Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Challenges for Instate Hydro: Guest Post by Guy Page

Wilder Dam on the Connecticut River
From a 1930s era postcard
New leadership, owners, challenges face instate hydro

Guest post by Guy Page, Vermont Energy Partnership

Congratulations are in order for Ken Nolan, the newly-appointed general manager for Vermont Public Power Supply Authority (VPPSA), the umbrella organization for 12 small town water and light departments.

Mr. Nolan is the former chief operating officer at Burlington Electric Department (BED), majority owner and operator of the McNeil station, Vermont’s largest biomass-fueled power plant. Like VPPSA’s other members, BED owns and oversees significant hydro-electric assets. During a phone discussion with Mr. Nolan several years, ago, he struck us as a candid, informed, hands-on operator of in-state power generators.

Mr. Nolan appears to be an excellent choice to provide leadership for the owners of Vermont’s small hydro generators. This position will keep him busy. Even before the August 22 announcement of Mr. Nolan’s position, August had already been a “big news” month for Vermont’s small hydro production.

Hydro dam purchases, challenges

On August 17, Vermont Digger reported that Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility, had purchased 14 hydro dams. They reported that GMP has bought some small-to-middling sized “run of river” dams in eastern Vermont and across New England from an Italian company named Enel. The deal totals 17 megawatts (MW), with about 157,000 MW-hours of generation, or about 3.5% of the utility’s total portfolio, GMP spokesperson Kristin Carlson told VTEP. The Digger story also noted that the purchase was made to “meet statutory requirements on the percentage of its power supplied from sources deemed renewable.”

But lest you think that hydro is suddenly the State of Vermont’s unqualified preference thanks to renewable portfolio demands, consider this lead sentence from the August 18 issue of Lamoille County’s News and Citizen: “Conflicting state policies have Morrisville Water and Light stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

In short, one state policy, with aggressive renewable power goals, is urging the dam to produce maximum power. Yet the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources “has ordered major limitations on how much water is released through the hydro dams” in the interest of water quality.

Confusing and contradictory? Yes, it’s just one more example of how the supposedly straightforward alternatives to, say, nuclear power, really aren’t so simple after all.

Another example of energy imperatives versus environmental requirements occurred in nearby Johnson, when Vermont Electric Co-Operative had to abandon plans for proposed solar projects due to their proximity to wetlands, according to the News & Citizen August 18 issue. And in Grafton and Windham, the tug-of-war between proponents and opponents of the Iberdrola wind turbine project continues, with a non-binding Australian Ballot vote set for November in Windham.

New York has embraced nuclear to meet low-carbon goals –why not VY, NE?

It’s time for Vermont to consider that nuclear power deserves a place in low-carbon energy portfolios. New York took this epic step on August 1, as Meredith Angwin reported in her estimable YesVY blog. Both Vermont and New England should consider ways to support nuclear power and consequently meet their low-carbon goals with a minimum of environmental impact.


Guest post by Guy Page, Communications Director, Vermont Energy Partnership.  This post has or will appear in several newspapers in Vermont.  Page is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.  His most recent post was Taking the High Road with Yankee Water.

This is the first time Page has called my blog "estimable." 😊

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Nuclear Blogger Carnival #324: 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.

Looking at the Future
(The future looks upbeat for nuclear energy.)

Another WISE Summer
At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus describes how engineering societies have co-sponsored an internship program in Washington, DC. This program  introduces engineering majors to public policy considerations.  Some of the past participants have found that the program profoundly influenced their career directions. This blog post describes some of the topics in this year's program.  The program has been running since 1980, and Marcus has been involved with it, one way or another, since the beginning. Though next summer may seem far away, engineering students might make a note of this internship program as a possibility for next summer.

At Neutron Bytes, Dan Yurman describes an innovative partnership.  Tiny X-Energy, a start-up, has teamed with one of America’s biggest nuclear utilities, Southern Co., to collaborate on the development and commercialization of the design of a high temperature gas-cooled reactor.

Russia's sodium lead cooled fast nuclear reactors
At Next Big Future, Brian Wang describes how Russia has reached two more milestones in its endeavor to close the nuclear fuel cycle. First, Mashinostroitelny Zavod (MSZ) - part of Russian nuclear fuel manufacturer TVEL - has completed acceptance tests of components for its ETVS-14 and ETVS-15 experimental fuel assemblies for one type of reactor. In the second milestone, the company has begun work on the "absorbent element" of the core of the another type of reactor.

Until coal, oil and natural gas are eliminated from power and transportation usage any argument about solar versus nuclear is meaningless
At Next Big Future, Brian Wang describes how coal and oil continue to dominate world energy use. Therefore, plans and arguments about replacing nuclear with solar are--not very relevant.

At Yes Vermont Yankee, Meredith Angwin compares the costs of New York State's Clean Energy Standard program with Vermont's Efficiency Vermont program. Clean energy standards are cheaper per capita and more important than efficiency improvements. New York's surcharges are smaller and protect everyone's air.  Vermont's surcharges are bigger, and help only a few.

At Northwest Clean Energy, John Dobken announces that Energy Northwest will receive Washington State funding for an innovative solar project, including a technician training facility in Richland, WA.  
Energy Northwest is home to only clean-energy resources, the largest of which is Columbia Generating Station.  The company also has hydro, wind and solar projects.

Looking at Other Strategies, World-Wide
(Trigger warning.  Some of this is unpleasant.)

At Forbes, James Conca usually writes about energy issues. In this post, he notes that the Obama Administration is thinking about adopting a No First Use policy for nuclear weapons, in which the U.S. would declare that we will never be the first to use nuclear weapons in any conflict, under any circumstances. Our current, less restrictive policy, is known as calculated ambiguity.  This has worked for 60 years, and no one knows if changing this would be good or bad. 

At Forbes, Rod Adams writes about recent articles and documentaries from Al Jazeera.  The documentary basically attempts to convince its audience that fear of nuclear energy  is well-justified, and that keeping reactors closed is a proper response to the Japanese events of five years ago. Adams notes that Al Jazeera is a media empire that is owned by the government of Qatar, one of the world’s largest LNG exporters. During the five years since the Fukushima accident, Japan has been the world’s largest and most lucrative market for LNG. Japan has burning LNG to produce electricity, instead of operating the 50 nuclear power plants that were not damaged by the accident.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Clean Air versus Efficiency Charges. Clean Air Wins.

The Clean Energy Standard

New York State recently enacted the Clean Energy Standard, which has supportive subsidies for clean energy producers, including nuclear energy.

Yes, this was a huge change. The number of people who welcomed it was also huge.  You can see pictures of the rally in Albany at this blog post at Environmental Progress: Big New York Victory Shows How Far Nuclear Still Has to Go.  You can see Al Gore and Governor Cuomo congratulating the state in this Twitter stream, which was Storified by Nuclear Energy Institute.

August 1 Albany CES Rally
Michael Shellenberger at center
photograph by Stephen Whiting

 The Price of the Clean Energy Standard

In the Environmental Progress blog post, there's a graph of the amount of the clean energy subsidy for nuclear and renewables.

The current subsidy for New York state renewables is 4.6 cents per kWh.  This is the federal 2.2 cents  per kWh subsidy (the production tax credit), plus the Tier 10 subsidy by New York State of approximately 2.45 cents per kWh.   Over the various years, the New York Tier subsidy has varied between 1.5 and 3.5 cents per kWh, with most of the recent year New York subsidies being close to the current 2.45 cent subsidy.  These subsidies are set by an auction process.

The Clean Energy Standard price supports for nuclear are set depending on the price on the grid and the credit given by the Greenhouse Gas initiative, and so forth.    For Indian Point, the subsidy is zero. It sells into a high-price grid.  For the upstate plants, the subsidy is currently 1.7 cents per kWh.  If the price on the grid goes up, the nuclear subsidies go down.  In contrast, the 4.6 cents per kWh for renewables continue, no matter what the price on the grid might be.

The Price of Efficiency

A question I often get asked is:  why can't we just fund efficiency? Wouldn't that be better?

Well, no.  I will leave out the problem that you can only push efficiency so far, before we go back to candlelight.  Instead, I will look at Vermont's full-speed-ahead attempt to support efficiency.

Vermont has an entire agency, Efficiency Vermont, to promote efficiency. According to a government renewables and efficiency energy website, the funding for this agency has grown from $19 million in 2006 to over $35 million in 2010.

Efficiency Vermont is supported by a surcharge on everyone's electric bill, and that surcharge has been growing.  According to recent newspaper articles, linked below, the agency now has a budget of $50 million per year. There are 600,000 people in Vermont, so that is about $80 per person per year. Most households (one electricity bill) have more than one person, so their "fair share" could be hundreds of dollars a year (say, four times $80 or $320).  On the other hand, commercial and industrial users pay these charges, and this lowers the household cost.  I think the average residential bill for Efficiency Vermont is less than $200 a year.

As you can see, this per-person charge for Efficiency Vermont  dwarfs the charges expected from the New York State Clean Energy Standard.  The Governor's office in New York estimated the Clean Energy Standard cost at  $2 per household per month ($24 per year)   In contrast, Vermont efficiency costs approximately $80 per person per year.

Efficiency for Whom?

I spent a few years serving on my town's Energy Commission.   I am no longer on the commission, but I still appreciate energy efficiency.

Efficiency is getting a bad reputation, though.  In recent years in Vermont, there has been a rebellion against Efficiency Vermont charges,  A typical article from VPR is titled: House Brings Down Budget Axe on Efficiency Vermont.  Or in VTDigger: Amendment to H.40 freezes energy efficiency charge.  These articles state that Efficiency Vermont has a budget of about $50 million per year.

If you read the comments on these articles, you will read notes from people who wanted Efficiency Vermont to help them with the costs of energy improvements to their homes.  Many of them didn't get funded, and they were not happy about it. Many people did not qualify for the grants, for various reasons.  Some could not afford the blower-door tests that Efficiency Vermont required to start the efficiency process.  All in all, an efficiency grant helps me but not you, or you but not me.  If my neighbor has new insulation,  that helps him directly, but all I see of the insulation is a surcharge on my electricity bill.

It is no wonder that at $80 per person per year and only some people benefit--there was going to be pushback from Vermonters.

Clean Energy versus Efficiency

For some people, it's a no-brainer to fund efficiency instead of funding any kind of big nasty power plant.  However, when taxes and surcharges fund a clean energy source, everybody benefits from the clean air.  When efficiency is funded, only some people benefit.

Let's be honest. I  benefited.  I could afford a blower door test.  I could afford to work with a certified contractor.  Yes.  I have new insulation.  Every now and again, I want to thank my neighbors for donating the money (through their electricity bills) for my new insulation.  Well.  Maybe that "thank-you" would not be a good idea. ;-)

In contrast, clean energy benefits everyone. The benefits are as clean and clear as the air we breathe.

The New York State Clean Energy Standard is a great bargain for the people of New York.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Taking the High Road with Yankee Water: Guy Page Guest Post

It rains in Vermont. It rains a lot. And rain contributes to groundwater. Everywhere else in Vermont, groundwater moves subsurface into nearby rivers or lakes, usually with little or no treatment.

But Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon is not "everywhere else." After examining groundwater that had intruded into the lower basements of the facility, Vermont Yankee determined that it contained traces of tritium. Even though the extremely low radiation level of this tritiated groundwater is approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be discharged into public waters, Vermont Yankee made the decision to ship this water to Tennessee for processing.

If Vermont Yankee wanted to discharge groundwater into the Connecticut River, it almost certainly could have done so with the approval of the NRC. At the Seabrook plant in New Hampshire, stormwater and groundwater with harmless levels of tritium is sent right into the ocean. Many other nuclear plants do direct discharge, with the approval and oversight of the NRC. Instead, Vermont Yankee has taken the high road by transporting this groundwater to a water treatment plant in Tennessee. Shipping water over 1000 miles costs more time and money than routing it directly to approved discharge paths, and could cost as much as $1 million per year depending on success in eliminating the sources of intrusion water into the plant's Turbine Building.

This is just one more example of Vermont Yankee setting an example for high standards in decommissioning safety practices. The downside is that every dollar spent on shipping is a dollar no longer invested in the facility's decommissioning trust fund. Less money in the fund means more time must elapse before the site can be reused for in the future. The final work of decommissioning — including tearing down the reactor building and removing all radioactive material — cannot begin until the fund accumulates sufficient value, an estimated $1.2 billion. At present, the fund contains about half that amount.

Vermont Yankee is doing its part to be frugal by draining unnecessary systems, minimizing power consumption and reducing workforce. The plant finished its most recent fiscal year about $15 million under budget. VY took out a line of credit of more than $145 million to pay for spent fuel management. But the State of Vermont must also do its part. Officials for the state have suggested or announced a series of VY-related initiatives including "billing back" oversight and monitoring costs that are of dubious necessity to a non-operational nuclear plant, but are guaranteed to draw alarming amounts of money out of the decommissioning fund. Now would be a good time for the state to better prioritize its spending.


Guest post by Guy Page, Communications Director, Vermont Energy Partnership

Guy Page is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.  His most recent post was More Bad News for Vernon in April of this year.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Monday, August 1, 2016

The New York Clean Energy Standard

The victory

I was in Albany today, and the New York Department of Public Service passed the Clean Energy Standard.  It was a great day and a fabulous victory for clean air!  New York State officially acknowledged that nuclear energy is a low-carbon source, and it deserves to be supported, in a similar manner that renewables are supported.  (Nuclear will receive far less money per kWh than renewables, however.)

A victory like this cannot be ascribed to only one person or one organization.  Many people and many groups did a huge amount of work to make this happen.  That said, I have to give a huge amount of credit to the Environmental Progress organization, Michael Shellenberger and Eric Meyer, along with the Mothers for Nuclear organization, with Sarah Spath and others.  There will be much more written about this in future days, but I wanted to get a blog post about it up  today.

My day in Albany

I also wanted to give a first-hand idea of what it was like to be there.

My visit to Albany started last night with a dinner with nuclear activists from all over the country: California, Ohio, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Virginia.  Rod Adams includes pix of the dinner at his blog post: Fighting climate change with best available tools. 

The next morning, we gathered for a rally before the Department of Public Service meeting.  We met in a ground-floor corridor of the building in which the meeting took place. The meeting room was on the 19th floor.  Various people spoke. I spoke about the consequences of closing Vermont Yankee, and why we have to avoid closing nuclear plants. Eric Meyer led us in a rousing rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Atom" (The Truth Goes Marching On). And then we went to the meeting rooms.  Tim Knauer's article in has a picture of part of the scene at the rally. Dozens of CNY residents flood Albany meeting on nuclear subsidies. 

We went into the meeting room. I had the good luck to get a seat and be able to stay in the meeting room itself: the department had to open three "overflow" rooms with video feeds because of the large crowd.  I heard the historical decision to support all kinds of clean energy: renewable AND nuclear.  I think the best post on this is Shellenberger's post at the Environmental Progress blog: Big New York Victory Shows How Far Nuclear Still Has to Go.  This post also has pictures of the celebration outside after the ruling.

It's good to have a victory.

Video: Here's a good nine-minute video about today's events, with Sarah Spath and Michael Shellenberger.