Tag Archives: vermont public service board

Vermont Weather Gets Colder – Vermont Yankee Politics Continue Hot

By Howard Shaffer

Some long-awaited events related to the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant took place toward the end of 2012, such as the trial of some members of the Shut It Down Affinity Group (known to the media as the “nuclear grannies”) who have been arrested many times for blocking Vermont Yankee’s gates.  Some unexpected events have occurred as well, such as a Public Service Board ruling and a brand new lawsuit by a long-term intervenor.

Before the Public Service Board

The Vermont Yankee plant’s US Nuclear Regulatory Commission license was renewed for twenty years in March 2012.  However, the plant also requires a Certificate of Public Good from the state of Vermont in order to operate.  The original Certificate expired on the same day as the original NRC license, but the plant continues to operate under a Federal Court injunction which would prevent the state from shutting the plant down.

Public Service Board members David Coen, Commissioner John Volz, and John Burke, court reporter at left

In the spring, Entergy applied to the Public Service Board of Vermont to change orders concerning the plant’s end dates — to update the expiration dates of Board orders on sale of the plant to Entergy, and approval of Dry Cask Storage.  These expiration dates are the same as the Certificate of Public Good, so on paper the plant is operating in violation of state law.

The Board decided to open a new docket and start over again on the Certificate of Public Good process, after the Federal Court decision and injunction.  On November 29, the Board denied Entergy’s request.  This denial was reported by some media as the Board slapping down Entergy, making it sound like a major blow to the plant.  In fact, the Board stated in its ruling that the ruling was narrow, and did not foretell how it would rule on the new process.

The Board’s ruling inspired the New England Coalition to file suit in Vermont Supreme Court asking the court to enforce the expiration dates and shut the plant down.  The suit is under review.  The suit of course generated media coverage, and must have inspired opponents, which appears to be the purpose.  However, from a citizens’ viewpoint it is ridiculous to ask the state court to act contrary to a Federal Court injunction.  We’ll see.  For those who wish to pore through the legal details, Yes Vermont Yankee has a great detailed post.

New Hampshire Public Radio

Laura Knoy, host of The Exchange

New Hampshire Public radio’s popular call-in interview program “The Exchange” explores topics of public concern, and has done many programs over the years on nuclear power, Vermont Yankee, and Seabrook plant in New Hampshire.  I was already scheduled to be on the program before the Public Service Board’s finding and the lawsuit, so my appearance on December 6 was quite timely.  I was in the studio, while Ray Shadis, technical advisor to the New England Coalition, and John Dillon, Vermont Public Radio reporter, were call-in guests.  Listen online

On the program, I placed the Vermont Yankee issue in the context of a Congressional Public Policy decision, which found that a minute local risk was worth the public good for the country as a whole, where the policy objective is replacing coal burning for power generation.  The Coalition’s new tack is that natural gas plants can be built quickly, so these should be used instead of nuclear plants, which take a longer time to bring into service. The Coalition judges that the gas plants’ release of carbon dioxide is only half that of coal plants… so they are preferable to nuclear power (which emit almost no carbon dioxide at all!).

In response to the host’s question about political support for nuclear power, the Coalition admitted that nuclear power indeed does have support from a majority of Congress.  In kind, the host asked me, why not give up on nuclear power since it seems “too difficult” in the New England region.  I replied that companies in New England have indeed given up for the time being — no new plants are proposed here, while they are under construction in other parts of the country.

On Trial at Last

The Shut It Down Affinity Group have been actively protesting against Vermont Yankee for years by blocking the plant gates and getting arrested.  Some members recently went on trial for the very first time (in the past, prosecutors have not felt it worthwhile to waste court time while providing a public protest platform).  This time, the “nuclear grannies” protest, which included chaining themselves to the gates, took place two days after hurricane Irene had devastated Vermont (the “grannies” actually hail from Massachusetts).  Local first responders were busy helping hurricane victims, but were interrupted by having to arrest the grannies again.

A jury found them guilty.  The judge fined them, even though some wanted to go to jail instead.  Some said they would not pay, and the judge warned that the order would be turned over to a collection agency, with fees added.  The local Brattleboro Reformer editorialized against the grannies.

A ‘Small’ Anniversary
On December 2, on the anniversary of the first man-made chain reaction, the calendar for the Vermont Yankee opponent coalition SAGE Alliance listed a protest at the plant gates.  Four showed up for less than an hour.

And A Positive End to the Year
Vermont Yankee’s site vice President, Chris Wamser, issued a press release thanking all the supporters who came to and spoke at the Public Service Board’s Public Input sessions.  One was face-to-face, and the other via multi-site interactive television.  The press carried the release, which is certainly a positive note.

Best wishes to all in the New Year!

 

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach.

He is Coordinator for the Vermont Grassroots Project. Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Vermont Yankee’s Greatest Hits from the Public Service Board Hearing

By Meredith Angwin

On November 7, an important hearing about the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant was held before the Vermont Public Service Board. Howard Shaffer has an excellent post on this hearing at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

At that hearing, 39 people spoke in favor of Vermont Yankee. I have been collecting their statements and their pictures (as best I can), and posting them on my blog. I have 17 posts to date.

I wanted to share some of these pro-Vermont Yankee statements with ANS Nuclear Cafe readers. They were all great statements — but, with seventeen statements, I needed to choose a subset for this post.  So, I chose excerpts from five of the statements.

Here goes!  (Drum roll. Maybe trumpets.)

The Vermont Yankee Greatest Hits! from the November 7 Vermont Public Service Board hearing held in Vernon, Vt.

Baseball and Baseload. Statement by Dick Trudell, civil engineer

“[Why did I drive 360 miles round trip] to spend a couple of minutes testifying to this board?

I’ll give you an analogy.

Vermont Yankee has proved to be a dependable source of baseload power for Vermont, with approximately half of its 620 MW capacity serving the homes and businesses of Vermont, with over an 80-percent capacity factor. Now, if you had someone on your team batting .800, it is unlikely you would kick them off the team—that’s just plain common sense. Some Vermonters still seem to think that with enough conservation, plus solar and wind power, we can replace Vermont Yankee’s 620 baseload megawatts with a couple of rookies that are batting at best .300, require state subsidies before they could even go to the locker room to suit up, and their salaries cost more that the dependable pro you have had for years.”

Buy Local and Help Your Community. Statement by Kenyon Webber, Vermont Yankee engineer

“…Third, this area should be committed to the “buy local” motto. I suppose many of you feel that because this is not some farm stand on the side of the road, it is not a local business. This business employs hundreds of local people that support the farm stands and other local businesses. We live here locally, and spend our money locally, just like any other person in this community.

So, I close with three good reasons to vote favorably for Vermont Yankee. We provide higher wage, stable careers for more than 600 people, not to mention the millions of tax dollars we provide; we are a good community partner; and, you should be buying your electricity local.”

The Ability to Live in My Home. Statement by Karen Wilson, Vermont Yankee employee

“I live here in Vernon with my daughter, Heather, who happens to be an adult with developmental challenges.

My other daughter, Amanda, also lives here in Vernon with her partner, Jason, and my two granddaughters, Kali and Reis.

I moved to the area in 1971 and began raising my family here in 1980.

I worked at a local business in Brattleboro until a few years ago, when, due to the times, I found myself in a position like many and was laid off.

Thankfully, just over a year and a half ago, I was offered a job and accepted a position at Vermont Yankee.

Vermont Yankee has many programs and offers support not only to the community but to its employees.  With the support of management and my fellow employees at Vermont Yankee, I am able to take advantage of one program they offer, that is allowing me the opportunity to go back to school to complete my business degree.

Having Vermont Yankee here in Vernon, as an employer, has made it possible for Heather and me to continue to live in our home, for me to support my family, and for me to continue my education.”

Phobias Should Not Determine Policy. Statement by Peter Roth, chemical engineer

“There is no rational argument to shut a facility that continues to produce safe, reliable, and low cost electricity for Vermont and the New England grid, and has demonstrated so for a long time. Electricity is not a luxury, but a vital necessity, as we know when a storm like Hurricane Sandy shuts down power for millions.

Loss of power creates a high level “Misery Index” for people, but creating a condition that raises electricity costs for marginal income folks also creates a Misery Index. We are dealing with a commodity that is essential to our lives and an option that cannot be deferred. Food, clothing, shelter, and power cannot be deferred…..

Those that fear “Nuclear Power” may suffer from the same anxiety and condition that causes fear of flying, or fear of heights, or fear of enclosed space, and no rational argument can dissuade them from their phobias. However, their fear should not be an argument that impacts the lives of more rational people.”

Vermont Tourism Supported by Vermont Yankee. Statement by Heather Sheppard, employed by a major Vermont resort

“Beauty, clean air, and affordability. Vermont Yankee is a benefit to all three. Beauty, because having an operational Vermont Yankee means we are in less of a rush to clear cut our mountain ridgelines and valleys to make way for wind farms and for crisscrossing new power lines for the hodgepodge of small-scale power generation that some would have replace it. Clean air, because Vermont Yankee emits no air pollutants, unlike the coal and gas plants that will be ramped up if Vermont Yankee closes. Some environmental groups that should know better have suggested a patchwork quilt of woodburning power plants, carbon emissions and all, to replace Vermont Yankee. From an air quality point of view, this makes no sense. To me, one of Vermont Yankee’s greatest environmental benefits as a power producer is that it already exists. No more trees need to be cut down, nor rocks blasted, nor tourist-drawing scenic views destroyed. There is no need for lines of slow, loud, exhaust-emitting trucks running to and from construction sites and woodchip plants.”

Excerpts from five statements are linked above. Readers are encouraged to visit Yes Vermont Yankee to see more of the statements in favor of continued operation of Vermont Yankee:

Farm and Forest in Vermont, Bruce Shields

Young Workers in Windham County, Lindsay Rose

Vermont’s Fair Share of the Grid, Howard Shaffer

Air Pollution and Vermont Yankee, Meredith Angwin

Avoid Carbon Dioxide, Keep Vermont Yankee, Dr. Carlos Pinkham

Vermont People work at Vermont Yankee, Patty O’Donnell

Global Warming and Vermont Yankee, Ellen Cota

Affordable Reliable Electricity, Dianne Amme

A Strong Vision for the Future of Vermont, Charles Kelly

Power, Carbon and Costs, Peter Lothes

Vital for the Region and My Family, A Teen-Ager’s View, Evan Twarog

Over 600 Families, Cheryl Twarog

Thanks to Paul Bowersox of ANS for suggesting the idea for this post

______________________________

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents. Angwin formerly served as a commissioner in Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Vermont Yankee supporters at Public Service Board hearing

Public Service Board hearing a success

By Howard Shaffer

Supporters and employees of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant mounted a successful appearance at a Public Service Board hearing on November 7 in Vernon, Vt. This was to be the only face-to-face meeting between the board and the public in the process for a new Certificate of Public Good, required for continued operation of the plant. The hearing appearance was judged a success, due to the 3 to 1 margin of supporters to opponents and subsequent balanced press reporting.

Preparations

The Public Service Board hearing was announced a few months in advance, so there was time to notify supporters and plant staff and plan for our appearance. The plant notified and encouraged supporters, employees, and unions. Groups notified included the ANS Grassroots Project, Vermont Energy Partnership, Ethan Allen Institute’s Energy Education Project, and others. These groups notified their mailing lists and Facebook pages. For example, see this blog post by Meredith Angwin.

Two weeks before the hearing, Tracy Mason, communications expert from the Nuclear Energy Institute, came to brief plant staff and supporters on nuclear communications.

Briefing

A briefing session was provided to instill confidence in people, help them feel safe with many colleagues to support them, and know what to expect. Fellowship and food are important in building team spirit. Entergy opened the Governor Hunt House, in Vernon, for the briefing session, beginning at 4:00 pm. Entergy’s Brian Cosgrove, vice president for Governmental Affairs, and Chris Wamser, Site vice president, spoke at the briefing session, as did former Vermont governor Thomas Salmon.

Governor Salmon at the briefing

The hearing

The Vernon Elementary School is a short walk from the Governor Hunt House. The gym is the only large meeting room in the town. Public meetings concerning the Vermont Yankee plant are held here by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state of Vermont, as well as at locations in Brattleboro, Vt.

Public Service Board hearing, Vernon Elementary School

The doors opened at 6:30 and the board and staff arrived soon after. Sign-up lists for speakers were on a first-come basis, so supporters and opponents moved quickly to get in line. Eighty speakers signed up. The hearing had been announced in advance for 7pm–9pm, but the board extended the hearing to 10pm. About 300 persons were in attendance.

The board allotted two minutes per speaker. Testimony was recorded by a court reporter. Testimony could also be submitted by e-mail and letter, as long as the docket is open, the board said. We encouraged supporters to bring written testimony and submit it to the board at the hearing, even if they also spoke. Also, there was a risk that they would not get the opportunity to speak, in which case their written testimony would become even more important.

The board is a quasi-judicial body, providing Certificates of Public Good to all utilities. The Public Service Department, under Vermont’s governor, oversees utilities, and serves as the public’s representative before the board. The board stated that the information provided by the public is not evidence, but is used to inform its questioning of witnesses. It was also stated that radiological and nuclear safety are not in the board’s jurisdiction, so that these topics should not be addressed. (A few of the opponents did, anyway.)

The speakers were timed by a board member, given 15 seconds warning, and cut off when their time was up. A few took less than the allotted two minutes.

Meredith Angwin—American Nuclear Society member, director of the Energy Education Project, and a Yes Vermont Yankee blogger—addresses the Public Service Board.

Opponents raised all the usual non-nuclear issues: company trustworthiness; emergency planning and evacuation; climate change; weather events; conservation, efficiency, alternative energy; and the river ecosystem. A new objection, strangely, concerned the cost to Vermont of the Emergency Plan. This is strange since the Vermont Yankee plant funds the emergency plan. Without the plant, taxes would have to support the plan.

Supporters stressed the great economic benefit, the increase in CO2 emissions that would result without the plant, the benefit of baseload power to the grid, the grid as a shared responsibility, and the contribution of plant employees to the area as citizens. It was noted that the plant’s direct charitable contributions are quite significant.  [Readers are strongly encouraged to visit Yes Vermont Yankee to read the ongoing series of excellent written testimonies and guest posts in support of continued operation of Vermont Yankee.]

Former Governor Salmon referred to a recent New England Council report calling for retention of the region’s four nuclear power plants as vital to the electric power supply.

Vernon residents, including plant employees, spoke of their trust of, and comfort with, the plant. Patty O’Donnell, of Vernon—Selectboard chair and a former 12-year state representative from the town—also spoke of the town’s comfort with the plant. She said that no amount of money, i.e. economic benefit, could convince the town to favor the plant if residents did not feel the plant is safe.

Lessons learned

Nuclear power supporters are out there. With organization and support, they will come forward and join in the political fray.

Plant employees are the best advertisement there is. One employee spoke of living in Vernon, and having his wife teach at and his child attend the school (about a half mile from the plant). Over the past decade, several scientific public opinion polls in Vermont have consistently shown that 65 percent of the public feels “people who work at the plant” are the most credible and trusted source of information about plant safety and operations.

Supporters need to gather and socialize. Refreshments or food is needed for morale (to prevent the “brownie deficit” syndrome). Anti nukes always have food.

A great deal can be accomplished with management support, at minimal cost.

_________________________

Contributions by Meredith Angwin and Brian Cosgrove

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach.

He is Coordinator for the Vermont Grassroots Project. Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.