Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Vermont and Climate Warming: Guest Post by Rob Roper

Camel's Hump
Time to Take Climate Change Debate to the Next Level

It is safe to say that all or at least most of us believe that Vermont is a very special place, and we all want to do what’s necessary to preserve and pass on this unique treasure that both draws and keeps us here – majestic mountains, pristine waters, and wild, open spaces. The question is, what is the best policy for doing so.

On April 14, the state Senate passed a resolution declaring:

That the Senate of the State of Vermont recognizes that climate change is real, that human activities make a substantive contribution to climate change, and that it is imperative Vermont take steps now to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels in order to promote energy independence and meet the State’s statutory goals for reduced greenhouse gas emissions. …

These statutory goals mean putting Vermont on a path toward getting 90 percent of our energy, including that for home heating and transportation, from renewable, preferably local sources by 2050. This sounds all well and good until one considers the cost, and we’re not talking about money. The policy of generating so much electricity from wind and solar plants will require developing thousands of acres of Vermont’s pristine landscape for industrial energy production. This will have profoundly negative effects on both the aesthetics and the ecology of the Green Mountain State.

It’s time to bring the climate change debate beyond whether or not the phenomenon exists (the useless quibbling between “deniers” and “alarmists”), and to start seriously discussing in concrete, realistic terms the costs and benefits of specific proposed policies. In other words, if we embark on transitioning to a largely renewable, locally produced energy portfolio, what will the net impact be on our ecosystem both in the short and long term.

Let’s assume for the moment that the most dire climate change predictions are true: human activity is a big factor, and temperatures could rise as much as 4 degrees by the end of the century.

It’s time to bring the climate change debate beyond whether or not the phenomenon exists (the useless quibbling between “deniers” and “alarmists”), and to start seriously discussing in concrete, realistic terms the costs and benefits of specific proposed policies.

So, if we develop all of Vermont’s usable ridge lines with industrial wind turbines, and develop thousands of acres of pasture land with industrial solar plants, will that have any impact on global climate trends either directly or indirectly? Will this effort and expense be relevant in preserving our own ski or maple sugaring industries, for example, over the next eight decades? Will it prevent the next Irene from happening? The honest answer to all these questions is no.

So, why are we doing this?

Some will argue that while Vermont’s efforts are by themselves futile, we should serve as an example to others. OK. But, then we have to ask how much of an influence would Vermont’s example have to impact global climate trends? If a couple of New England states follow us, would that make a difference? What about the East Coast? Or the entire United States? The honest answer is, even if the entire world did its best to follow Vermont, the impact by 2100 would be negligible to the point of unnoticeable. And, realistically, what are the odds China and India or even Texas are going to take a cue from Vermont any time soon?

We do know, however, that developing the kind of land intensive energy sources our current policy path calls for will negatively impact our ridgeline ecosystems through the construction of industrial wind turbines. Birds and bats will be killed, including endangered species. Thousands of acres of solar panels will disrupt animal habitats, ironically, making it harder for some species to adapt to climate change. And, of course, we will be sacrificing to a great extent the singular beauty of Vermont.

Is this really what we want to do?

A recent article in the New Yorker by environmental conservationist Jonathan Franzen, Carbon Capture: Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation, makes several interesting points on this topic, but this one sums it up neatly:

We can dam every river and blight every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines, to buy some extra years of moderated warming. Or we can settle for a shorter life of higher quality, protecting the areas where wild animals and plants are hanging on, at the cost of slightly hastening the human catastrophe.

Is it worth wiping out wildlife species, habitats, and landscapes today if the end result is an earth that is 3.9 degrees warmer a hundred years from now instead of four?

We can use our resources to make genuine progress in preserving our mountain tops, cleaning our lakes and waterways, maintaining open spaces, and saving our wildlife, or we can sacrifice all this to no real effect whatsoever. Plan A makes more sense.

This guest post is by Rob Roper, President of the Ethan Allen Institute. Meredith Angwin heads the Energy Education Project of the Institute.

This post appeared in Vermont Digger on April 26, 2015, where it has a lively comment stream.

I also recommend my Earth Day post at the Northwest Clean Energy blog, which addresses similar concerns.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Why Entergy Needs To Sue The Federal Government About Spent Fuel Storage: Guest Post by Guy Page

I attended the April 14 Vermont Yankee decommissioning meeting in Greenfield. As a longtime student of New England energy policy in general and Vermont Yankee in particular, perhaps I can add some historical background to your April 15 article, "Entergy: we'll sue the federal government to recoup the costs at Vermont Yankee," April 20, page D3.

Spent fuel from U.S. nuclear reactors must be safely stored until it is reprocessed into more fuel or until its radioactivity decays to acceptable levels (requiring hundreds of years, at the least). In 1977 U.S. President Jimmy Carter banned reprocessing. Five years later, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Act of 1982, "to provide for the development of repositories for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel," according to its introduction.

According to the Act, the federal government must provide the repository, and the nuclear power industry must pay for it. Sec. 111 (a) (4): "while the Federal Government has the responsibility to provide for the permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste and such spent nuclear fuel as may be disposed of in order to protect the public health and safety and the environment, the costs of such disposal should be the responsibility of the generators and owners of such waste and spent fuel."

Since 1982, nuclear power plants (including Vermont Yankee) have held up their end of the deal. With principal sourced solely from industry contributions, the U.S. Nuclear Waste Fund had grown to $39.8 billion, according to its September, 2014 report.

In return, the industry - along with regular citizens opposed to onsite storage, many Greenfield meeting attendees among them - has received nothing. There is no repository. True, there is a nearly-finished repository, at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, but the federal government has refused to open it. Sans repository, the federal government has done no more than permit, regulate and oversee the safe storage of spent fuel, in enclosed pools of water and in large concrete shielded, sealed steel casks, at the nation's 104 nuclear power plant sites.

No-one has pressed harder for a central repository than the nuclear power industry. Certainly no-one has more financial "skin in the game" - $40 billion being a lot of money, even in Washington, D.C. More than 30 years after the passage of the Nuclear Waste Act, Washington's promise to the industry and the American public is unfulfilled. Perhaps the possibility of the federal judiciary returning that $40 billion will prompt the executive branch to take effective action. But at the very least the federal government should use the Nuclear Waste Fund to pay the industry for the spent fuel management work it cannot or will not perform - including $150 million at Vermont Yankee alone.

But the federal government won't do that, yet. And that's why Entergy, and other nuclear power plant owners, are successfully suing Uncle Sam. He should either produce a repository, or pay up.


Guy Page
Guy Page of Vermont Energy Partnership is a frequent guest blogger on this blog.  This op-ed first appeared in MassLive on April 21, 2015  His most recent post described testimony about spent fuel storage.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Atoms Not Dams. Surprising Facts for Earth Day.

Clip Art Courtesy of Jim Scherrer
Earth Day is the day we consider how we affect the planet we live on.   Let's look at some surprising facts about just how good nuclear energy is for the earth.  Every day is Earth Day when you support nuclear energy! 

And when I say "surprising facts," I mean that I was surprised.  And I love nuclear energy!

The biggest power plants in America are nuclear

James Conca at Forbes describes the Ten Biggest Power Plants in America---Not What You Think.  They are "not what you think" because Conca looks at the power produced by these plants, rather than the nameplate size of the plants.

Yeah, yeah, we all know that nuclear has a great capacity factor.  But in terms of power-produced, did you know that the biggest plant in America is Palo Verde? It is the plant that produces the most electricity.  The Grand Coulee Dam comes in third, after Palo Verde and Brown's Ferry Nuclear Station.  As a matter of fact, seven out of ten of the "biggest" are nuclear.

Vermont Yankee made more power per year (lifetime average) than Hoover Dam

There's a comment on Conca's post by Edward Leaver.  Here's part of the comment:

Lake Mead is still the nations largest artificial reservoir…..Hoover Dam’s generation capacity is 2.1
Hoover Dam
More massive than Vermont Yankee
Less electricity per year
GWe, or was until drought-lowered water levels forced downgrade to 1.6 GW. It’s used primarily for load balancing California nuclear and regional coal; for all the mighty Colorado, Hoover’s plant factor is just 24%, and 24% of 2.1 GW is but 500 MWe…. Vermont Yankee  is was 620 MWe, 87% lifetime CF, for 537 MW average, handily beating Hoover.

Something to think about the next time someone explains how Vermont absolutely NEEDS to buy power from HydroQuebec, no matter how many Canadian rivers are impounded and how many square miles of forest are drowned. 

Hydro Power makes 7% of U.S. Electricity. Nuclear makes 19%

Well, yeah. I knew that nuclear made 19% of U.S. electricity.  But somehow, I thought nuclear was running neck and neck with hydro power as the best source of low-carbon power.  I mean, there are big dams all over the U.S.: TVA, the dams on the Colorado,  the dams on the Columbia. Not to mention dams on smaller rivers.

And all those hydro plants add up to less than 7% of U. S. electricity.  About a third of what our nuclear plants made.  And they take a lot of land and they change their local ecology.

In the old days, I was a member of the Sierra Club.  I was in college and the club was for "Atoms not Dams." And the club advocated for Wilderness Areas instead of ridge-top wind turbines.  And it was truly about saving the earth and the wilderness.

Sigh.  I am showing my age.

But I am still young enough to be surprised by how good nuclear energy is. Every day is Earth Day when you support nuclear energy! 

End notes:

Wikipedia lists Hoover Dam as having a capacity factor of 23% not 24%. In his comment, Mr. Leaver seems to be giving Hoover the benefit of the doubt.

Well, okay. I still love the Grand Coulee Dam song by Woody Guthrie.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Vermont and Renewable Sprawl: Perspective from Platts

SunGen Solar Farm
Sharon, VT
Vermont Leads the Way in Pushback Against Renewable Sprawl

Platts tracks world-wide energy prices and issues.  It is part of McGraw Hill Financial Services, and it offers a variety of subscriptions and analysis reports. Platts is known to be a premier source for energy information.

Platts covers the whole world, which means it doesn't spend a lot of time covering Vermont.  But sometimes Vermont energy issues "lead the way."  In that case, Platts has articles and blog posts about Vermont.

On that theme, Platts has a recent blog post about Vermont.  Before nuclear opponents start their happy dance, however, ("Oh yes we led the way, we did!"),  we should look at the subject of the Platts article.  Guest post: Out of sight, out of mind? Vermont considers its renewables describes how people in Vermont are pushing back against renewable sprawl.

As Long As It's Not Too Severe

The blog author  is John Kingston, president of McGraw Hill Financial Institute. He notes that people in Vermont support renewables in the same way that Edith Bunker supports capital punishment: "as long as it's not too severe." Local towns want more say in the siting process: they feel shut out of the conversation.  (Well, the towns are shut out of the conversation.  When the Public Service Board okays a project, the towns have little recourse.)

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara
The Vermont legislature has been stymied this year about renewable legislation. It has come up with a new program: Wait Till Next Year.  Like Scarlett O'Hara, the legislature plans to "think about it tomorrow."  This year, the legislature hopes to pass legislation that will provide incentives for renewable projects in environmentally-damaged "brown fields" and gravel pits and so forth.

This won't work.  I mean, Vermont may get some renewable projects built in gravel pits, but the "90% renewables mandate" in Vermont means that there simply aren't enough gravel pits.  To quote the Platts post:

So like the civil New Englanders they are, everyone is agreeing to listen. But that’s not going to solve the problem. ….

The replacement for that (Vermont Yankee) power is going to need to occur with a lot of the population making Edith Bunker-like declarations about renewable energy which, as the growing disputes in Vermont show, can not take a major role in electricity generation unless it takes a major role in real estate consumption too.

Romaine River
from Wikipedia
End Notes:

I encourage you to read the comments on the Platts  post. One commenter from Quebec is cynical about Hydro Quebec (HQ) secrecy. Apparently, HQ has claimed to be able to supply Vermont, Ontario and even more places. But HQ doesn't actually share much information on its excess capacity to generate electricity.

HQ is definitely looking south to new markets, and constructing new dams on the Romaine River.

 Meanwhile, despite the 90% renewables mandate, Vermont is planning to remove small dams, rather than renovate them.  Apparently, in Vermont, dams affect the local ecology.

In recent weeks, the Vermont legislature has been considering new energy siting rules.  However, as noted above, the bottom line is that the legislature plans to Wait Till Next Year.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Nuclear Blogger Carnival 256, Here at Yes Vermont Yankee

Once again, we are proud to host the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers, right 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.

Today is Carnival Number 256.   That's a neat number…it is two to the eighth power.  I've always  liked this number: perhaps because it is so easy to remember.  The Carnival Carnival is posted regularly, once a week. Therefore, this number also represents almost five years of Carnivals:  a true tribute to nuclear blogger perseverance and community spirit!

The News from Asia

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes shopping. From Neutron Bytes by Dan Yurman

The prime minister's short list includes nuclear reactors from France and uranium from Canada

One of the things the head of state gets to do when on an international, multi-nation trip is draw up a list of things to buy and bring home. In terms of a trip to France, this isn’t about bringing back vintage wines. For India’s POM Modi, it is about finally settling on the terms of a long pending contract for six nuclear reactors in Jaitapur, and getting the uranium to fuel them, which top the list

Evaporation is not the answer to Fukushima’s Tritium issue.  From Hiroshima Syndrome Fukushima
Commentary by Les Corrice

It seems Tepco will look into any possibility for the reduction of Tritium-laced waters being stored at F. Daiichi in order to dull the pain from the constant socio-political bashing they suffer. However, the latest consideration is nothing more than an exercise in futility… the use of atmospheric evaporation instead of release to the sea.

The West Coast Story

Anti-Nuclear Climate Inaction: California. Northwest Clean Energy blog. Post by Andrew Benson of California, which was originally posted at Actinide Age blog.

The consequences of losing nuclear energy resources: this is a great piece by Andrew Benson via The Actinide Age.  San Onofre closed.  In consequence, greenhouse gas emissions from electricity spiked 35% while bureaucrats talked about replacement by "preferred resources" that may well never be brought on-line.  This post is well-written, well-researched, and worth reading.

Is There Fukushima Radiation on North America’s West Coast? (Updated April 11, 2015) Hiroshima Syndrome blog by Les Corrice

Recently updated post on Fukushima contamination on the Pacific Coast. The post now reflects this week's initial discovery of innocuous cesium traces in shore samples taken at Vancouver Island in Canada.

The Pacific Northwest basically runs on public power. In this post, Energy Northwest honors two of its board members who will receive public service awards at the Northwest Public Power Association  (NWPPA) annual conference.  Executive Board Chairman Sid Morrison will receive the Paul J. Raver community service award, while Executive Board Member Senator Tim Sheldon will receive NWPPA’s John M. George public service award.

Can We Learn From History?

Atom and the Fault  Atomic Insights blog, by Rod Adams

Rod Adams introduces a 1984 book by Richard Meehan titled The Atom and the Fault: Experts, Earthquakes and Nuclear Power. 

Meehan is a geotechnical engineer who participated in several controversial nuclear plant projects in California, including Bodega Head, Malibu, and Diablo Canyon. Though the book discusses all of those projects, its unifying narrative centers around the six year long effort to renew the license for the GE Test Reactor at Vallecitos.

There is a new smoking gun included. (Note: "Smoking Gun" is Rod's keyword when he describes an example of the fossil fuel industry's efforts to destroy or discredit nuclear energy.)

Gail Marcus continues her series on nuclear anniversaries at Nuke Power Talk by reporting on major developments in the history of nuclear power that took place during the month of April.  Drawn from her book, Nuclear Firsts:  Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development, the historical firsts during the month of April range from underground to outer space, from nuclear power plants in their infancy to their "mature years," and more.  And April 15 marks two different milestones!

TVA backs away from Bellefonte  Neutron Bytes blog by Dan Yurman

The giant utility says won’t fund completion of the 1260 MW plant

In a new Integrated Resource Plan released for public comment this week, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) said it no longer has plans to finish the partially complete Bellefonte Unit I nuclear reactor for which construction started in 1974.  With this decision the utility’s work to finish Watts Bar II later this year may turn out to be the last large reactor project at TVA for quite some time.

Is There Anything As Effective As Nuclear in Cutting Carbon Emissions? Well, no.  Can We Learn From History?

This is a useful cap
Cap and trade fiddling while the world burns: CO2 concentration spikes to unprecedented level  Canadian Energy Issues by Steve Aplin

Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues reviews the problems plaguing two of the world's longtime carbon cap and trade systems and wonders why cap-and-trade remains such an automatic go-to plank in the green policy platform.