Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Distribution Grid: Christine Hallquist on Grid Controversies

Hallquist and the grid

Christine Hallquist, CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, presented the third class in my course: The Grid: What Your Electricity Bill Won't Tell You.

On May 3, 2016 at my class on grid issues, Hallquist described the grid  from the perspective of a rural electric cooperative in Vermont. She heads Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC). This utility was one of the rural Cooperatives of the Rural Electrification movement: it was founded in 1938 to bring electricity to rural Vermont.  It is now the largest locally-owned electric distribution utility in Vermont.  VEC is dwarfed by Green Mountain Power, a utility with a very Vermont-y name. However, Green Mountain Power is actually a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gaz Metro of Quebec.

In my opinion, Vermont Electric Cooperative is the quintessential Vermont utility. It started in the Rural Electrification movement of the 30s, and and it is a cooperative in which the owners and the consumers are the same people.

Update 2018: The videos still exist, but their URLs have changed. Here's the link to this video.

As CEO of VEC, Hallquist is concerned with the cost shifts involved in net metering, since  VEC's service area includes low income areas of Vermont. When your owners are your customers, you pay sincere attention to the economic issues.

Late in the talk, Hallquist also discusses grid stability.  Intermittent power tends to be destabilizing: the grid was set up for rotating electric machinery. Rotating machinery has a healthy inertia which helps keep the grid stable. Starting at about 1:20 (1 hour 20 minutes into the talk), Hallquist shows the jagged effects of wind and solar, and the almost un-analyzable harmonics of the intermittents on the grid.  Few utilities collect this type of data.

I am very grateful to Christine Hallquist for sharing her information and her wisdom with our class.

It happens first in a village

Agatha Christie's Miss Marple is able to solve crimes because she has carefully analyzed many (supposedly) smaller issues in a small village.

To a large extent, Vermont Electric Cooperative is a "village" for the growth of renewables.  The owner/customers are not rich, and they need to keep electricity costs low.  While places like Germany can boast of their renewables while simultaneously building lignite-fired plants, VEC is actually adding renewables and dealing directly with the costs and stability issues that renewables  present.

For example,  the owner/customers have made decisions, very recently,  on how to keep wind energy from being curtailed on their grid.  They are making decisions, right now, on how much net metering the customers can afford.

VEC is hopeful about advances in energy storage and weather forecasting and so forth. (See Hallquist's last slide on "What are we doing about it.")  But right now, there are very real limits for renewables on a small grid, and VEC is reaching those limits.

Previous sessions 

The first session was The Grid: Power and Policy Introduction, and Howard Shaffer on the Physical Grid.  The second session was Payments on the Grid: What Every Citizen Should Know.  This post is the third session.  The fourth session was a field trip to ISO-NE, the grid operator headquarters.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Patty O'Donnell at the Department of Energy Summit on Nuclear Power Plants

A lilac 
Department of Energy Summit on Improving the Economics of Nuclear Power Plants

On May 19, the Department of Energy held a summit on Improving the Economics of America's Nuclear Power Plants.  The four-hour meeting included many distinguished speakers, including Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Senator Cory Booker, and more.  You can watch the entire meeting at this link.

A major purpose of the meeting was to find ways to keep America's nuclear fleet running.  Scientific American reported on the meeting. They quoted Secretary Moniz: "We are supposed to be adding zero carbon sources, not subtracting or simply replacing (them)..." The Scientific American article features a picture of Vermont Yankee. The Bloomberg article on the meeting has the following title -- Moniz: Closing Nuclear Plants Poses 'Huge Problem'.

Vernon's own Patty O'Donnell spoke at this meeting.  O'Donnell described the human impact due to Vermont Yankee closing.  If you move the video slider to the 2:39 mark (2 hours and 39 minutes into the four hour video) you can watch her ten minute talk.  It was an important and moving description of the effects of the plant closing. Her talk showed a part of the human face of "why we need nuclear energy."

Adams blog focuses on O'Donnell's talk

Rod Adams' Atomic Insights blog post about the meeting focused on O'Donnell's talk. His post is Real people are harmed when other people decide to close nuclear plants.  I encourage you to read it, and also to read the comments. Adams blog gets interesting and knowledgable comments.

Adams also made a YouTube of O'Donnell's talk.  He has it posted on his blog post, and I am sharing it here.  Big THANK YOU to Rod Adams!  A ten-minute video is so much more appealing than a four hour video. I share his video below.

Two little notes:

I used a picture of a lilac on this blog post because a lilac is blooming outside my window now, and because I imagine myself handing a bouquet of flowers to Patty O'Donnell.

My own major blog post on this subject is Circles of Pain around Vermont Yankee Closing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Payments on the Grid: What Every Citizen Should Know

Payments on the Grid

In my opinion, payments and policy on the grid will determine our future energy mix.

Most people believe that they know about power sources: gas, nuclear, hydro, coal, solar, wind.  We know what the plants look like, and we have opinions.

In contrast, most people know almost nothing about the grid: how plants are dispatched, how plants are paid, what the controversies are.  Yet these grid-level decisions will determine our power mix in the future.

Update 2018: The video still exists, but its URL has changed.
Here's the new URL.

I think that most people will learn something from watching this video, and pro-nuclear people will find it especially interesting.

(The first class session consisted of an introduction to the course, followed by an introduction to the physical  grid. Howard Shaffer gave the guest lecture on the physical grid. The entire first class session is posted at The Grid: Power and Policy Introduction and Shaffer on the Physical Grid.)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cesium in the Biosphere: Guest Post by Stewart Farber

Stewart Farber
Air Pollution and Dosimetry

Starting in 1972, for about 3 years, as a Public Health scientist and air pollution control specialist, I was responsible for upgrading and reviewing the Radiological Environmental Monitoring Program data from VY (and other Yankee plants) and generating periodic summary reports to the NRC.

In 1975, I was responsible for getting approval for a multi-million dollar centrally located state-of-the-art, greatly enhanced environmental lab. This lab was far more advanced than the labs of any of the then-current commercial contractors.  The lab was established as the Yankee Atomic Electric Co. Environmental Lab in Westboro, MA. Vermont Yankee management were willing to share in the substantial expense of setting up this advanced facility. This lab analyzed radiological environmental samples from VY, as well as Maine Yankee, Yankee-Rowe, and Seabrook (and misc. other plant samples) and performed personnel dosimetry services for these nuclear plants for over 25 years.

Meteorological Monitoring

I proposed upgrading the meteorological monitoring program at all Yankee plants in 1974, including VY. To its credit, VY willingly, despite the cost, supported installation of a 300' meteorological tower (vs. 120'). This met tower had  more advanced met instrumentation, and a computerized data acquisition system to digitize wind speed, wind direction, and temperature at 3 elevations so it could be reviewed from a central facility on a routine basis. This made met parameters available remotely in the event of an emergency, in order to assist in emergency planning. VY recognized the value of having good met and environmental radiological data and willingly shared in the costs this required. The sponsor companies and staff at VY deserve substantial credit.

A comment follows on the variability of environmental radioactivity of nuclear fission isotopes as a cautionary note on jumping to conclusions about environmental radioactivity based on limited sampling, something which VT politicians with an agenda often used against VY to negatively influence public opinion and advance their short-sighted agenda.

Wood Ash and Cs

Wood burning fireplace
In 1990 I took a sample of wood ash from burning hardwoods in my fireplace at a vacation home I had in Warren, VT (which is 130 miles distant from VY in Vernon, VT) and had it analyzed for radioactivity level by sensitive gamma spectroscopy at the Yankee lab. Wood ash is the end product of burning roughly 100 to 300 pounds of wood to yield 1 pound of ash, so ash concentrates what minerals are in the wood to yield a sample that can serve as a very sensitive indicator of natural environmental radioactivity and potential contamination from man-made isotopes . This sample from Warren, VT as would be expected, contained very high levels of the natural isotope K-40 (half life= 1.2 billion years), multiple isotopes of the U-238 (half life 4.5 billion years) decay chain, and multiple isotopes of the Th-232 (half life= 14 billion years) decay series. These are primordial isotopes present in the environment; they are residual from the Big Bang. In addition, this sample contained very high, and quite surprising, levels of the nuclear fission product Cs-137 residual from atmospheric nuclear bomb testing by the US and USSR which ended in 1963.

This initial sample of wood ash from Warren, VT contained 15,000 pCi/kg ash of Cs-137 --the highest level of Cs-137 the Yankee Lab had ever seen in any background environmental sample analysis. I asked VY staff (and other nuclear facilities across the US) to submit a wood ash sample gamma spec analysis after the initial measurement in Warren was so surprisingly high. The wood ash sample from trees grown near VY was analyzed showing a Cs-137 level of about 1,500 pCi/kg ash --10% of the level of fallout Cs-137 seen 130 miles distant!!!! This demonstrated how variable man-made nuclear isotope fallout can be in the environment. This has NOTHING to do with a nuclear plant: a nuclear plant releases essentially zero levels of Cs-137 and Sr-90 in airborne releases.

Cs lower near Vermont Yankee

Many years later after 2011, anti-nuclear politicians like Governor Shumlin in VT, set out with their agenda to make VY look bad because slight differences in Sr-90 (present throughout the environment residual from open air bomb testing) were seen in a few fish near the plant and upriver from VY. A few isolated environmental measurements mean very little. As was seen with the wood ash measurements mentioned above, the Cs-137 level in wood ash near VY in 1990 was 1/10th the level measured 130 miles away in Warren.

This difference was not likely due to major differences in fallout from past bomb testing in Central vs. Southern VT but due to soil chemistry factors between the two locations. Can you imagine what some environmental activist charlatans might do and demand if Cs-137 levels in trees was 10 times higher near VY vs. 130 miles away, rather than the other way around as is actually the case?


Steward Farber holds a degree in chemistry from Brown University, and an MS Public Health from UMass Amherst.  Farber originally submitted this post as a two-comment set on my blog post Cinco de Bye-O at Vermont Yankee. However, I felt this knowledgeable and extensive comment deserved its own post.  You might also want to look back at the original post, where Farber's writing gathered two more comments. One was about the different uptake of Cs by different tree species, and and the second comment was about pulses of radionuclides that are released in forest fires.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Grid: Power and Policy Introduction and Shaffer on the Physical Grid

I gave a three session course at OSHER, called The Grid: What Your Electricity Bill Won't Tell you.

The first session was an introduction to the course (power and policy) and Howard Shaffer's explanation of the physical grid....that is, electricity and how it flows.

The second session will be about policy and controversies on the grid, and the third session was the guest lecture by Christine Hallquist, CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative.

Because of the interest in the course, our local Community Access TV (CATV8) station videotaped it, and is also putting it on VIMEO.

I embed the first video below.

Update 2018: The videos still exist, but their URLs have changed.  Video link below.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Fired or Laid-Off?

The Carnival
Almost every week, there's a nuclear blog "Carnival"--a compendium of important nuclear blog posts from the last week.  This week Rod Adams hosted Carnival 308 at Atomic Insights.

(I have hosted the Carnivals on many occasions. For example, Carnival 304 was at Yes Vermont Yankee.)

What "Laid-Off" actually means
My recent post on Cinco de Bye-O is one of the posts in Carnival 308. As customary, I sent Adams a link and a proposed  "blurb" about the blog. (The Carnival hosts can edit what they receive, but it is polite to send them something so they don't have to start from scratch, summarizing all the posts.)

Adams edited my description, and I think his edits and comments are worth sharing.  He changed the words "laid-off" to the word "fired."He didn't just do this in a vacuum. Here is his comment on the change.

Aside: I changed the submitted description of the article to use “fired” instead of laid off. Too many people have forgotten that “lay offs” was originally intended to describe a temporary condition in which employees were asked to stay home while waiting for work to return with the season or the end of a sales slump. The 100 people who left the premises of Vermont Yankee on May 5th have no prospect of returning. Their plant’s productive capacity has been destroyed. End Aside.

 I appreciate Rod Adams "Atomic Insights"  of all kinds.

Read the Carnival!
I encourage you to read the Carnival this week.  There are links to posts (and comments about the posts) on interim storage, decarbonizing Britain,  the environmental impacts of fracking, an e-book edition of the book Nuclear Firsts, innovative power plants, and more.  

I think that reading the Carnival is the fastest and most pleasant way to keep up with nuclear industry news.  Read it this week.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cinco de Bye-O at Vermont Yankee

It's today

Well, today is the day.  About a hundred people will be laid off from Vermont Yankee, leaving a small staff of about 140 until such time as the fuel is moved into dry casks.  (See the Mike Faber article in Vermont Digger for a history of the layoffs.) This will take place several years from now, around 2020, I believe.  I think the fuel moving will be done by contractors, some of whom may be former Vermont Yankee employees.  For now, however, the plant will be close to its shut-down goal of Cold and Dark.

A Fine Little Plant

My Facebook feed includes many Vermont Yankee employees. Oddly, I see more happiness than sorrow in the posts on FB.  I realize that FB can be misleading, but still.  I see pride in the excellent little plant. I see gratitude for the good work and the good companions. I see Cinco de Bye-O parties.   I see humor. A bit of gallows humor, but still humor.  The comment: "Tomorrow is the last day my husband will be getting up at 5:30 to go to the plant" is followed by: "Hey, maybe I'll go in late. What are they gonna do? Get rid of me?"

As I said, I know Facebook can be misleading. Still, I think the mood is basically far more upbeat than depressed. There is so much pride in the plant, and in work well done, and so much love for the co-workers. It's amazing to me.  The mood is so different from the mood two years ago, when the "lists were up." The "lists" defined who would have one more year at Vermont Yankee, and who would have two years.  I called the post about that day: Paint It Black.  The day the "lists were up" was not covered in any local paper.  They weren't interested in the pain of the Vermont Yankee workers.

In contrast, no doubt, there will be stories and op-eds galore about today. I'm not looking forward to some of the op-eds that will be published, though I think I could write some of them myself. I suspect Governor Shumlin (he who recently tried to destroy emails that may show some serious issues) will make a statement. Once again, Shumlin will look forward to the bright renewable future that is just around the corner for Vermont.  As he has looked forward to it, so many times in the past.

(Enough about our current governor.  With any luck, Vermont will get a special prosecutor about those emails.  What goes around may yet come around. )

You Done Good

Governor Salmon making a statement in favor of VY
PSB hearing, November 2012
Many VY people will be laid off today.  But, as we saw in the video posted yesterday, many VY people are leaving Vermont. So why despair?  There are other places, and other jobs, far away from here.

Many don't have such jobs.  Some are being moved into retirement, whether they like it or not.  Still, overall the mood is good.

Why is the mood good?  It's because Vermont Yankee was a great plant, with great people.  People who worked there had reason to be proud of their work!  That makes a difference, even when the work ends.

As Governor Salmon wrote in December 2014: Governor Salmon praises 42 year of Vermont Yankee.  As George Clain, Past President of IBEW at Vermont Yankee wrote: Vermont Yankee Union President: You Done Good.  December 2014 is when Vermont Yankee went offline forever.

And I say:

Vermont Yankee, you done good for Vermont.  Thank you.  

You finished strong. 

May everyone in the Vermont Yankee family go from strength to strength in their lives.  

You finished strong and you will be strong.  

I hope your futures will be filled with happiness. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Video: Vermont Yankee people moving on

May 5 Layoff Day

On May 5, almost 100 Vermont Yankee employees will be laid off.  As Entergy spokesman Marty Cohn notes in this video: there were nearly 650 employees when he started work at Vermont Yankee: in a few days, there will be  only 150 employees. (approximate numbers).

In the 22 minute video below, Marty Cohn speaks to two employees that will be laid off.  They happily discuss what they liked about working at Vermont Yankee. In both cases, their future plans take them away from Vermont.

Yes, there are sad moments in this video.  These affected me:
  • When Larry Doucette notes that when he moved to Vermont, it took some some time to get used to the local anti-nuclear attitudes. 
  • When Becky Josey describes her life-long residence in Vernon, and how her mother was a state representative who supported construction of the plant.  Josey has deep roots in Vernon, but she plans to leave.  Her plans are not completely due to Vermont Yankee closing, however.
I  admire everyone at Vermont Yankee, because they are strong people and they did Finish Strong.  I have so much admiration for them.

About the videos

Marty Cohn of Entergy has been hosting a series of videos about Vermont Yankee: SAFSTOR Matters. This series was chosen as 2015 Best Series of the Year at Brattleboro Community Television.