Thursday, January 28, 2016

Updated: Overreach at the Attorney General's Office: Guest Post by Deborah Bucknam

I need to update this post with a link:

As described in the blog for Vermonters for a Clean Environment, the complaint about Annette Smith originated with David Blittersdorf, a wind developer in Vermont.

Overreach at the Attorney General’s office 
By Deborah T. Bucknam, Esq.

Vermont’s Attorney General has filed a complaint against Annette Smith, the activist who helps Vermonters opposed to Industrial Wind, navigate the administrative jungle that best describes the Public Service Board proceedings. I have represented folks opposed to Industrial Wind at the Public Service Board, and the hearings are overrun by lawyers—most of whom favor the government’s and the developer’s positions on Industrial Wind. Neighbors opposed to an Industrial Wind project face a phalanx of government and industry lawyers in a proceeding that is costly, time consuming and often confusing. In other words, the fix is in.

Now the Attorney General is siding with Vermont’s large law firms and big lobbyists to deprive opponents of Industrial Wind the advice of a person who knows the intricacies of the proceedings and can help those who cannot afford the high priced lawyers the developers can. And make no mistake: even though this is a preposterous charge, and will likely be thrown out, its purpose will be fulfilled: to chill anyone’s free speech rights who dares to question the powerful in Montpelier.

“Practicing law without a license” is a hoary concept left over from the medieval guilds where skilled tradesmen (including lawyers) sought to keep out competition. It was revived in the early 20th century when the newly organized Bar attempted to persuade legislatures to define the practice of law and regulate it—to the Bar’s advantage. Legislators were wary of such a regulatory scheme, so the effort waned until the Great Depression, when lawyers’ incomes plummeted, and the organized Bar launched a new effort to keep out those who were in competition for their services. This time the Bar sought the help of the Judiciary, which took up the cause. That is where it stands today: the unauthorized practice of law is regulated in large part by the Judiciary. Over the years, lawyers targeted different groups: realtors, bankers, and investment advisors, with varying success. The reason for this effort was supposedly to protect consumers from service providers who did not adhere to the strict professional conduct rules of the Bar. However, with the advent of strong consumer protection statutes and competition among providers, this “protection” is mostly a red herring.

The concept of unauthorized practice of law is so vague as to call into question its constitutionality. The practice of law is, according to the Vermont Supreme Court, "the rendering of services for another involving the use of legal knowledge or skill on his behalf -- where legal advice is required and is availed of or rendered in connection with such services.” Under that standard, hundreds of public servants in Vermont provide “legal advice”—providing information about relevant statutes, procedures and regulations---to the public and to Vermont attorneys smart enough to get the information directly from those in the know at state agencies. Yet these public servants will not –and certainly should not--be prosecuted. Only Ms. Smith, who provides similar information to those who cannot pay for those high priced lawyers is prosecuted by the Attorney General. This is precisely the constitutional issue: a rule violates the Due Process clause of the constitution because it is too vague to put the public on adequate notice as to when a violation occurs, and it opens the door for selective prosecution—exactly what has happened here. The Attorney General’s action appears to be an effort to silence opposition to Industrial Wind, and to help the large Burlington law firms and their clients to keep from having to deal with pesky Vermonters who oppose their clients’ projects.

Vermonters are being strangled by government overreach. The Attorney General’s action is a disgraceful example. If you don’t agree with the powerful and well-connected in this state, then just shut up, or you may be the target of the Government and its unlimited resources.

About the Author

Deborah Bucknam, Esq. has practiced law for 37 years, and has a private practice in St. Johnsbury, Vermont

About the post

In the last two weeks, opponents of industrial wind have rallied in Vermont, and the Vermont administration is beginning to "investigate" them.   Below is a brief summary and history.

A bill against industrial wind

Two Vermont legislators introduced a bill to ban industrial wind on our ridge lines.  They held a press conference in Montpelier on January 21: the press conference was attended by many supporters.  The supporters wore green vests and cheered for banning industrial wind.  

The Ethan Allen Institute (my Energy Education Project is part of the Institute) made made a three-minute video of the highlights of the press conference.  Ethan Allen Institute posted a blog post with the video, and Rod Adams posted about the conference at his blog: Vermonters Say They Want Industrial Wind to Go the Way of the Billboard. Both posts have lively comment streams.  I have also posted the video at the bottom of this post.

The Administration strikes back

 The press conference and the Ethan Allen Institute post took place on January 21, 2016. Perhaps purely by chance, on January 22, the Vermont Attorney General opened an investigation into whether Annette Smith, the highest-profile anti-wind advocate in Vermont, is "practicing law without a license."  This was reported in a VtDigger article by Mike Polhamus on January 23: AG's office investigating complaints against Annette Smith, anti-wind advocate.  As Polhamus points out: this is a charge with penalties left entirely to the court's discretion.  He also quotes Ms. Smith: "I believe this has the potential to shut down my organization of 16 years. It clearly falls under the definition of harassment.”

There are (at this writing) 147 comments on the Digger post. The vast majority are in support of Annette Smith. An early comment was written by Peter Galbraith, a former Senator in Vermont (and a Democrat). A short quote: "Annette Smith is a person of integrity who has helped the weaker party in what would otherwise be a very uneven contest. This investigation will have a chilling effect on all citizen advocates."

This post:

I wanted to write something really powerful about this issue: about the environment, about freedom of speech, about government harassment of dissenting views, about crony capitalism.  Then, to my great relief, I received this press release from Deborah Bucknam in my email inbox.  I have never met Ms. Bucknam, but she said it all, much better than I could.  Thank you, Ms. Bucknam. 

 Video by Ethan Allen Institute

Monday, January 25, 2016

Podcast and my book

Podcast and my book

Rod Adams
Last night I was on the Atomic Show podcast, hosted by Rod Adams.  Here's the link: Atomic Show #250---Being nice nukes.   My fellow guests were Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues, Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World, and Bob Apthorpe, a nuclear safety professional who is most well known as @arclight on twitter. We had a fine conversation on the nuclear energy outlook worldwide.  

For me, some of the conversation was very special.  I have written a book Campaigning for clean air: secrets of pro-nuclear advocacy and community.  The draft is complete, but the book is still being reviewed by various people.  

Two of those people happened to be on the podcast with me:  Adams and Cravens.  At the beginning of the podcast, Adams asked me why I mentioned my blogs but not my book.  Good question indeed!  I don't know the answer to that one!

Meanwhile, people commented on the book (with praise) and asked me questions about it.   Adams and Cravens said very nice things. I was blushing.  Luckily, you couldn't see me.

I hope you will listen to the podcast.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Renewables at 90% only IF grid-level storage comes first

Renewables can't be a 90% unless we have grid-level storage

Renewable installations are growing fast, but we can't have huge percentages of wind and solar on the grid unless we first have grid-level storage.  With the exception of pumped storage, grid-level storage does not exist at this time.  (No, I don't count an occasional 2 MW project as "the answer.")

We can't grow wind and solar to a higher percentage on the grid than their capacity factor implies, unless we have storage. Moving to 50% wind on the grid is not possible, without utility level storage.  

The explanation follows, based on the New England grid.

A year on the New England grid (2008)
Shows the necessity of being able to dispatch electricity
Note rise in gas usage while nuclear plants refuel
Click to enlarge
Five million down and five million up (natural gas takes the lead)

In a guest post on January 7, Michael Twomey of Entergy used grid operator (ISO-NE) data to show that between 2014 (when Vermont Yankee was running) and 2015 (when Vermont Yankee was closed), nuclear kilowatt-hours decreased by about five million MWh and gas-fired generators increased their output by almost exactly the same amount.  Natural gas went from 46,200,000 MWh to nearly 51,900,000 MWh.  Nuclear kWh nuclear went down by almost the same amount of MWh.
Click to enlarge table

Wind and solar growing fast: Jeff Schmidt's comment

Looking at the table above, you can see that wind went from 1,892,000 MWh to 2,135,00 MWh, growing by approximately 243,00 MWh, and solar grew from 327,500 to 436,200 MWh, approximately 108,700 MWh.

This rapid rate of growth (though still only adding up to 2.4% of the power on the grid), prompted Jeff Schmidt to write this comment on the Twomey article:

"This article seems to dismiss the growth of wind and solar. While I am pro-nuclear, and think that nuclear needs to play a vital role in our future energy mix, I think the author of the article is neglecting something important - growth of wind and solar.

It's true that they are still small. But, if you look at the year-over-year growth rate, as shown by the statistics provided by the ISO and called out by Mr. Twomey, we see that Solar grew 33% in a year, and Wind grew 41%. Of course, one can't predict future growth rates based on one year, but IF wind and solar can keep up strong growth like that, they could conceivably become a very large proportion of the New England energy mix inside of 10 years.

It's true that it's likely an overly optimistic and simplistic projection, but just for the sake of argument, if they can keep up that growth rate, then 9 years from now, Wind could produce about 50% of the energy, and solar about 5%. If you projected it to 10 years instead of 9, that would account for more than 100% of current grid generation.

However, at the same time, it's very likely that at some point, Wind and Solar's growth must slow. Still, it's a valid point to concede that Wind and Solar, while currently small in absolute terms, are actually growing at a pretty fast rate."

Why renewables can't keep growing--unless we have storage

I wrote the following response to Schmidt.  I oversimplified, but I am also worried that "we can't grow wind and solar" arguments are often based on cost, or on complex technical issues that are hard to explain.  So, here's my oversimplification.  Basically correct, but oversimplified.

Basically, we can't grow wind and solar to a higher percentage on the grid than their capacity factor implies, unless we have storage. Moving to 50% wind on the grid is not possible, without utility level storage.

I wrote about Vermont's plans to be 90% renewables in today's blog post. Of course, renewable growth from 1 to 3 to 5% is possible and looks great. However, it simply does not scale. Let's oversimplify a little, though not a lot.

Most of Vermont is one weather pattern, with some exceptions. Hot, dry and sunny...all over Vermont. Windy at night...all over Vermont. Cold and windless....all over Vermont. Now, obviously, the mountains are different from the river valleys and so forth, but the statement "weather is the same all over Vermont" is far closer to true than its opposite would be.

Okay. We cannot turn wind on and off. Let's say that wind has a 30% capacity factor. For wind to grow to 30% of the electricity supply overall, that means when wind is on the grid (the wind is blowing in Vermont)...the grid has to be 100% wind. Without this high percentage when wind is available, wind is not going to be able to be 30% of the electricity, overall. So we have to build a lot of wind to get wind to 30% of the electricity supply, and we have to turn everything else off if the wind is blowing.

Well, what if we build more wind? If we do that, when the wind is blowing....what then? We have to curtail some of the wind, because the grid can't take more than 100% of wind. So, without grid level storage, wind reaches a VERY hard stop at 30%.

Well, it is windier in the mountains, and the southern part of the state gets less wind and so forth and this is an oversimplification. And the grid requires more power in the day, and less in the night (when the wind usually blows). So it is quite complicated in reality. But the basics remain.

IF you can turn things on and off, you don't reach this sort of hard stop. 100% of the electricity from natural gas...this could work. No "hard stop" involved. 100% from nuclear...well, current nuclear doesn't follow load well, but there is no "hard stop" involved, where you have more nuclear than you can use on the grid. You don't need grid level storage for nuclear, just plants that follow load a little better. And so forth.

This is why I am so cynical about the Vermont energy plan. The plan is kind of "We don't just hope for miracles, we expect them."

Jeff Schmidt has two guest posts at this blog:

The Nuclear Safety Paradox, which describes how experience (such as building new nuclear plants) increases safety.

Flawed Analogies, which describes the analogies nuclear opponents made in a debate against nuclear energy.


The illustration showing the need for dispatchable power
From Sustainability presentation by David Lamont
Vermont Department of Public Service
October 18, 2010
Presentation is no longer on the web, but I had saved it to my computer.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The New New New! Vermont Energy Plan

The grid is all about gas

The last two posts at this blog (here and here) showed that Vermont Yankee electricity on the grid has been replaced, kWh for kWh, by power electricity produced by gas-fired plants.  Two comments (that I published) asked about the growing use of renewables. Two other comments (that I did not publish) asked the same thing, but in a truculent and accusatory tone.

So. What about renewables? Vermont has a plan.

Comes the Revolution!

Here's the answer about renewables.  Vermont has a new improved energy plan for the future!  We are going to cut our energy use by 1/3 by 2050, and use renewables for 90% of our remaining energy needs.  Here are two graphs (for the years 2015 and 2050) which I have abstracted from the executive summary of the plan.

 2015 energy use

2050 energy use
Look how much less energy we will use!  Look at how much less waste there will be!  And fossil fuels will be almost completely eliminated!

You can double-click to see larger versions of the charts, and you can read the ten page summary. For this blog post,  I simply took screen shots of the charts, but you can find numbers in the summary document, or in the complete plan document, which is over 400 pages long.

My Russian grandmother had a rather cynical saying: "Sure, comes the revolution..."  I guess she heard that phrase once too often, growing up in Czarist Russia.

Comes the Revolution, indeed.

What's new this time? Less energy.

Still, the new part of the plan is clear:  we are not only switching to renewables, we will use significantly less energy in the future.  The earlier plan was about switching to 90% renewables: this plan is also about lowering energy use to use only 2/3 of the energy that we use now.  On page 2 of the Executive Summary (which is the first real page of the plan) we read:

 Expanding upon the statutory goal of 25% renewable by 2025 (10 V.S.A. § 580(a)), this CEP establishes the following set of goals:
• Reduce total energy consumption per capita by 15% by 2025, and by more than one third by 2050.
• Meet 25% of the remaining energy need from renewable sources by 2025, 40% by 2035, and 90% by 2050.
• Three end-use sector goals for 2025: 10% renewable transportation, 30% renewable buildings, and 67% renewable electric power.

(Bold type is in the original.)

More news: lip service to the environment

The other new thing is a certain level of lip service to the environment, including some realization that there are conflicting goals on land use, and that our ridge lines are part of our ecosystem and landscape.  The article about the plan in Vermont Business Magazine quotes extensively from these pages among the 400 pages of the plan document. The quotes are from Chapter 5 on land use planning, a chapter that is about six pages long (page 58 to 63). The chapter includes references to Vermont's land use laws (for most of the chapter).  It acknowledges competing land uses in paragraphs such as this:

As we move toward generating more of our energy renewably and closer to home, it’s no surprise that tensions between competing land uses will arise. For one thing, the power density — the amount of energy per given unit of volume, area, or mass — of existing renewables is orders of magnitude less than it is for fossil fuels. As a result, renewables require much more space on the landscape than do traditional, centralized generators....

Our hilltops and mountaintops allow access to the strong, steady winds necessary for the scale of wind energy production that can make a significant contribution to our energy supply. Those same peaks capture rainfall and store snowpack that feeds our headwaters, which descend into the rivers that nurture fish and plants. Mountain ridgelines and peaks tend to sit in the center of our most significant blocks of wildlife habitat; .....

 However, the report certainly stops short of promising to protect these ridges. Instead, chapter five ends with a ringing endorsement of planning. Some quotes:
1. Energy and non energy land use planning should be integrated as much as possible at the local, regional, and state levels.
2. Energy (30 V.S.A. 248) and non energy (Act 250) land use regulatory processes should be complement each other to the extent practicable.

Comes the Revolution! Redux

In other words, we can hope that the bureaucrats will successfully plan our future land use in Vermont. They will apply themselves to this job, despite the welter of competing interests and confusing laws.  The bureaucrats will certainly be busy.

As everybody who studied Russian history may note: Came the Revolution, that is exactly what happened.


End note: My tax money paid for writing this elaborate state plan, but nobody is paying me to read it.  So I won't.  I read the earlier version, a few years ago. Also, the state set up a way to comment on the plan which was basically impossible to use. (Here's my blog post on the near-impossibility of commenting.)  I have put in my time on this plan, in all honesty.

And as George said to me: "Comes the Revolution, Meredith, you will be surely be one of the first to be executed."  (Not that it will come to that. He was just kidding.)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Replacement for Vermont Yankee Was…Natural Gas: Mike Twomey Guest Post

The Replacement For Vermont Yankee Was . . . Natural Gas
By Mike Twomey

Several years ago, while the legal and public relations battle raged over the future of Vermont Yankee, anti-nuclear activists -- and some elected officials -- confidently predicted that, if the plant closed, its output would be replaced by wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.   Pro-nuclear advocates expressed doubts about that future, arguing instead that the loss of a baseload nuclear plant would inevitably lead to greater reliance on fossil fuels.  Similar debates continue with respect to Pilgrim (Plymouth, MA), Indian Point (Buchanan, NY), and other nuclear facilities.

Now that 2015 has come to a close, we have an opportunity to evaluate the facts. ISO-New England (the non-profit, independent entity that ensures the reliability of the electric grid in New England) publishes data that shows daily generation by fuel type.  That data shows that in 2014 (the last year of Vermont Yankee's operation) natural gas-fired generators supplied 43.1% of the energy in New England, while nuclear provided 34%.   In 2015 (the first year since 1972 without Vermont Yankee) natural gas-fired generators supplied 48.6% of the energy in New England, while nuclear provided 29.5%.

Comparing these two charts shows the growth of natural gas on the grid
2014 and 2015
Blue is natural gas
Red is nuclear

As you can see in the chart below, the contribution of other sources of energy in New England remained essentially unchanged in 2015 compared to 2014 (the largest change was that coal-fired generators contributed one percent less in 2015 compared to 2014 (3.6% v. 4.6%).   The contribution of wind and solar remained vanishingly small in both years (wind was 2.4% in 2015 and 1.7% in 2014, while solar was 0.4% in 2015 and 0.3% in 2014).

Double-click to enlarge chart 

Generators in New England produced approximately the same amount of total MWhs in 2015 and 2014 (106.7 million MWhs in 2015 v. 107.2 million MWhs in 2014).  Taking into account the unusually mild weather in late fall of 2015, these figures deflate another prediction by anti-nuclear advocates that Vermont Yankee's baseload contribution could be replaced, in part, with energy efficiency.

The bottom line is that, without Vermont Yankee, nuclear's carbon-free contribution to the New England electric grid fell by 5.3 million MWhs in 2015 compared to 2014. Over that same time period, the contribution of natural gas-fired generators increased by nearly 5.7 million MWhs.   According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, natural gas-fired generators produce 1.21 pounds of CO2 per kWh (  Using that formula, the additional MWhs of energy from natural gas-fired generators in New England in 2015 compared to 2014 equals approximately 3.1. million metric tons of additional CO2 in 2015 compared to 2014.  To put that in perspective, 3.1 million metric tons of CO2 is equivalent to adding more than 650,000 passenger vehicles to the roads in New England during 2015.

About this post:

This post first appeared in Linked-In on January 2, 2016 and is reprinted here with permission from Mike Twomey.  This post is a good companion piece to the recent post at this blog:  Vermont Yankee was replaced by natural gas: Doing the numbers.

The conclusions of the two posts are the same---because facts are facts.

The earlier Doing the Numbers was based on EIA data. This current post by Mike Twomey is based on ISO-NE (New England grid operator) data.   Mike Twomey's post includes data through the end of 2015, while the other post only includes data to the third quarter of 2015.

About the author:  

Mike Twomey is Vice President for External Affairs at Entergy. He is involved in many areas of negotiation and outreach concerning the nuclear plants. For example, Twomey was quoted in an October post at Vermont Digger: Entergy may move fuel into dry casks sooner than anticipated. In that article, he explains the financing of dry cask storage at Vermont Yankee.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Vermont Yankee was replaced by natural gas: Doing the numbers

Vermont Yankee energy was replaced by natural gas.  That's the bottom line.

Three Quarters Compared

During the first three quarters of 2014, (January through September) Vermont Yankee was running.  During the first three quarters of of 2015, it had shut down.

Scott Luft writes the ColdAir blog, which is mostly concerned with Canadian energy issues. However, in early December, Luft tweeted some comparisons of energy sources in the Northeastern U.S.,  before and after Vermont Yankee shut down.  Similar charts are below.

Changes in Fuel Usage: New England Grid
Comparison of first nine months 2015 to similar 2014
Comparison of first quarter 2015 to last quarter 2014

The rise of natural gas with the fall of nuclear

First look at the top chart--the nine-month comparisons.  About 1500 GWh more electricity was produced in the first nine months of 2015 than in the first nine months of 2014 (see the "all fuels" line).  Almost all of the change in electricity (top chart) was produced by an expansion of the use of natural gas, making up for the drop in nuclear and coal. There was also an expansion of utility-scale photovoltaic energy, but the vast majority of the change in power supply was expanded use of natural gas.

One anti-nuclear commentator challenged these results, saying that looking at the first three quarters was a clever way to cherry pick data and avoid the true story of what really happened. Nuclear and natural gas use both fell between the last quarter of 2014 and the first quarter of 2015.

And indeed, they both did (second chart).

This wasn't anything to be proud of, however.  The first quarter of the year is quite cold in the Northeast, and people use natural gas to heat their homes.  Therefore, many natural gas-fired power plants cannot obtain fuel.  Oil and coal take up the slack.  Nowadays, natural gas plants are equipping themselves to be dual-fired, so they can burn oil.

Nuclear went down, natural gas wasn't available, and oil and coal use went up.  Nothing to celebrate. We're not looking at "green" energy expanding.

You can double-click to expand the charts.

History of the charts

After I saw Luft's tweet, I contacted Scott Luft and asked him about his sources. Luft very kindly re-produced his sources and spreadsheets.  Luft's information came from several queries to the EIA data browser.

Luft had pulled the information into spreadsheets. Later, my husband George pulled the same data into the Macintosh spreadsheet that he likes better. Then he made the charts from the data.  The data from his spreadsheets is shown below.  It is all based on queries to this EIA database.

Deepest appreciation to Scott Luft and George Angwin.

History of the anti-nuclear comments

Also, Scott Luft compiled a "storify" of his twitter interchange with Mark Z. Jacobson on this subject.    In my opinion, Jacobson comes off badly in the exchange. It doesn't take complex work to show the flaws in Jacobson's arguments.  You simply start with quoting him directly, and the facts take it from there.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year! Industry Beginnings and Some Blog Accomplishments

Industry Beginnings

Let's start by referencing Brian Wang's post at Next Big Future: Ten new nuclear reactors were connected to the grid in 2015. Wang lists the new reactors (mostly, but not all, in China). Then he lists fifteen more reactors that should be connected to the grid in 2016 and another fifteen in 2017. Yes. That's a new nuclear plant approximately every month, from 2015 through 2017.

Another post about new nuclear, this one by Will Davis at Atomic Power Review: SEVMORPUT Completes Trials after overhaul: Signs for the Future. The Russians decided to overhaul a nuclear icebreaker rather than scrapping it.  Russia and China are building more nuclear ships, some of which are designed to provide power to neighboring land.  These ships are the traditional Small Modular Reactors. This type of reactor is having its own renaissance.

And there seem to be more and more blog posts like this one, about forward progress on new types of reactors and improved fabrication of all kinds.  This particular post, at the Areva blog,  describes cooperation between Areva and Washington State University students toward building a cart that can transfer uranium pellets between Areva buildings in Richland Washington. WSU Tri-Cities Senior Project Team Achieves Next Design Stage.

Blog Accomplishments

Six years of the Yes Vermont Yankee blog.  This year marks the sixth year of the Yes Vermont Yankee blog.  I started it in 2010 as a New Year's resolution. (I decided to blog because I was tired of writing lengthy emails to my friends.)  The blog was immediately welcomed by the blogging community, for which I am grateful.

Northwest Clean Energy Blog  I am proud to be an occasional blogger at the Northwest Clean Energy blog of Energy Northwest. It's a relatively new blog, but its Year In Review report by Wordpress showed some great  2015 accomplishments. These included 26,000 views, with viewers all over the world.   Here's the Northwest Clean Energy post on 2015 in Review.

Looking Forward

If we look at the Northeast (which I plan to do in the next few days), the nuclear view can get depressing. However, when we take a longer, broader view of nuclear, we can see significant new plants coming on-line in non-European areas, and many new initiatives in the Southeast and Northwest of this country.  Furthermore, pro-nuclear bloggers continue to grow in number, strength and influence.

I look forward to this year with some hope.  Especially when I look past the Northeast and into the bigger world.