers will pay about 4 percent of its cost. If an upgrade is considered to be only of local benefit, local ratepayers pay its entire cost. ISO-NE decides whether transmission lines are needed for grid reliability as part of its reliability planning process. At this point, it is unclear which group of ratepayers would pay.

Another question: Why is the system dealing with these problems now? Why did the Public Service Board authorize turbines without also requiring an adequate connection? For whatever it is worth, many other wind farms in other parts of the world have the same problem.

Location, Location, Location

Which gets us back to location, location, location. Wind farms face some unique transmission challenges. Throughout the world, wind turbines are located in rural areas, often far from large transmission lines or large-scale users of electricity. Wind turbines also have highly variable outputs. If you build a transmission line in a rural area and build a line that is capable of taking a considerable amount of wind energy on a day when the grid is almost full, you are going to have to build an expensive line.

Building a transmission line that can always accept wind energy can be like building a freeway that is big enough to avoid congestion if a football game lets out at rush hour. We don’t do that. It would just be too expensive to build all roads big enough to avoid congestion for the infrequent occasions of abnormally high use. As a partial solution to this problem, the grid has location-dependent congestion fees.

Meanwhile, ISO-NE officials responded to Shumlin’s accusation with their own strongly worded letter. They said that Green Mountain Power knew full well that the Kingdom Community Wind Project did not meet all of ISO-NE criteria for full grid connection.

I am sure that Green Mountain Power (and others, such as the Public Service Board) must have known that the new wind farm wasn’t meeting ISO-NE connection criteria. Though such grid issues as congestion fees and synchronous condensers are arcane to most of us, there are many competent electrical system engineers who could have foreseen these problems. They almost certainly did foresee them.

Paying for the Upgrades

What should we do now to put wind on the grid? Since Kingdom Community Wind is built, I think Green Mountain Power should take the steps necessary to be sure its energy gets on the grid more reliably. It will be expensive, but that is the only option.

However, the costs and whatever environmental impact those upgrades entail should be ascribed to the wind project. More important, these costs should be considered when other projects are proposed. That does not mean that other projects should not be built. However, Vermont now has experience with a large wind farm, and it should learn from this experience.

Meredith Angwin is a physical chemist who worked for electric utilities for more than 25 years and now heads the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute.

I wrote this op-ed for the Valley News. It appeared in print on Sunday, September 22, 2013 as When Location Rules the Grid.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Steel, Land, Concrete and Vermont Yankee: Guest Post by Timothy Maloney

Timothy Maloney
Replacing Vermont Yankee

You’re celebrating the shutdown of Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Presumably you intend to replace its 620 megawatts with wind and solar, thereby improving the condition of the biosphere.

Here’s the rub: the condition of the biosphere doesn’t respond to good intentions expressed in words; it responds to technical ideas expressed in numbers.

Let’s look at five numbers that accompany wind and solar replacement of Vermont Yankee.
  1. Amount of steel required to build that wind and solar; 
  2. Concrete requirement; 
  3. CO2 emitted in making that steel and concrete; 
  4. Money spent; 
  5. Amount of land taken out of crop production or wildlife habitat.
Let us suppose a 50/50 split between wind and solar, and for the solar a 50/50 split between photovoltaic – PV, and concentrated thermal solar – CSP.

To make up Vermont Yankee’s 620 MW then, we’ll need:
  • 310 MW(average) for wind 
  • 155 MW(avg) for PV solar
  • 155 MW(avg) for CSP.

The North America wind capacity factor is about 24%. That is, a wind turbine produces an annual average of 24% of its peak capacity – what it can produce when the wind is blowing nicely. So to obtain 310 MWavg we must build

310 MW ÷ 24% (0.24) = about 1290 MW peak capacity

Selecting the General Electric model 2.5xl wind turbine (Shepherd’s Flat farm in Oregon), with 2.5 MW peak capacity, we will need this many turbines: 1290 MW ÷ 2.5 MW = 515 turbines.

Each model 2.5xl uses 390 tonnes of steel and 1080 tonnes of concrete. Its installed cost is about 4.7 Million dollars for erection of the tower and connection to a neighboring transmission line. That $4.7 M does not include the cost of the land, bought or leased; nor does it include the cost of a branch transmission line, if needed, to make connection to an existing line.

With land costs and branch connecting costs included, let us say about $5 Million per turbine.

Steel production emits about 1.8 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of steel; concrete production emits about 1.1 tonnes CO2.

So each turbine, in manufacture, produces this much CO2: Steel: 390 x 1.8 = 700 t CO2; Concrete: 1080 x 1.1 = 1190 t CO2; Combined: 700 + 1190 = 1890 tonnes CO2 per turbine.

Each such turbine needs land area of about 0.3 square kilometer – about 500 x 500 meters.

So for 515 turbines, here’s the tally:
  • Steel: 515 x 390 t = 200 thousand tonnes
  • Concrete: 515 x 1080 t = 560 thousand tonnes
  • CO2 emitted: 515 x 1890 t = 970 thousand tonnes
  • Cost: 515 x $5 M = 2.6 Billion dollars
  • Land: 515 x 0.3 km2 = 155 square kilometers (12×12 km, 7×8 miles)
PV Solar 

The North America solar capacity factor is about 17%. It’s worse in the northeast, but let’s say 17% anyway.
To obtain 155 MWavg we must build 155 MW ÷ 0.17 = 910 MW peak capacity.

Working from the Aqua Caliente PV project near Yuma Arizona, here are the numbers:
  • Steel: 110 tonnes per megawatt of peak capacity. 110 t x 910 MW = 100 thousand tonnes of steel
  • Concrete: negligible
  • CO2 emitted: From steel:100 e3 t x 1.8 t CO2 = 180 thousand tonnes;
  • From panel manufacture (at 130 tonnes CO2 equivalent per megawatt peak): 910 MW peak x 130 t /MW = 120 thousand tonnes CO2eq; Total: 180 + 120 = 300 thousand tonnes CO2eq
  • Cost: Aqua Caliente is costing $4.5 M per MW peak . So $4.5 M x 910 MWpk = about $4 Billion.
  • Land: PV solar needs about 0.025 km2 per megawatt peak. 910 MW x 0.025 km2 = 23 km2 (4.8×4.8 km, 3×3 miles)
CSP Solar

Again 155 MWavg at 17% = 910 MW peak
Working from the Andalusia Spain plant that connected to the grid in 2009, called ANDUSOL1, here are the numbers.
  • Steel: 170 tonnes per MW peak. 170 t x 910 MW =150 thousand tonnes
  • Concrete: 870 tonnes per MW peak. 870 t x 910 MW= 800 thousand tonnes
  • CO2 emitted: 150 e3 t steel x 1.8 t CO2 + 800 e3 t concrete x 1.1 t = 1.2 million tonnes CO2
  • Cost: Removing from the tally the cost for 7.5 hours of molten-salt energy storage, the generation equipment itself at ANDUSOL1 cost about $7 M per megawatt peak.
  • So for our CSP needs, 910 MW x $7 M = about 6 Billion dollars.
  • Land: CSP solar needs about 0.012 km2 per megawatt peak. 910 MW x 0.012 km2 = 11 km2 (3.3 x 3.3 km, 2 x 2 miles)
Adding It All Together
  • Steel: 450 thousand tonnes; that’s 0.6% of our U.S. total annual production, JUST TO REPLACE ONE SMALLISH PLANT.
  • Concrete: 1.4 million tonnes; about 0.2% of our annual production
  • CO2: 2.5 million tonnes
  • Cost: about 12 Billion dollars
  • Land: about 190 square kilometers (14 x 14 km); that’s 73 square miles, larger than the District of Columbia, JUST TO REPLACE ONE SMALLISH PLANT.
But the thing that really gets my goat is that the only reason the wind and solar option can even be proposed is because of the already existing electric grid structure of rock-solid, baseload, fossil-fueled, undeviating 3600 rpm, steam turbine-driven, generators.

Sure it’s easy to piggyback on those baseload generators with your intermittent, poor quality, non sine-shaped, non 60-Hertz, electrical energy. The transmission circuit (voltage between wires) is sine-wave stable only due to the low-resistance thick copper wires in the ac alternators that are attached to those steam turbines. Which work 24/7.

With a stable transmission circuit like that, anybody can assert his little bit of extra energy into the mix without causing much disruption. But don’t try that without a stable baseload – it won’t work.

Other Alternatives: Generation 3+ PWR

Well, if we want to shut down a 40-year-old Generation2 boiling water reactor, we could replace it with a Generation3+ pressurized water reactor, the Westinghouse /Toshiba model AP1000.

It produces 1070 MW baseload, nearly twice the output of Vermont Yankee. Normalizing 1070 MW to Vermont Yankee’s 620 MW, the AP1000 uses:
  • Steel: 5800 tonnes – about 1% as much as wind + solar.
  • Concrete: 93,000 tonnes – about 7% as much.
  • CO2 emitted: 115 thousand tonnes – about 5% as much
  • Cost: We won’t know until the Chinese finish their four units now abuilding. But it will sure be less than our “levelized” cost because you can betcherbippy the Chinese State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation isn’t really paying any bank interest or insurance premiums or licensing and inspection fees.
They’re going to find out what it actually costs just to build one. That will be the meaningful number. Why should we let the banks and insurance companies stick their noses into our energy supply? The lifeblood of our society.
  • Land: The AP1000 needs about 0.04 km2 for the entire plant site. (200 x 200 meters). Smaller than CSP by a factor of 2000. Smaller than PV by a factor of 4000. Smaller than wind by a factor of 13,000.
Other Alternatives: Thorium Molten Salt

Or, we could all get on board the thorium molten salt energy bandwagon. We at the Thorium Energy Alliance are morally certain that our idea will beat even the Generation3+ model AP1000 by wide margins in all 5 aspects – steel, concrete, CO2, dollar cost, and land.

See or or
About Timothy Maloney

Timothy Maloney is a retired community college professor, in the fields of electronics and machine control. He is inventor of "A Digital Method for DC Motor Speed Control"  (1974).  IEEE Transactions on Industrial Electronics and Control Instrumentation, February 1976,  Volume IECI-23.  He is the author of Modern Industrial Electronics (now in its fifth edition) and other books.

He is an advocate for advanced thorium reactors, especially the Liquid-Fuel Thorium Reactor (LFTR) technology.  Maloney is available for speaking or slideshows to any interested group.

Maloney wrote a rebuttal to someone who was celebrating the demise of Vermont Yankee and expecting to replace it with wind and solar energy.  He sent his rebuttal to a few people (including me) by email.  I asked him if I could use that email as a blog post, and he graciously gave me permission.