Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Soaring Prices in New England: An Update And Another Update

Electricity Prices Rises in New England, Updated

Golden coins
On Saturday, I posted Electricity Prices Soar in New England. And Soon In Vermont. In this post, I used two examples of recent rate hikes: National Grid in Massachusetts is raising rates by 37%, and Liberty Mutual in New Hampshire is raising rates by 50%.

Since then, New Hampshire Electric Coop announced a rate increase of 12%. Public Service of New Hampshire, which owns the Merrimack Station Coal Plant, expects only a slight rate increase. Another New Hampshire utility, Unitil, will soon file for a winter rate.  NHPR reports Electric Co-op Latest Utility To Announce Rate Increase.

Hah!  This just in! Unitil (New Hampshire utility) announced that the close-to-100% price rise on the grid (8.4 cents to 15.5 cents) will cost Unitil customers an extra $42 per month, starting in December. Unitil Electric Rates to Rise $42 per month.

Price Mealy-Mouthing in New England, Updated

Meanwhile, closer to home, Green Mountain Power and its sister utility, Vermont Gas Systems, explain that they are efficient and will therefore have stable prices. (This seems to imply that neighboring utilities are inefficient.) WCAX reports: GMP and Vermont Gas Keep Stable Prices. 

Both GMP and Vermont Gas are wholly-owned subsidiaries of Gaz Metro.

My own interpretation of the GMP statement about stable prices is quite simple: they aren't announcing the price rise just yet.  Gaz Metro companies don't always announce things promptly, as far as I can tell.

For example, the Vermont Gas pipeline expansion will cost $120 million dollars, which is $35 million more than regulators approved. Vermont Gas knew of the overrun in March, but did not notify regulators until July (meanwhile, Vermont Gas kept building the pipeline). Vermont Gas was fined $35,000 for this delay in notification.  Vermont Digger reports: Vermont Supreme Court Clears PSB to Reconsider Vermont Gas Pipeline.

A Well-Written Report from Conca at Forbes

Meanwhile, at Forbes, James Conca has an excellent post (including a link to my Saturday post): Closing Vermont Nuclear Bad Business for Everyone. He shows how closing Vermont Yankee is hurting our neighboring states.  It is a pleasure to read a good post about our area in the national media. I also urge you to read and join the lively comment stream on that post.

Consumer Liaison Group

I was just elected to the Coordinating Committee of the Consumer Liaison Group (CLG) of the grid operator, ISO-NE. I am one of two representatives from Vermont on the committee.  The group exchanges information with ISO about policies that affect consumers.  It also advises ISO.

I went to the CLG meeting September 24, but that is a subject for a whole different blog post. As you can imagine, however, the coming price rises were a major topic of discussion.

More updates soon.

Update again:  

Berkshire Eagle reports that National Grid price rise will cost homeowners up to $100 a month more on their bills and cost even more to businesses: National Grid Customers, Lawmakers Charged Up about Rate Increase.

Update: Some People Love Expensive Electricity An important post from Rod Adams: a review of the philosophy of people who celebrate the price rises because "the only way to guarantee that energy conservation measures are diligently pursued in this country is to make energy a very precious and expensive commodity. " (This quote was part of a comment on James Conca's article in Forbes.) Rod's post: Purposeful Price Pumping By Constraining Supply

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 228: Here at Yes Vermont Yankee

Once again, we are proud to host the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers here at Yes Vermont Yankee.  The Carnival is a compendium of nuclear blogs that rotates from blog site to blog site, and it is always a pleasure and an honor to host it.

This week, several posts are concerned with nuclear's effect on the environment, or people's perceptions of nuclear's effects on the environment.  So let's start there.

Nuclear Energy and the Environment.

Water and Energy:  A Close Connection

At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus addresses an article which claimed that growing water shortages might shift energy production away from coal and nuclear power. Marcus points out that 1) cooling towers and advanced nuclear technologies can help meet the needs for water more efficiently, and 2) some renewable energy technologies also have significant water needs.

What it means to be pro-nuclear (part 1)

At the new blog, Nuclear Layperson, Amelia Cook (aka MillySievert) is asked by a childhood friend if she is "really convinced by nuclear"? Cook looks at the complicated nature of the "pro-nuclear" label and offers some alternative descriptions. One of her descriptions is I am pro low-carbon sources of energy. 

DOE Energy Calculator: Coal, Dynamite, Burritos, and Nuclear Candy

The Areva Blog reviews the Department of Energy's online tool for calculating the average amount of
energy you consume each year.  in energy-equivalent terms of coal, dynamite, and burritos (yes, burritos). Turns out the average American burns up the annual energy equivalent of 15,370 pounds of coal (7.7 tons). But the DOE tool lacks a crucial alternative comparison: eight gummy-bear-size pieces of nuclear fuel would reliably power every hour of your life for a year – without climate impact emissions.

Vermont Yankee Powers Down While Vermont Protestors Flock Down to New York City to Protest Climate Change

In this post, Yes Vermont Yankee considers the irony of Vermont protestors driving to New York City to protest climate change. They were carrying banners about "saying no to nuclear energy." The post also contains links to life-cycle studies of nuclear and renewable carbon footprints.

Nuclear power and the U.N. Green Climate Fund

Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues  looks at what will actually reduce carbon. Back in 2008, if you were a major financial investor, the smart thing to do was to put your money into credit default swaps. If  you were a small investor and connected to the right people, the smart place to put your money was into one of Bernie Madoff’s funds. And today, if you want to cut carbon without killing your economy, the smart thing to do is to go gangbusters into wind and solar. Aplin suggest ignoring the smart green energy consensus reflected in reportage on the U.N. Climate Summit in New York. Instead, notice what technologies will actually reduce carbon.

Deer Leap Falls, Poconos
Not a hydro site, so far
Why I support nuclear energy

At the new blog for Environmentalist for Nuclear Canada, Robert Rock describes cost and safety as two important reasons to support nuclear energy.  Other blog posts at this new blog include subjects such as The basics of climate change.

Indeed, though nuclear does protect the climate and the environment, it is also a very valuable industry.  Using the Rock post as a bridge, let's look at the nuclear industry as, you know, an industry.

The Nuclear Industry as an Industry: New Builds and More

South Africa inks 9.6 Gwe $50B reactor deal with Russia

Dan Yurman at Neutron Bytes reports on the Rosatom deal to build several (up to eight) nuclear reactors in South Africa. This deal has been on-again and off-again, and it mirrors the tender South Africa released in 2007 and then cancelled. But this time is different.  This time Eskom, the state-owned electric utility, isn’t in the picture.

Seven Decades Past, A New Dawn

At ANS Nuclear Cafe, Will Davis starts by looking back at the early days, when nuclear was part of the Manhattan Project. Seventy years ago, the first full scale nuclear reactor started up at Hanford, Washington, and the world hasn't been the same since.  See rare photos of the project to build it, and learn the history of the first working reactor.

The Nuclear Weapons States: Who Has Them And How Many

As long as we are talking about the Manhattan Project, let's look at whether nuclear energy leads to nuclear weapons? The answer is no. Nuclear energy does not lead to nuclear weapons. James Conca at Forbes explains that there are nine nuclear weapons states with about 10,000 weapons. These weapons were all made from nuclear weapons programs, not commercial nuclear energy programs. There are two paths to the bomb. Iran tried one but will not succeed. North Korea took the other and succeeded. 

Consensus standards in industry
World's smallest reference material
Developed by NIST

In this post, Robert Hayes describes important standards in industry. These range from manufacturing
specifications to testing and procurement requirements. He describes the important role of NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) and professional organizations (ASME, for example) in setting these standards.

A Plea to Tepco and Tokyo – Just Do It!

At Hiroshima Syndrome, Les Corrice considers the best possible way to reduce the wastewater problem at F. Daiichi? Tepco and Tokyo should start dumping the stored waters already run through ALPS as soon as the local fishermen and the public have been fully informed. Wait a minute…they already have! Damn the radiophobic fears and unfounded rumors…JUST DO IT!

Electricity Prices Soar in New England. And Soon in Vermont.

Yes Vermont Yankee reports that electric prices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire are jumping by 35-50%, partially due to the retirement of Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and Salem Harbor coal plant. The state of Vermont will not be immune from this trend.

Passive Safety: Staying on Track

In this article at Nuclear Engineering International, Joseph Somsel takes a somewhat critical look at passive safety design concepts based on a case study of Casey Jones' famous accident. The successful deployment of a passive safety system was a major cause of the accident.

Somsel notes that basic problem for our industry is that making a nuclear power plant ten times safer won't make a single additional sale.  Making electricity from a nuclear reactor half the cost will sell many of them.

This look into the future (and into the railroad past) leads to the last part of our blog carnival.  What's new!

New Types of Reactors

Integrated Molten Salt Reactor should demonstrate the lowest lifetime cost of energy of any known technology

Canada's Terrestrial Energy Corporation is a leader in molten salt reactors. Nextbigfuture believes they have a good chance at creating an energy revolution because of their low cost and low development risk design. Their main advantage is the Canadian oilsands. Hundreds of IMSR reactor can be used to generate steam for oil recovery.

Cost is important. Low cost and accessible energy supply is linked to living standards and quality of life.

Molten Salt Reactor Projects in the U.K.

Molten Salt, laboratory scale
A feasibility study for a next-gen Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) has won funding from the Technology Strategy Board, the UK government’s strategic innovation agency. The bid was led by the indefatigable Jasper Tomlinson and Professor Trevor Griffiths. In a first for the UK, the project will produce a rigorous desk- and computer-based study of the feasibility of a pilot-scale MSR, based on the latest science.

Ian Scott has recently founded a UK based molten salt reactor development start-up, Moltex Energy LLP.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Electricity Prices Soar in New England. And Soon in Vermont.

 Neighboring States

Yesterday and today, two New England electricity distribution companies announced the rate increases that they require for winter.  Vermont can expect similar price rises.  Let's start with the neighboring states.

Massachusetts 37%: National Grid says that its customers in western Massachusetts can expect a 37% rate hike on November first, due to the retirement of Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and Salem coal plants. Other factors were also cited, including the fact that there are no new gas pipelines, expensive replacement fuels are used in winter, and natural gas prices are rising.  The higher electricity prices in Massachusetts will be in effect until April.  The video clip about the price rise finishes with a recommendation: people should think about replacing their older energy-hog refrigerators with a newer model.

New Hampshire 50%: Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, a small utility expects to double the "energy charge" portion of customer's bills in November.  The company, Liberty Utilities, explains that this will lead to an increase of about 50% in the customer's bills. A spokesman for Liberty Utilities explains that when demand for natural gas exceeds the supply, electric generators must use more expensive fuels to generate electricity, therefore driving up prices for the whole electricity market. This utility is located very close to my home in Vermont.

Is Vermont Different?  Well, no.

The latest we heard, the major Vermont utility, Gaz Metro (aka Green Mountain Power) was lowering rates by 2.5%, largely due to revenue sharing from Vermont Yankee.   Maybe we're good, here in Vermont? Too bad about the other states, but we're good?

Vermont: Yeah, we have grid power.  Nope.  Not really.  We're not good. None of our major utilities agreed to buy power from Vermont Yankee after the 2012 end of the plant's NRC license. Instead of buying Vermont Yankee power, they basically bought grid power. They bought one million megawatt-hours more grid power per year than they had purchased when they had contracts with Vermont Yankee.  Guy Page of Vermont Energy Partnership wrote Vermont Electricity At A Glance in March 2013, showing how much grid power Vermont utilities now purchase.

The Vermont Yankee license was renewed for another 20 years, but still, our utilities shunned  the plant.  They buy a lot of grid power, and  they are partially vulnerable to the same wholesale electricity market prices that affect the utilities in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Vermont: Yeah, we have Hydro Quebec Power. Partially vulnerable?  Did I say partially vulnerable? I meant mostly vulnerable!

Spillway in Hydro Quebec system
The jewel-in-the-crown of Vermont power purchases are the utility contracts with Hydro-Quebec.  See, it's not all grid power in this state.

But...those contracts don't matter.  As I wrote in two posts in 2010 (March 2010 and   December 2010) Vermont contracts with Hydro Quebec are market-follow contracts.  If the grid price goes up, the rate that Hydro Quebec charges Vermont also goes up. As I wrote in the December post, A Bad Deal with Hydro-Quebec,  these contracts will NOT protect us against major rises in grid prices.  The contracts have a little price-smoothing. Prices will not bounce around with the daily market changes. But those 35-50% price rises in other states aren't because of the volatility of the grid prices.  The price rises in other states are because of the total electricity cost raises on the grid.

I expect a similar price rise for Vermont.

Watch for it.

I suspect, however, that Green Mountain Power will probably not announce the price rise until after the election in November.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Members of the Decommissioning Advisory Panel: Guest Post by Guy Page

Introducing the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel
 Guest post by Guy Page of Vermont Energy Partnership

The newly appointed, 19-member Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (CAP) reflects many of the policy and advocacy positions on all sides of the ongoing Vermont Yankee discussion. CAP’s first meeting is this Thursday, September 25, from 6:00-9:00 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of Brattleboro Union High School. All meetings are open to the public.

The CAP will serve a similar role in decommissioning Vermont Yankee that the disbanded Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP) served for the operational plant: providing a question and comment forum for members and the concerned public. However, the new panel, unlike VSNAP, includes two seats reserved for Entergy, owner of Vermont Yankee.

Kate O’Connor and Martin Langeveld were appointed by Gov. Peter Shumlin. Ms. O’Connor is a longtime Democratic operative, having mainly worked for governors Madeleine Kunin, Howard Dean, and Peter Shumlin. Most recently she lost the August, 2014 Democratic primary for the Brattleboro House seat. Mr. Langeveld is a Vernon planning commissioner and former Brattleboro Reformer publisher who has expressed, at local post-closure hearings, a strong interest in leveraging the closing of Vermont Yankee for the economic benefit of the local economy.

Senate Pro Tem John Campbell appointed Jim Matteau. During his tenure on VSNAP, Mr. Matteau often took an aggressive posture against Vermont Yankee. Campbell also appointed James Tonkovich of Wilder, Windham County. He is an employee of Vermont 2-1-1, a United Way of Vermont program that helps people in emergencies find the assistance they need. In this capacity, Tonkovich has participated in mock emergency drills at Vermont Yankee.

Speaker of the House Shap Smith appointed Rep. David Deen (D-Westminster), chair of the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee, and River Steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council, an environmental advocacy group that is a frequent critic and legal challenger of the plant’s use of river water for cooling. Mr. Smith also appointed Derrick Jordan of Putney, a past member of the Citizens Awareness Network.

Besides Matteau, appointments from VSNAP include Chair Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange), and Mike Hebert (R-Vernon). Labor representative, Vermont Yankee employee, and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers official David Andrews has been a strong Vermont Yankee supporter.

Representing Entergy Nuclear on the panel are T. Michael Twomey, vice president of external affairs of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, and site vice-president Christopher Wamser. Other panelists include Human Services representative designee William Irwin, state officials David Mears and Pat Moulton, and Windham Regional Commission executive director Chris Campany. Planning Commissioner Stephen Skibniowski will represent the Town of Vernon.

State Sen. Molly Kelly of Keene, N.H., will represent five nearby New Hampshire towns. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has yet to name a panel member.


Guy Page of VTEP has frequent guest posts on this blog.  His most recent post was Reasons the Public Service Board Should Approve the CPG for Vermont Yankee.

I also have a recent post on the topic of the panel membership, Decommissioning Panel Appointments: Good, Bad and Ugly  However, I did not describe the complete membership of the panel.  Page's post is a valuable reference for understanding the panel.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Decommissioning Panel and the Three Conspiracies

Not a Conspiracy

Okay, I have to start by saying there are no real conspiracies about the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel.  But still...

Sometimes, you know, you just gotta laugh.

The First Conspiracy: Two Meetings Scheduled!

The first meeting of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (VNDCAP) will be held at Brattleboro High School on Thursday, September 25, from 6 to 9 p.m.  One panel member is New Hampshire State Senator Molly Kelly, who represents the New Hampshire towns closest to the plant.

At the very same time as the VNDCAP meeting, a different meeting was planned in New Hampshire, on the same subject. As described in the Reformer, the New Hampshire meeting would involve New Hampshire officials and representatives from New Hampshire Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

And here comes the first conspiracy theory. Green Mountain Daily is a website that is steadily against Vermont Yankee. One of their writers, Sue Prent, describes herself as "associated with Fairewinds Energy Education." (Fairewinds is Maggie and Arnie Gundersen's company.)  In her article There's a meetin' tonight: there's a meetin' tonight, Prent writes about the overlap in meetings. She notes that the conflicting meetings "would be a shrewd way to ensure that the well-organized effort that opposed Vermont Yankee's continued operation would not have a full-strength presence in public discussions of decommissioning issues."

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our first conspiracy. Well, at least we have our first conspiracy theory.

Second Conspiracy: Only One Meeting

Howard Shaffer had hoped to be the New Hampshire representative to VNDCAP.  When Senator Molly Kelly was appointed to that position, he offered to help her. Shaffer realized, looking at the two meetings, that Senator Kelly could not be in two places at the same time.  He alerted people in New Hampshire about the situation. Perhaps due to his efforts, the New Hampshire meeting was postponed.

Shaffer then commented on the Green Mountain Daily post, noting that people might look for human error before looking for conspiracies.  Ms. Prent quickly wrote two snarky replies. Shaffer answered her as follows: Now that the Hinsdale meeting has been cancelled, where is the conspiracy?  I know!  Get the antis all together in one place so they can be identified! (There's always a conspiracy somewhere!!)

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our second conspiracy theory.  This one is tongue-in-cheek, however.

Third Conspiracy: Exclusion by Religion?

Shaffer is planning to go to the meeting in Brattleboro.  I will not go.  The meeting is on Rosh Hashanah, one of the Jewish High Holidays.  This is clearly a third conspiracy, to exclude people like me!

The above sentence is a joke. I am sure the meeting date is not a conspiracy.  It is clear from everything written above that these meeting planners are a gang that can't shoot straight.  They probably would not have noticed if they had scheduled the meeting on Easter.

A Good and Sweet New Year

I wish all my readers and all my friends--- a good and sweet New Year.

Rosh Hashanah foods and Shofar


End Note: Background about the Advisory Panel Meeting

The first meeting of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (VNDCAP) will be held at Brattleboro High School on Thursday, September 25, from 6 to 9 p.m. There are nineteen members of the panel, including many plant opponents. Entergy and the plant union (IBEW) also have members on the panel.  One panel member is New Hampshire State Senator Molly Kelly, who represents the New Hampshire towns closest to the plant. You can read the list of panel members in the Brattleboro Reformer article Yankee Decomm Panel to Meet Sept 25, and you can read my opinion of the panel at my post about the panel appointments: Good, Bad and Ugly.  Howard Shaffer wrote about the panel at ANS Nuclear Cafe: The Latest Sop to Nuclear Opponents.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Vermont Yankee Powers Down While Vermont Protestors Flock Down to New York City to Protest Climate Change

Empire State Building
In New York City

In the Brattleboro Commons, the article about the Climate March in New York is titled The last opportunity to keep the climate cool?  According to that article, 1400 Vermonters are headed to New York  for the march. They are traveling in fifteen buses (some sponsored by Ben and Jerry's) and many cars. The marchers hope to convince our leaders to do-something about the climate.

(Note: Ben and Jerry's is a major opponent of Vermont Yankee, although the company needs prodigious amounts of power to make and distribute their product.  See my post on the Ironies of Ice Cream. )

In Vermont

Meanwhile, back in Vermont, Vermont Yankee is powering down for the last time.  As this article in WWLP writes in a headline: Vermont Yankee provided about 70% of the electricity generated in Vermont.  Replacement power is sure to come from fossil sources, though ISO-NE lists "alternatives, hydro and fossil replacement."  Local businesses are already hurting, as some  Vermont Yankee employees begin to move away.

Hypocrisy Rides Again

Poster from EcoWatch
Most of these marchers are in organizations that were eager to shut down nuclear energy. Let's  think about two leaders of the march:  Harvey Wasserman and Bill McKibben.

You can see the Wasserman  poster at the right. His group has a rallying cry: "Don't Nuke the Climate!" (I have updated the poster with the much-better parody poster, below!)

McKibben and I had quite an exchange at this blog post: Carbon Dioxide and Nuclear Energy.  (Check the comments section.) McKibben founded an organization against global warming, but he has been steadily opposed to Vermont Yankee's operation.

Thank you to Urs Bolt for this image
So, why do I call it hypocrisy? Maybe they really think that nuclear energy "nukes" the climate?  If they do, they simply have refused to look into the facts. Willful ignorance is a form of hypocrisy, in my opinion.

A few facts, please

First: The UN. With a few moments worth of investigation, the anti-nuke "Climate Worriers" could find out that nuclear power creates far less greenhouse gases than almost all other forms of energy.  If you look at the Wikipedia article on life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, you will see that the UN agency IPCC studied life-cycle emissions from many forms of energy.

According to IPCC:

  • nuclear averaged 12 gCO2/kWh, 
  • rooftop solar was 41 grams.
  • combined cycle natural gas was 490 grams.  

Note that the IPCC is the agency that also tracks atmospheric carbon dioxide and warns us about global warming.

And yet, some people can claim the IPCC is truthful  about global warming  but dedicated liars about nuclear energy.  Well, whatever! The movie Pandora's Promise has a really good bit about this.  Comic relief! Watch the movie!

Next: Vermont Law School. But meanwhile, if people think they can't trust the IPCC, maybe they can trust Benjamin Sovacool, a leader at Vermont Law School and a dedicated foe of all nuclear energy? (Really, he's written anti-nuclear books). And Sovacool also did a life-cycle carbon dioxide footprint for various sorts of energy. I have no doubt that he did his level best to make nuclear look bad.

Sovacool's numbers are in the Wikipedia article. Sovacool calculated these life-cycle numbers:

  • solar PV at 33 g CO2/kWh
  • nuclear at 66 grams ("various reactor types") 
  • natural gas combined cycle at 443 grams.  

Well, I guess Sovacool kind of bashed nuclear, huh?  But this doesn't  exactly show "Nuking the Climate," does it? I am sure he tried, though, gotta give him credit for trying...

It Really Rides. Hypocrisy Rides Again

According to the Vermont Agency for Natural Resources, as of a few years ago, 46% of Vermont's greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation, and 4% came from electricity generation. ( See page 22 of this pdf from the Agency.)

So what's with all these people getting into gasoline-fired vehicles and heading on down to New York City?  Aren't they GASSING the climate! Of course they are.

They are riding the climate to death!

And I suspect they feel very virtuous about it, too.

End note: Someone asked me  about the carbon dioxide footprint of this march. I don't know, but I welcome comments that would try to calculate it.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Electricity Rates Decrease, Thanks to Vermont Yankee: Harold Bailey Guest Post

The Electricity Rate Decrease Shows the Ongoing Value of Vermont Yankee
Guest post by Harold L. Bailey

Vermonters  do not often receive good news about energy costs, so the 2.46 percent decrease in Green Mountain Power rates scheduled to begin Oct. 1 is a welcome relief. The savings largely come from Vermont Yankee’s $17.8 million "revenue sharing" payment, the outcome of a deal struck with the State of Vermont several years ago.

This huge payout tells me two things: first, Vermont Yankee has once again proven itself to be a stellar corporate citizen that keeps its commitments. Second, Vermont stands to benefit from still more payments by Vermont Yankee - notably millions in cash for economic development. In addition to the $2 million of economic development funds already allocated for 2014, Vermont Yankee is scheduled to provide $2 million each year for 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. These payments are contingent upon Entergy and the state both fulfilling in good faith the conditions of the Master Settlement Agreement governing the closing of the plant.

In particular, Vermont Yankee will need a state Certificate of Public Good to store more spent fuel in dry casks. Let's hope our state officials appreciate the benefits, to everyone, of a smooth decommissioning of Vermont Yankee.

Harold L. Bailey was the representative for Hyde Park and Wolcott in the Vermont Legislature in 2002-2004. He lives in Hyde Park, Vermont.  In the past week, this letter-to-the-editor has been printed in several newspapers in Vermont.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Decommissioning Panel and Appointments: Good, Bad and Ugly

Appointments Thick and Fast

With Vermont Yankee shutdown coming soon, the state government is getting busy appointing people to advise about, supervise, and generally harass the decommissioning project.  Okay, okay, maybe that's too strong a way to describe it.  Instead, perhaps I can just borrow the headline from a recent article in the Greenfield, MA, Recorder. Anti-nukers on Vt. Yankee Advisory Panel. 

Well, that was a short blog post.  I guess I can quit now...

No, wait!  I still have things to talk about.  There are good things, there are bad things, and there are...ugly things.

Smiley from Wikipedia
The Good

The New Panel: The old Vermont Nuclear Safety Advisory Panel (VSNAP) is being replaced by the newly-mandated  Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel.  Howard Shaffer describes the new panel in his blog post at ANS Nuclear Cafe: The Latest Sop to Nuclear Opponents.

(Gosh, the titles of the links aren't getting any better, are they?)

In his post, Shaffer notes that the old panel was pretty much a straight Vermont-Yankee-bashing experience.  The new panel may be better. The panel is larger, and includes representatives from Entergy and from the Vermont Yankee union (IBEW). Also, there will be representatives from neighboring states. Hopefully, the presence of these panel members will keep the panel from being a complete anti-nuclear attack-dog,  the way VSNAP was in the past.   As Shaffer describes it in his post, in the days of the VSNAP panel: The plant was in the position of being a witness to be cross-examined. There was no appeal to the panel’s findings. The meetings were covered in detail by the regional press. The panel, in effect, became a vehicle for anti-nuclear publicity.

With an expanded membership, hopefully the new decommissioning panel will be more than a kangaroo court.

The New Engineer: Vermont has always had a state nuclear engineer to advise the legislator.  In my opinion, Vermont didn't always pick the most qualified person, but that is just my opinion.  To my surprise, the newly-appointed state nuclear engineer is actually a qualified nuclear engineer. Oops, I forgot. The "nuclear engineer" job title has been changed to "decommissioning coordinator."

In the Rutland Herald (reprinted in The Recorder), Susan Smallheer reports about the new hire: Get to know Vt's decommissioning coordinator.  Anthony Leshinskie is a nuclear engineer, who used to work at Palo Verde.  In the article, Leshinskie is quoted as saying that Vermont Yankee appears to be a well-run plant, and he does not see the work force as demoralized. He notes that Entergy is not scrimping on continuous training (which makes the workers more attractive to new employers). Leshinskie said he was concerned that his role would be "anti-nuclear" but is now reassured that his job is technical, not political.

Ray Shadis, a long-time nuclear opponent, doesn't seem completely happy with this appointment. A quote from the Smallheer article:  What Vermont or any ‘reactor-occupied community’ does not need is a bureaucratic pussycat,” said Shadis. (Shadis did not actually accuse Leshinskie of being a pussy-cat, but Shadis is obviously worried about something here.) Shadis emphasized that he believes that  a state nuclear engineer should be a critic.

from Wikipedia
The Bad

Governor Shumlin, the President Pro Tem of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House appointed the six citizen panelists, all of whom are serving three or four-year terms. Vermont Business Magazine names the panelists in the article Shumlin, Campbell, Smith announce appointments to the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel. As far as I can tell, a major qualification for these appointments was that the panelist was opposed to Vermont Yankee.

One of the panelists is David Deen, a legislator with a long history of opposing Vermont Yankee. He claims that the plant overheats the Connecticut River. In this article Deen describes Vermont Yankee as operating under a "zombie" water permit. He claims it has a fifty-five mile thermal plume that extends way downstream, keeping its thermal integrity of heating the river...all the way past the Vernon dam.

A second panelist, Derrik Jordan, is described as "a musician and social activist" by the Speaker of the House, who appointed him.

I don't know everyone on the panel, but I fear that the ones I don't know are probably of the same opinions as the ones I do know. For today, however, enough is enough.

The Ugly

Gargoyle, Wikipedia
Back in the days when the chairman of VSNAP was appointed by  Governor Jim Douglas, a Republican, the VSNAP meetings were a complete zoo.

At one meeting, people came in costume. A costumed man and woman pretended to have sex while pro-nuclear people were speaking, distracting the crowd.  At other meetings, members of the panel paced around and shouted "I am tired of being lied to!" They shouted down  the chairman, who was attempting to keep the panel moving by Robert's Rules of Order.  In another case, a panel member physically wrestled the microphone away from the chairman.

I was pretty naive then, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  But I saw it.

The meetings calmed down when the chairman of VSNAP was appointed by Governor Shumlin. There was no longer a reason to intimidate him or her. When the chairman was appointed by Shumlin, it meant that the agenda could be followed, with minimum interruptions.

My fear of the ugly. Now we have Entergy members and union members on the panel. That could be great or not-great. Great: maybe the new members can contribute.  Not-great: once again, the panel includes people worth intimidating

Will the bad old days come again?  I hope not, but I fear that they may.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Another Name for Methane: The Microgrid for Vermont

Sudden Press about the "Microgrid"

Natural gas
In the past two days, articles about NRG and the supposed New Generation have been coming thick and fast.

At the national level, NRG and HuffPo are starting a joint venture called Generation Change: Together We Will Be Heard. This forum is going to have "realer than real" dialog about energy, including the new "solar power that has evolved from large roof top panels limited to industrial buildings to ones that are compact, portable and charge our phones, cameras and tablets."

Okay, yeah, confusing.

At the Vermont local level, there's a joint venture between NRG and the Gaz Metro's wholly-owned subsidiary, Green Mountain Power (GMP).  As Vermont Digger reported:  GMP Teams With National Energy Company to Build Microgrids.

The story is clearer locally, but the story is not fun.

The NRG CEO takes a stand for Natural Gas

The Vermont Digger story quotes NRG CEO David Crane about these planned microgrids.  He says that  "the best form of energy storage is natural gas. "

Huh huh huh? Now methane is energy storage?

Traditional not-smart solar
Let me explain this, by referencing to the comment stream on this article (which is terrific). In the comments, people in favor of microgrids and people against microgrids all ask the same question:  Exactly HOW does natural gas come into this?

Finally, one comment link explains it. The link is to this article, with more extensive quotes from the NRG CEO. NRG Energy Deploying Dean Kamen’s Solar-Smart In-Home Generator.

Note the clever title "Solar Smart Generator." Solar and smart!  How wonderful.

55KW Stirling Generator
Smart Solar?
If you continue to read, however, you find that Solar-Smart is a Stirling engine running on natural gas. It is sized for the home. And somehow, it's all about Hurricane Sandy.

I gather that NRG's goal is for every home to have its own Stirling engine and a natural gas connection.  The end-quote on the Solar-Smart article is from NRG CEO David Crane:  “The solar industry belongs with the natural gas industry -- those industries go together. They just don’t know it yet.”

 Side Note: It's a large company, but not everyone has heard of NRGWikipedia describes their business areas as including co-generation, renewable energy, and renewables. The company owns many fossil-fired plants, some wind farms, and part of a nuclear plant.  The core company was part of Houston Lighting and Power. It has expanded by many acquisitions.

The GMP CEO takes a stand against electricity distribution

Now, back to Vermont.  In the Vermont Digger article, we see that the CEO of GMP is in line with this "your very own Stirling engine" idea. (I guess that is why she's teaming up with NRG on microgrids.)  In the article, GMP CEO Mary Power  described the current energy infrastructure as “archaic” and made up of “twigs and twine” that will cost the nation tens of billions of dollars over the next decade.

The CEO of Green Mountain Power Seems pretty cavalier about the current grid. Doesn't sound eager to maintain that old "twigs and twine" system.   This is even though she heads a DISTRIBUTION utility, for heaven's sake!   What is she doing saying stuff like this? Does she want to see the archaic grid disappear, along with GMP and her job?

GMP may lose, but Gaz Metro will win

Of course not. In my opinion, CEO Mary Powell's  job is safe.  After all, she works for Gaz Metro.  GMP is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gaz Metro. We Vermonters forget that at our peril.

Even if Powell doesn't bother much about the grid in Vermont, her parent company can do very well. Gaz Metro can hope to put in lots of gas pipelines for those microgrid Stirling engines.

Vermonters may lose, but the state government will win

"Twigs and Twine"
Wonder what GMP linemen
think of Ms. Powell's statement?
A wonderful thing about natural gas is you can raise the taxes almost infinitely.  Vermont put tax after tax on Vermont Yankee, and Vermont Yankee decided to close down. Vermont slapped a $12 million generation tax on Vermont Yankee. Meanwhile, through its revenue sharing agreement,  the plant was already on the hook for $18 million in revenue sharing with the local utilities.

Sending the state and utilities a total of $30 million dollars in a year is a lot for a small plant. As an oversimplification, taxing Vermont Yankee to that extent made its profits lower and its power less competitive.  This was one of the reasons it closed, in my opinion.

Raising Taxes for the State

With gas pipelines, raising taxes is just so easy.  You can force a gas pipeline to pay, say, $30 million a year in taxes...no problem. The pipeline will just go to the PSB and ask for a rate increase.  People won't stop buying the product (natural gas) just because the price went up. For heating your home, home, fuel oil and propane will probably still be more expensive than natural gas.  Also, once you use  natural gas, there may well be a cost to retrofitting your home furnace for another fuel.

What about the electric utilities? Aren't they price sensitive? Well, no.  Merchant plants sell into a market and they are price sensitive.  But the distribution utilities are regulated, and they get more money by the simple expedient of asking for it.  Let's face it.  New coal or nuclear aren't in the cards. Renewables, though subsidized, aren't cheap either.

Basically, as long as gas remains cheaper than oil, the sky will be the limit on how much distribution utilities will be willing to pay for gas-fired electricity. Even if gas is highly taxed and expensive, the distribution utilities will buy it. After all, the distribution utilities can't go broke, as long as they can go to the PSB, explain the situation, and get a rate increase.

The Winners and The Losers

So, with this great leap forward of a mutual aid pact between Gaz Metro and NRG, who are the winners and the losers?

  • Gaz Metro (sells more gas)
  • GMP (sells more gas, after all, it is Gaz Metro)
  • State administration. The state can tax the pipelines as much as they want to tax them, and the consumers will pay.
  • Vermont consumers who want reliable power. They want someone to keep repairing those sticks and that twine.
  • Vermont consumers who want affordable power. The mixture of high-priced gas, stealth gas taxes and few merchant plants will mean "bye-bye to affordable."
  • Any sincere environmentalist who is living painfully off the grid with solar panels, a wood stove, a bunch of batteries, and a vegetable garden. This person just didn't know how easy it is to be green with natural gas, the new storage. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Welcome to New Blogs

I was about to label this post: Welcome to new bloggers!  Then I decided that Welcome to New Blogs was a better choice of title.

Yurman's twitter icon
Dan Yurman

You see, the first blogger I want to welcome is Dan Yurman. He's not new to blogging. Indeed, he is a towering figure as a pro-nuclear blogger! (And he's tall, too.)

Dan's Idaho Samizdat was the first pro-nuclear blog I ever heard about.  Dan Yurman and Rod Adams were the first to welcome my own blog when it started on New Years Day, 2010.

So I can't say "New Bloggers" to Dan.  However, I can say: Welcome Back, Dan Yurman! We have missed you! 

Here's a link to his new blog: Neutron Bytes. And here's a link to his Welcome Post about how his new blog will be structured.

Ed Kee

Edward Kee
Photo Courtesy of Nuclear Energy Institute
Ed Kee is a new blogger, but he is not new to the nuclear industry.

With degrees from the Naval Academy and Harvard, Kee has been a consultant in energy economics for two decades.  Here's a link to his biography.  Most recently, Kee was vice president at NERA Economic Consulting.

He has recently started his own company, which gives him the freedom to blog. His blog is the Commentary section at his website for Nuclear Economics Consulting Group (his new company).   Welcome to Kee and his knowledge of economics! The nuclear blogosphere needed someone with Kee's expertise.

Nuclear Economics blog
His first post: Nuclear Power Plants: Long-Term Assets in a Short-Term World.

Two More Blogs: Actinide Age and Power for the USA

Rod Adams Atomic Insights blog introduced me to these two blogs. If you search Atomic Insights for "Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy," you will find Rod's introduction to these two blogs, as well as introductions to the Yurman and Kee blogs.

Actinide Age has been published since late last year (yeah, I''m slow).  It's an Australian pro-nuclear blog, also pro-renewable. One post shows the solar panels at the blogger's home. (This Is the Life.) He wonders whether he would use such panels if Australia were powered by low-emission nuclear energy. The blog is well-written, well illustrated, and most important, well-reasoned. The blog motto:  Inexhaustible clean energy is optional. Choose wisely.

Power for the USA is one feisty blog.  I can't think that I have a single reader who will agree with everything in this blog! But readers will agree with many aspects, and the blogger is certainly knowledgeable.  Rod Adams's introduction to the blog gathered almost thirty comments, and a discussion/dispute between the blog owner, Donn Dears, and Rod Adams.

Donn is a retired executive with GE.  He is in favor of nuclear energy and gas turbines. He is against exaggerated fear of both radiation and global warming.  Whether you agree with all the posts or not, you have to admire a blog with posts such as Our Navy Should Go Nuclear, Not Green.

New Blogs

We have a wonderful new set of pro-nuclear blogs with so many different slants on the issues!


Monday, September 1, 2014

A Year Ago: The Announcement Considered

Fountain of Time Sculpture, Chicago
Photo from Wikipedia
Looking Backward

On August 27, 2013, Entergy announced that Vermont Yankee would close at the end of its 2014 fuel cycle, basically, at the end of this year.

Two days after the announcement, I wrote a blog post Questions I Frequently Ask Myself about Vermont Yankee Closure.  A few months later, in January, Entergy announced who would be laid off after fuel was offloaded (early 2015) and who would remain on for perhaps another year of decommissioning.  I wrote a blog post about that, also: Paint It Black.

Time Stays, We Go

A large, beautiful and depressing sculpture stands near the University of Chicago: The Fountain Of Time,  by Lorado Taft.  A hundred people pass before Father Time, who stands unmoved by the procession.   The sculpture is based on a poem with the repeated lines:

Time goes, you say?- ah no! 
Alas, Time stays,- we go!

With that in mind, exactly what has gone on during this year?

Agreements Happened

After a fair number of insults being levied at Entergy,  Entergy and state agencies reached an agreement that if Entergy paid certain amounts of money (about $40 million) and said they would move fuel into dry casks expeditiously and so forth...the state would stand WITH Entergy before the Public Service Board. The state would ask the Board to give Entergy a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) to operate through the end of this year.

And so, with millions of dollars riding on the signatures,  Entergy and the state agencies signed the agreement in December 2013. With this agreement, the state would argue FOR Entergy in front of the Public Service Board.

However, the agreement would be null and void if the Public Service Board didn't adopt it by late March.  And so March came, and the Public Service Board issued the CPG through the end of the year, The Board also made several snarky and unnecessary statements, claiming that if Entergy had wanted a 20-year CPG, it  probably would not have received one.

(By the way, agreements happened but love didn't.   People at the plant told me that Governor Shumlin has never visited the plant after the closing was announced. He never even visited Vernon.)

Money Happened

Entergy tax money happened: Entergy delivered its various taxes, Clean Energy Development fund money, and so forth right on  the schedule from the agreement.  The majority of the money went to state agencies, but $2 million dollars (for this year) was earmarked for economic development of Windham County. I really need to write a blog post about that $2 million.  The agency in charge of the funds has noted that guidelines have been released (as of August 1) but there is still confusion about the process for awarding the grants and loans.

Furthermore, some people say that there aren't enough really good proposals for the money.  Other people say: "Yeah, what did you expect? There's been all types of incentive programs for this area of Vermont for a long time...if there were good ideas, we probably would have heard them already."

When I write a blog post about this, it's going to be a long one!

Entergy Profits and Revenue Sharing happened:  Over $17 million dollars.  That's the check that Entergy wrote to Vermont utilities as "revenue sharing" according to the agreement under which it purchased the plant in 2002.  My April blog post on this: Green Mountain Power Receives $17 Million in Revenue sharing

Well, that was April and this is September.  Green Mountain Power (Gaz Metro) had the money, but it had to have a rate case before Public Service Board before it could do anything with the money. So it has had its rate hearing. Gaz Metro will be lowering people's electric bills with the money.  But not all at once, for Pete's sake. That would be terrible!  If electric bills were lowered for only one year and then popped up again, they would have to admit that the reason for the decrease was Vermont Yankee money! So Gaz Metro isn't  going to do that.

Electric bills will be lowered for about three years, just a little bit each year.  This will keep people from noticing (probably) the effect on their pocketbooks from Vermont Yankee's closing.  Some of the recent newspaper stories mention the Entergy money, some just trumpet the rate decrease, without mentioning Entergy.

Looking Forward

I have a number of friends at the plant, and to me, the real news is that they are announcing their new gigs on Facebook.  They are going to other Entergy plants ("See you there soon!" they write each other.)  They are going to non-Entergy plants ("It's going to be a great change, we LOVE the area!" they write each other.)

Vermont will stagger forward, with local non-profits fighting over the Entergy money.  Most young Vermont Yankee workers are moving on.

Forward is the future.  Vermont is the past.