Tag Archives: Vermont Yankee

A CAN-CAN Dance around Vermont Yankee Decommissioning

By Howard Shaffer

View1Our Sierra Club local chapter recently sponsored a joint presentation—by two local anti-nuclear groups. A small audience of attendees heard of the horrors that citizens might expect during Vermont Yankee’s upcoming decommissioning. The presenters claimed that their participation in decommissioning will be needed to insure that all goes well because Entergy, and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, can’t be trusted. Included as usual was a litany of things about to go wrong—all caused by nuclear power!

The dancers

The partners were Citizens Awareness Network (CAN) leader Deb Katz of Massachusetts, and Citizens Action Network (also known as CAN) leader Chris Williams of Vermont and the Beyond Nuclear group. Using a new PowerPoint presentation, which anti-nuclear groups will undoubtedly use a lot more in the future, they detailed their fears and plans. They worked in a “tag team” switching back and forth a few times.

(Are the identical group name acronyms coincidental? The local press uses CAN for both, making it seem there is one larger organization.)

Katz has been active for many years in local opposition to the Yankee plant at Rowe, Massachusetts, and Vermont Yankee http://www.nukebusters.org/.

Williams is a life-long anti-nuclear activist, by his own proud admission and his resume, beginning right out of college. He claims as a signal achievement the torpedoing of the proposed Marble Hill nuclear plant in Indiana. While retired in Vermont, he has been organizing and leading opposition to Vermont Yankee too http://www.beyondnuclear.org/relicensing/2012/10/3/background-on-chris-williams-presenting-on-entergy-nuclear-r.html.

Their message—and what really happened

“We won” was Deb Katz’s opening line, referring to Entergy’s decision to shut down and decommission the Vermont Yankee plant by the end of the fuel cycle this year.

However, the “we” really didn’t do much winning. The Vermont Yankee plant has a 20-year license extension from the NRC, but projected an unprofitable future competing in the New England energy market against (currently) low natural gas prices. Entergy decided to plan to shutter the plant on its own… although it is possible that there was some political pressure on Vermont’s two energy utilities to not sign long-term contracts with the plant.

The presentation then went on to include the following messages (followed by my own analysis):

“We gave up on the NRC and targeted companies’ finances to make it hard for them to do business.”

True. Nuclear energy opponents have used every available means to run up costs. One of the latest was getting the Red Cross to claim that they needed to shelter an absurdly large number of people for an extended period, if there ever were an evacuation. The funding is to come from Vermont Yankeesee Vermont Yankee asked to pay $200,000 in 2014.

Connecticut Yankee and Yankee Rowe (Massachusetts) decommissionings had problems and cost overruns. Rate payers are still paying because decommissioning trust funds were exhausted. The Yankee Rowe site has PCB contamination and is a chemical pigsty.

Once again the tactic is to compare nuclear power to perfection. To compare Yankee Rowe’s initial cost to the decommissioning cost, without adjusting for 45 years of inflation, is absurd economicsbut also a tactic.

Vermont Yankee is the first Merchant Plant to be decommissioned, and if its decommissioning trust fund is exhausted, Vermont taxpayers will be stuck with the bill.

The NRC has stated that it will go back to the original owners, if necessary, to get the necessary funds for decommissioning. Congress intended for those who benefited from operating the plants to pay for decommissioning, not any government.  Meanwhile, a loss of funding for various purposes in the region from the Vermont Yankee plant will be keenly feltsee Millions for education, but not one cent for tribute.

The plant could have a fuel pool fire which would be devastating.

This of course has never happened and remains hypothetical.  At any rate, left out is time available for responders to intervene if such an event were to somehow come to pass.

Many nuclear power plants were bought at “fire sale” prices. The Decommissioning Trust Fund can be claimed as an asset. Executives are selling their stock. All Entergy nuclear plants are in trouble financially (i.e., it’s all about making money).

Actually, rather typical business practices are all that has been going on. Taking standard accounting rules and claiming some unique fault of nuclear power is a common tactic.

There needs to be a Citizens Advisory Panel to oversee the decommissioning process. The panel needs training. The Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP) should transition to a citizens’ panel. This should be in the Vermont budget bill this year.

Vermont (H.885) established the “Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel,” replacing the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (which was a forum for anti-nuclear activism). The new panel includes two members appointed by the plant, one Union member from the IBEW who worked at the plant, representatives from towns in the 10-mile emergency planning zone, and state agencies.

This is a dangerous time. We are seeing the death spiral of Utilities. The Koch brothers are trying to stop it.

Why the demise of utilities would be such a good thing is not stated. Utilities, after all, are buying power from renewable sources under state mandates. Claiming dangers from a crisis of desperation sounds like a scare tactic.

We have three years to make good energy choicesto the next ISO auction (New England Independent System Operator, the regional grid manager).

What was not said was what terrible thing might happen if what they define as “good” is not done. 

Baseload for renewables is not needed. Hydro Quebec is the backup.

Hydro Quebec’s vast capacity is then the baseload. Another scare tactic.

Baseload will destroy renewables.

Baseload and renewables are coexisting right now. This statement shows a complete lack of knowledge of alternating current power supply realities. A great deal of research and development is ongoing to attempt to develop economical large-scale electric energy storage. If this comes into existence, then renewables plus storage will be part of baseload.

Positive notes

There was no media coverage.

Williams was supportive of a recent agreement between Vermont and Entergy, approved by the Public Service Board and in the Certificate of Public Good, under which the plant is continuing to operate. He said that it gets the job done. Katz was not so happy about the agreement, saying that it didn’t go far enough (surprise, surprise).

The future

We can expect more of the same by nuclear energy opponents locally and nationally—including a citizens’ panel underway for the San Onofre plant decommissioning.

Williams has been to the Palisades plant area in Michigan and expects to continue to help the opposition there. That plant has a license extension and a long-term contract.

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___________________

Shaffer

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, his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a former member of the ANS Public Information Committee, consults in nuclear public outreach, and is coordinator of 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.

A Pyrrhic Victory in Vermont for Nuclear Power?

“Another victory like this will ruin us”

—Greek King Pyrrhus after defeating Roman armies in 279 and 280 BCE

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontFriday, March 28, 2014—Hanover, New Hampshire. While Rod Adams, Meredith Angwin, Bob Hargraves, and I attended Dartmouth College’s Three Mile Island 35th Anniversary Symposium: The Past, Present, and Future of Nuclear Energy—the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) issued a long-awaited decision on a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) for Entergy Corporation’s Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station. (Rod has a great report on the Dartmouth TMI symposium—the comment string is especially enlightening.)

As expected, the PSB (grudgingly) ruled in favor of Entergy.

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R. Adams, G. Angwin, M. Angwin, M. Shaffer, H. Shaffer

A tortured history

Vermont Yankee originally sought a CPG to operate for 20 additional years beyond its original 40-year approval. The plant had received a 20-year license renewal from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2012. However, the state of Vermont under its current governor Peter Shumlin (first elected in 2010) wanted the plant closed.

After the Vermont Senate voted to block the PSB from issuing the certificate, Entergy sued in federal court, claiming the state preempted the NRC’s exclusive federal authority over radiological safety. The District Court and Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Entergy.

Both sides were mulling over appealing to the US Supreme Court, and were awaiting a decision from the PSB on the 2- year certificate. Then, on August 27, two weeks after the circuit court decision, Entergy announced that it planned to shut down and decommission the plant at the end of 2014, primarily due to low natural gas prices. Entergy then modified its application for the CPG to run only until the end of 2014. The plant was operating under the expired 40-year CPG, which had been extended because the renewal process was still in progress.

Entergy and the state then negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the plant’s final operation, decommissioning, and site restoration. The MOU provided for the state “switching sides” before the PSB and supporting the application for a CPG through the end on 2014. Entergy agreed to provide several different payments to the state, and agreed to begin decommissioning as soon as the trust fund becomes sufficient. Both sides dropped most pending lawsuits, and agreed to continue negotiations on a few other matters in good faith. This MOU is part of the CPG.

The Certificate of Public Good

The PSB’s order, as it must, includes: background, legal framework, findings and discussion, and general good of the state. It explains the PSB’s reasoning and addresses the issues raised by all parties. The order seeks to be “bullet proof” since the PSB’s orders may be appealed to the state supreme court (for example, since this order, the court reversed the PSB concerning a solar plant).

The state and Entergy, by their agreement, ended all litigation and will close out all other open dockets before the PSB. Obviously, they would like to avoid any more litigation on Vermont Yankee. There are a few unresolved issues between the state and company, but they should be resolvable by good-faith negotiation, as agreed. However, this does not prevent any of the other parties in the proceeding, particularly the anti-nuclear interveners, from suing. The final three pages of the 98-page order list the distribution: 14 parties, 8 law firms, and 37 lawyers! The PSB perhaps hopes that there will be no more lawsuits.

A lesson to be learned for any nuclear plant

One of the factors the PSB considers in all its CPGs is whether or not the applicant can be a “Fair Partner” to the state and its citizens. Section IV B discusses the PSB’s evaluation of Entergy. On page 41 it states, “If Entergy were continuing to pursue a 20 year license extension, the experiences of the last 12 years might well have led the Board to deny a CPG.”

The complete discussion is on pages 31-43, and finishes with the PSB discussing why Entergy is not likely to renege on its commitments in the short time during which most of them must be met. The fact that this discussion had to take place at all is sad, and in hindsight points out mistakes that other plants in similar situations must avoid—that is, when active anti-nuclear groups that are admitted as parties are seeking every chance to trip up and discredit the plant.

Major items listed:

1) Beginning construction of two structures without PSB permission. There was an application in for the items, but approval had not yet been granted.

2) Operating without a valid CPG. Operation after the expiration date of the original CPG continued, even though the PSB said that it could not under the original and subsequent CPGs. Entergy had asked if it could operate while its application for a 20-year extension continued, and the PSB said no.

But it operated, and the PSB and state took no action to force a shutdown. The catch appears to be a state law that apparently applies to all kinds of state licensing actions. This law states that if licensing renewal actions are still in progress when the current expiration date passes, the activity may continue. This seems perfectly reasonable, since without it, the bureaucracy could just “pocket veto” anything, just by postponing or taking no action.

If the state had tried to force a shutdown, then Entergy would have probably sued and asked the court to stay the state’s action. Demonstrating its annoyance over this, the PSB stated that approval of this CPG wiped out Entergy’s liability for operating without a valid permit, but if Entergy doesn’t meet a commitment in the new CPG, the PSB could revoke it, removing the wipe-out of liability, and then impose penalties.

3) A past tritium leak was a huge issue. The state senate set up a public oversight panel, and had a comprehensive reliability assessment performed. One of the members was Arnie Gundersen (of Fairewinds Associates in Vermont), a known anti-nuclear activist who has been spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt in Japan after the Fukushima accident.

The plant told the assessors that it had no “buried piping,” by that meaning piping directly buried in soil carrying fluids regulated for radioactivity. The plant failed to make clear an important distinction between “below ground” and “buried”—everyone else took “buried” to mean “underground,” i.e. below the surface. When piping that was below ground level, but in a concrete tunnel, leaked and the liquid got out through a crack in the tunnel and was detected by monitoring wells, the public, press, legislative and PSB reaction was volcanic.  The opponents all said, “You lied. You told us there is no underground piping.”

A year-long investigation by Vermont’s attorney general found no intentional wrong-doing. However, the plant never recovered from this. The lesson is that you can’t hide behivvnd blaming the press and public for misunderstanding technical terms. Instead, the obligation is to explain technical situations in simple terms the public and press can understand, even if it takes more than one word.

The entire order is repetitious, but at least the section on Fair Partner is recommended for management and those committed to engaging the public.

Of value to the industry

The federal courts found that the state legislature attempted to preempt NRC authority over radiological safety. Radiation safety was not referred to in a resolution the senate had passed blocking the PSB from releasing a CPG—it was revealed in the legislative record, which was brought into evidence. The precedent was reaffirmed that it is legislative intent that can matter when stated actions are unclear or disguised. It seems surprising that this would need reaffirmation, since we often hear of the US Supreme Court examining congressional intent.

The NRC will hold firm to its regulations, but it will not attempt to explain its philosophy to the public in contentious public meetings. Every NRC finding states that there is “reasonable assurance” that the public will be safe. Yet opponents are demanding perfect safety, and the NRC won’t tell them this is what it is doing.

The “pro bono” supporters of Vermont Yankee were able to organize rallies, attend hearings, and participate in all the political activities involved in grass-roots advocacy that takes place on either, or any, side of contentious issues. Plant management can support these activities. Regulated utilities formerly were limited in the amount of advertising and self-promotion they could charge to customers. How much they can do out of stockholders’ funds may be open. For merchant nuclear plants it would seem that they are no more limited than the natural gas industry.

The anti-nuclear movement is international, well-funded, and permanent. Nuclear plants need to have a permanent support network of volunteers. The activity level will vary depending on each situation—“All politics are local.” This support network should be thought of as insurance, which needs to be in place at all times and maintained. When a political firestorm arises, it’s too late to get organized. Insurance is a lot cheaper than picking up the pieces in court afterward.

A Pyrrhic Victory? No!

The victory of just a two-year CPG has cost a lot. Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee have been forced out of business by low natural gas prices in a market where wind and solar power are given preferential treatment. It will cost many of the loyal employees of the plant a lot in the short term, and cost the local community, region, and state of Vermont a lot in the long run.

The loss of Vermont Yankee seems to have awakened industry leaders to a real threat to the life of nuclear power in the commercial electric power market.

The pro bono advocates of nuclear power have been re-energized to fight harder.

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__________________________

Shaffer

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, his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a former member of the ANS Public Information Committee, consults in nuclear public outreach, and is coordinator of 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: The Art of the Deal

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontThe Art of the Deal is the title of a book by Donald Trump, and it certainly applies to a recent press conference in Vermont. The press conference, on December 23, 2013,   was about the eventual closing down of the Vermont Yankee power plant and was a big deal, a game changer, and a just-in-time Christmas present for many.

At the press conference, Peter Shumlin, who is the governor of Vermont, and Entergy Corporation announced an agreement for moving ahead on a final year of operation for Vermont Yankee and then its subsequent decommissioning (Entergy had last year announced the plant’s scheduled closure, mainly for economic reasons). The agreement also reached closure on some federal lawsuits regarding the plant. What caught most people by surprise, though, was the “arms linked harmony” display that was featured by the state and Entergy at the press conference, after years of acrimony during which the governor and plant opponents stated that Entergy couldn’t be trusted. The agreement was met with skepticism from the press, while the anti-nukes continue to say that they can’t believe anything that Entergy has to say.

The negotiators

At the December press conference were the governor and Vermont’s attorney general, the commissioner of the Public Service Department, the commissioner of the Department of Health, and the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources. Representing Entergy and Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee were Mike Twomey and Jim Sinclair. Not explained at the press conference were the actual negotiations done to reach the agreement, but from the remarks of those making the announcement, they were all deeply involved with the agreement and of course concurred with it.

Everyone’s tone was cordial, deferential, and mutually supportive. This was a huge change from the years during which the governor and the state officials were castigating Entergy and Vermont Yankee. For example, the governor had formerly routinely referred to the company as “Entergy Louisiana” in an effort to portray that it was not “one of us Vermonters with our values.” However, he has more recently made it clear that he, along with the antis, were not criticizing the hard-working plant employees who were, and are, doing their jobs well.

What they said

The Settlement Agreement (13 pages, 33 items) identifies some remaining items still in disagreement, which will be moot if the planned Certificate of Public Good (CPG) for plant operation through 2014 is granted. However, most importantly, the agreement states that Entergy and the state find it in the public good for the plant to operate through the end of 2014, and that the state will support Entergy’s request for a CPG before the Public Service Board (PSB). The parties are committed in writing to working in good faith, and having a “transparent and constructive” process.

Major specifics are:

  • five federal suits or petitions from both sides will be dropped
  • a site restoration fund up to $60 million
  • an economic development fund of $10 million
  • payment of taxes and release of escrow
  • each party to be responsible for its own legal fees
  • the discharge permit process for the Connecticut River will continue
  • the state has the right of first refusal in buying the land
  • a site assessment study will be completed by the end of the year, to include:
    • evaluation of the immediate decommissioning option (DECON) as well as SAFSTOR
    • site restoration to “greenfield” after release by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
    • steps for spent (used) fuel removal to dry storage and fuel pool closure
    • state review of the site assessment study before submission of the post shutdown decommissioning activities report to the NRC and inclusion of the state’s comments.

What the opponents are saying

The opponents continue on their chosen track. They continue to find fault with the agreement, accusing Entergy of acting in bad faith or being untruthful, cherry picking facts, and doing everything they can to give Vermont Yankee in particular and nuclear power in general a black eye. In other words, they run a no-holds-barred dirty political campaign.

Ray Shadis, now technical consultant to the anti-nuclear New England Coalition, complained that the agreement between the state and Entergy was a deal made by a few people behind closed doors (but actually there will be an extensive process of review in the form of the PSB).  Further, Shadis complained about the time and money that the coalition had invested in its process to immediately close Vermont Yankee.

But why? The coalition is getting what it wanted, which is to shut down the plant. The only remaining piece is for the state and Entergy to agree with each other before the PSB. This PSB process is not bypassed.

Shadis further complained that Entergy’s leading lawyer asked for a time extension last fall to present the agreement to the PSB, because he was involved in other cases. Shadis maintains that this was a stalling tactic, so that Entergy and the state would have more time to work out the agreement. But, how would Shadis know who was negotiating the deal, since he himself said that negotiations were conducted behind closed doors? Shadis wants to claim the victory of Vermont Yankee’s shutdown for himself, as he does for Maine Yankee’s shutdown.

Another anti-nuclear group, the Connecticut River Watershed Council, complains that the deal lets the plant off the hook since the updated discharge permit is still in process. The group wants the plant to use its cooling towers more and to stop “superheating the river.”

On January 14, the PSB held an interactive state-wide hearing. Many of “the usual suspects” showed up to vent their feelings. One commenter said that granting the CPG to Vermont Yankee would be like giving a drunk a driver’s license.

But state representative Tony Klein, chair of the state’s Natural Resources and Energy Committee and a leading opponent of the plant, said that the deal struck by the state and Entergy is a pretty good one.

What it means

When Entergy last August announced the plan to close the plant at the end of 2014, the state and the opponents got what they had been howling about for years. But suddenly the ground under the governor had shifted, because while he had reached the objective that he ran his election campaign on, he wouldn’t be able to claim that he did it. Also, decommissioning is under NRC jurisdiction, and so the state has no way of controlling it. SAFSTOR, which allows decommissioning to finish in 60 years, is in writing in the plant’s sale agreement (from when Entergy purchased the plant years ago), so Shumlin’s hands are tied in that area. There is a written agreement to restore the site to “greenfield” after the NRC regulates radiological decommissioning, but the term is not further defined.

Also, suddenly the governor is facing the situation that what Entergy had been saying about the adverse economic impact of plant closure might be true. Since the Vermont legislature’s own economic study confirmed the negative impact, an economic downturn for the region seems pretty probable.

Also, Entergy was involved in several lawsuits and petitions, as well as commitments to the state. Up until now, the state had been siding with the opponents in opposing the plant before the NRC and the PSB. This had made things hard for Entergy, since the first tactic that lawyers learn is delay. The interveners in NRC procedures have been doing this nationally to the point where the NRC had to adopt a rule stating that if a license renewal is applied for five years before expiration, yet the proceedings continue beyond that period, the plant may continue to operate while the licensing continues. Vermont Yankee applied for license renewal more than five years before expiration (and the Seabrook plant, in New Hampshire, has applied 20 years before!). If Vermont continued to side with the opponents, Entergy faced agonizing and costly delays for many more years. This prospect needed to be prevented, if possible.

It appears that both the state and Entergy needed a way out of the legal and regulatory tangle created with the “help” of the opponents. It also appears that the state and Entergy recognized the political and financial realities, and that they got together for their own mutual benefit. This qualifies as a very “artful deal.”

Where does this leave the opponents? Mostly out in the cold. With the state no longer on their side, they have little leverage. They know this, as can be seen from the increased anger of their rhetoric.

Where does this leave the PSB? With an easier task than before. The PSB had completed its hearings, testimony, and filings on the 20-year license renewal, and a decision was pending with no date set. The PSB faced the prospect of court appeals from the losing side. Now, with the state and Entergy together—and the operation time of nine months after the agreement’s date set for a CPG, and the federal appeals court having upheld Entergy on nuclear preemption, and the plant’s superior record—it will be hard to find something that will not be in the public good. It is expected that the PSB will complete the hearings to give the opponents their “day in court,” and perhaps impose a few administrative conditions, and then approve the CPG.

The opponents can be expected to continue to fight to the end, and to try to make it even more bitter.

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________________________

Shaffer

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, his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a former member of the ANS Public Information Committee, consults in nuclear public outreach, and is coordinator of 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: Now What Are Opponents Doing?

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontThe shutdown of Vermont Yankee at the end of its current fuel cycle next fall has been announced. Now that opponents have been handed what they were working for, it might be expected that they would declare victory and go on to something else. This isn’t happening. It would be normal for the state and local governments to be concerned about the economic impact of the shutdown, and begin to plan for it. But what are the “anti-nukes” doing? You might be surprised, if you didn’t understand their real motive.

Generating political cover

Governor Shumlin of Vermont

Governor Shumlin

Right after the announcement of the shutdown scheduled for next fall, Vermont’s governor (Peter Shumlin), who had been criticizing plant owner Entergy for years and saying that the plant should be shut down, reached out to Entergy. In 2011 Shumlin said “no one ever told me about SAFSTOR,” and that it had not been mentioned in any hearings. We didn’t hear that this year, since SAFSTOR clearly was discussed previously by the governor (for more on SAFSTOR and Vermont Yankee see this post at Yes Vermont Yankee). If the governor wanted to argue that only what is said or not said in the legislature is what counts, he would be agreeing with the federal court that found “legislative intent” in overturning state laws regarding Vermont Yankee. The governor and Vermont’s Department of Public Service have held a series of closed door meetings with Entergy to discuss decommissioning. There is talk of asking the state’s Public Service Board, which has still to issue a Certificate of Public Good to the plant for another year of continued operation, to include decommissioning provisions in the certificate.

What can the state and Entergy talk about? They can’t change the facts of physics. The last fuel to operate in the reactor must stay in water cooling for five years until it is ready for air cooling. This governs what can happen. There is no equipment for transferring used fuel out of the plant before five years. Then there is the issue of returning the site to a “greenfield” condition. Some in the public are saying this ought to mean that every last scrap of foundations and base mats must be dug up and removed, that the site must be returned to the way it was before the plant was built, no matter what the future use might be. There has been some public mention of future uses, but nothing from the state.

These talks are really about political cover. Now that opponents and the governor are going to get what they wanted, they are suddenly waking up to the fact that there will be a big economic loss to the plant’s region, and to the state. In addition, they now find that the plant and the used fuel cannot disappear instantly, as if by using a magic wand. This desire is emotionally based, as is much of what drives many of the opponents. The political cover is to play to that emotion. The governor faces an election in the fall, just when the plant will be shutting down. If the anti-nukes are mad at him for not making the plant go away rapidly, they might turn against him by staying away from the polls. The anti-nuclear vote is 14 percent of his support, and without them he would not have been elected the first time.

Continuing the fear campaign

At the same time, anti-nukes are not giving up spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) about nuclear power. Their target now is decommissioning. They apparently want to do what they did in the other decommissionings in New England—to stick their noses in the process to try to make it as costly and painful as possible for the owners. This will help in their objective of giving all of nuclear power a black eye, to further discredit it with the public.

dr resnikoff c 150x130Opponents are continuing in the tactics that they have been using. There are press releases, letter writings, and public presentations. Dr. Resnikoff of the New England Coalition is a presenter at some of these events. At the coalition’s annual meeting (report here) he revealed his tactic, which is to show how much radioactivity there is in the plant. He never says why or how it is dangerous. The unspoken assumption is that it is can easily harm YOU.

The opponent groups also are discussing and proposing various decommissioning options. Perhaps these discussions will open their eyes to the fact that the options are limited to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s regulations. One of their cards is the “greenfield” issue. The written agreement with the state when the plant was built included the promise to grade and reseed the plant site, if necessary. There has not yet been any mention of possible uses of the parts of the site, such as roads, parking lots, fences, office buildings, and security system that would be valuable for many uses. In addition, a rail line is within a few hundred yards, and there is a major grid switchyard adjacent. Originally built with and for the plant, the switchyard is now independently owned.

What lies ahead

It will be interesting to see what the next year will bring. Lurking in the background is the Certificate of Public Good, yet to be issued. If the plant is denied the certificate it would have to shut down immediately—or go to court.  Also, Vermont’s attorney general received an extension to January of a deadline to file an appeal of the recent appellate court decision to the US Supreme Court.  If the Supreme Court were to overturn the circuit court’s decision invalidating the Vermont legislature’s blocking of the Certificate of Public Good, then the certificate would be blocked and the plant would have to shut down immediately. Then there is the issue of sharing “excess revenue” per the sales agreement. If the price of natural gas remains high enough, long enough (and it is spiking now), Vermont Yankee would owe the state money.

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____________________

Shaffer

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, his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a former member of the ANS Public Information Committee, consults in nuclear public outreach, and is coordinator of 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.

Millions for education, but not one cent for tribute

By Meredith Angwin

viewfromVermontSince Entergy announced that it would close Vermont Yankee, I have been thinking about advice for nuclear plants going forward.  I mean, they haven’t asked me for my advice, but what the heck.  I have lots of opinions, and 20-20 hindsight.

Nothing for outreach

Let’s look at Entergy and Vermont Yankee.  I was not living in Vermont in 2002 when Entergy bought Vermont Yankee; I moved here two years later.  I understand, however, that shortly after the purchase, Entergy closed the Vermont Yankee visitor center.  It was certainly closed by the time I arrived in Vermont.  Penny-wise and pound-foolish!  (Yes, I have opinions.)

Tribute begins: Power uprate

Meanwhile, Entergy wanted approval from Vermont’s Public Service Board for a power uprate, and the approval was ultimately granted.

Part of Entergy’s deal for the power uprate was that Entergy would contribute $7 million for the cleanup of Lake Champlain.  Lake Champlain is located in northwest Vermont.  Vermont Yankee is located on the Connecticut River at the very southeast tip of Vermont.  Lake Champlain is on the other side of the Green Mountains from Vermont Yankee, in a totally different watershed.  In other words, it is hard to imagine any place less affected by Vermont Yankee than Lake Champlain.  But, Entergy closed the visitor center at the plant, and they made a deal to clean up Lake Champlain in order to get the power uprate.

In other words, outreach ended and the tribute payments began.

(Note:  The legislature attempted to override the Public Service Board on this, but apparently the legislative bill passed only the Vermont house, and not the senate.)

This lake really doesn't have much to do with Vermont Yankee

This lake really doesn’t have much to do with Vermont Yankee

Once the Public Service Board (with guidance from those who want to make nuclear power too expensive to operate) got its first tribute payment, it was hooked on getting more money from Entergy.  If it could get Entergy to fund Lake Champlain, truly the sky was the limit for pet projects!

As Kipling said about the foolish practice of attempting to pay off Viking raiders: “Once you have paid him the Dane-geld, you never get rid of the Dane.”

Once you pay the DaneGeld...

Once you pay the Dane-geld…

Tribute continues: Dry casks

Entergy needed a pad for dry casks.  Now, I don’t even know why this would come before the Public Service Board, but it did.  Dry casks are clearly a nuclear safety issue and are regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  However, the original Memorandum of Understanding (under which Entergy purchased the plant) did not include a reference to dry cask storage.  So the game was afoot!  In my opinion, the Board was now addicted to getting money from Entergy.

In return for dry casks, Entergy had to set up and fund the Clean Energy Development Fund.  This fund pays for wind turbines and solar installations. Funding levels varied for this fund, but were always several million dollars a year.

As a matter of fact, with Vermont Yankee not going forward after 2014, the Clean Energy Fund is also ending.  This is having an impact.  An important pro-wind advocate recently said that he expects no new wind farms will be built in Vermont for many years.  (For me, this is a bit of a silver lining in the dark cloud of Vermont Yankee’s closing, but that is another story.)

Safety diesels, the possible attempt that failed

Recently, Entergy needed new safety diesels installed.  The Public Service Board held off on ruling about this installation until it found itself being sued by Entergy in federal court.  Once the federal case opened, the Board finally issued a snarky ruling allowing the diesels.

The Public Service Board caused a lot of excitement, last-minute rulings, and public grandstanding about the emergency diesels.  Under other circumstances, this could have become another attempt at extracting Dane-geld.  Entergy, however, had been winning in court over the regulation of nuclear safety.  So the Public Service Board was stuck.  It had to back off.

Tax it all!

Meanwhile, the attempts at extracting money continue:

Seven hundred thousand dollars to the Red Cross for possible emergency evacuation shelters.

Massive increase in “generation” taxes, partially to make up for the Clean Energy Development Fund being funded only until 2012.

Tax the fuel rods to make up for the ending of the Clean Energy Development Fund.

Outreach is key

My conclusions are simple.  Don’t bribe legislatures and public service boards, because the bribes will get bigger and ultimately unendurable.  Spend money for outreach instead.

What kind of outreach?  Here are some ideas:

Keep the visitor center open.

Have training days for teachers, essay contests for students, etc. CNTA (Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness) has a terrific program.

Give plant tours (yeah, it IS a pain in the butt after 9/11) to grammar school and high school teachers, maybe even to students.

Instead of insisting that employees who want to talk about the plant at schools and Rotary clubs do it on their own time, set up a plan whereby an employee can have three work-days a year for such activities, after showing the managers where and when she will be talking.

I have more ideas, but I won’t share them for fear of being seen as self-serving about my own outreach efforts and how they could have been supported.  However, the more outreach the plant does, the more the outreach will grow—and the more supporters the plant will have.

My opinion:  Nuclear plants should spend hundreds of thousands (no, it won’t be millions) in outreach, and not one cent for tribute.

Not about Entergy

I have now whipped Entergy up one side and down the other, and I need to say a little more.  This isn’t really about Entergy.

I don’t blame Entergy for what it did and the compromises it made.  Entergy was faced with a group of dedicated opponents, and it made the best deals it could, in order to keep the plant online.  It kept the plant operating, kept the clean energy coming, and kept the jobs for the workers.  I am grateful for what it did and very sympathetic with the difficulties that it faced.

As I said, this isn’t about Entergy.

Instead, it is about the future.  It’s about my opinions.  It’s about what to do in the future when a nuclear plant is faced with a shakedown.  Don’t hand over the money to your enemies—give that money to your lawyers.  Sue!

But this isn’t really about lawsuits, either.

Not just lawsuits

Lawsuits may be necessary to avoid paying Dane-geld, but they don’t help with public opinion.  I started this blog post with a statement that the visitor’s center should have been kept open.  I didn’t start with a list of Public Service Board rulings.  That was deliberate.  First things first!

Outreach is key.

I think that Entergy in Vermont did not have much of a choice.  But going forward, other plants will have choices.  I think funding outreach and education is the most important choice.  Outreach is a must-have, not a nice-to-have.

My advice on Going Forward for Nuclear Energy:

Hundreds of thousands for outreach, but not one cent for tribute.

_____________________

Meredith-AngwinMeredith 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

The Challenge Continues

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontThe fall in New England brings crispness to the air, beautiful mountainsides covered with leaves turning color, and a spur to activity before the coming winter. The nuclear debate continues to be spurred on as well.

vermont covered bridge 250x164Some recent events and announcements: A local panel considered the situation with the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant (scheduled to enter decommissioning in 2015), an opponents group held its annual meeting, a national anti-proliferation figure came to New Hampshire, and a California opponents group announced big-name anti-nuclear panels in New York and Boston.

Local leaders consider the future

The Commons, a popular local news site for Windham County (in which the Vermont Yankee plant is located), sponsored a panel in Brattleboro, Vt., to consider the future, in light of Vermont Yankee’s scheduled decommissioning. Local leaders considered the economic effects. Meanwhile, anti-nuclear voices wanted to discuss technical plant issues—whether to SAFSTOR the site or not. The anti-nuclear approach still seems to be focused on making life as expensive as possible for nuclear power, to give the industry a “black eye” when possible, and to try to put it out of business. The proceedings of this panel are reported in Yes Vermont Yankee, including interesting comments on the effect of the plant’s closing on the community.

Opponents’ meeting

new england coalition 42nd annual meeting flyer 120x160The New England Coalition, formerly the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, held its 42nd Annual Meeting in Brattleboro on September 28. The coalition said that it is strapped financially and is a quarter million dollars in debt, but will continue with its “mission.” In addition to the business portion of the meeting, there were three speakers—to tell the attendees an anti-nuclear message that they wanted to hear.

A former Millstone plant employee-turned-anti-nuclear-consultant, Paul Blanch, touted his just released paper on Safety Culture.

Marvin Resnikoff spoke on decommissioning and, as usual, emphasized the long half-lives of isotopes, rather than how long the materials that contain the isotopes will be a hazard. He continued to try to make the safety of the spent fuel pool an issue.

An attorney for the group said that the group will continue to litigate multiple actions aimed at hurting Entergy (Vermont Yankee’s owner) economically. He noted that the Vermont Yankee federal preemption case will be used in the case of the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York state, to allow operation with an extended Nuclear Regulatory Commission license regardless of any state requirements. He must have said this to spur donations—or perhaps he is unaware of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant case, in which the US Supreme Court ruled that the NRC must ensure that other requirements besides its own are addressed.

For those interested, a more complete summary of the meeting is here.

Proliferation expert in the Upper Valley

On October 6, an anti-proliferation professor spoke on “The Uncertain Future of Nuclear Power” at the Eastman Center in Grantham, N.H. Grantham is a planned community, originally for retirees, south of Dartmouth College in the “Upper Valley” of Vermont and New Hampshire—definitely in the Vermont Yankee area of interest. The speaker, Professor Frank von Hippel from Princeton University, is opposed to nuclear power in its present form and has been actively campaigning against current reactor designs for years. Professor Bob Hargraves, author of Thorium: Energy Cheaper than Coal, and I attended, along with other pro-nuclear advocates.

Panel of anti-nuclear “experts” in Boston

Coming to New York on October 8 and to Boston on October 9, a panel consisting of former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was in office at the time of the Fukushima accident; Gregory Jaczko, former NRC chair; Peter Bradford, former NRC member; Arnie Gunderson of Fairewinds Associates; and political activist Ralph Nader (in New York only), will appear to discuss lessons from Fukushima-Daiichi.

The panel is being organized by the Samuel Lawrence Foundation in California, and is touted as the “World’s Best Nuclear Experts” by San Clemente Green, a local California sustainability group. San Clemente Green’s promotional email is reproduced here for those interested in monitoring, and refuting, the panel’s anti-nuclear message.

Nuclear power supporters will, fortunately, be in attendance as well.

Keep up the good effort!

The New England Coalition’s plans as told to members at its meeting, the local appearance of the anti-proliferation professor, the big-name panel in New York and Boston—all prove one thing. The anti-nukes have been encouraged by the announced decommissioning of five plants in the United States this year. They have redoubled their efforts, and this new challenge must be faced.

Thus, the challenge for nuclear advocates continues. Pro-nuclear must win in the public political arena, in the battle of ideas. Keep in mind former Senator Simpson’s rule:  “A charge unanswered,  is a charge believed.

vermont covered bridge

__________________________________

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, his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow.  He is a former member of the ANS Public Information Committee, consults in nuclear public outreach, and is coordinator of 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 closure announced – There is work yet to be done

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontOn August 27, Entergy announced that it plans to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in the fall of 2014, when the plant’s current fuel is depleted. Entergy plans to decommission the plant using the SAFSTOR option, which consists of defueling, mothballing the plant for a period, then dismantling it by the end of 60 years. Entergy said that it is closing the plant because it is no longer projected to make money, considering the estimated future natural gas prices. Electric power generated by gas is now over 50 percent of the ISO-New England grid.

vermont yankee eveningThe announcement came as a surprise to all of us nuclear advocates here “on the ground” in Vermont, although the economy of the plant had been a topic of discussion by financial analysts in the media. For all of us who have worked so hard in support of the plant, and nuclear power, the plant’s announced closing brings a great sadness. We have done our part, and done the best we could, to promote the continued operation of Vermont Yankee. We succeeded through the plant’s relicensing and the federal court cases. On August 13, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals announced its verdict in favor of the plant. The court found that the state of Vermont had tried to regulate radiological safety, which is by law exclusively the domain of the federal government. Nonetheless, the arrival of shale gas has lowered the price of electric power to the point that Vermont Yankee’s break-even price is undercut.

What are we supporters to do now? Do we curse fate and Entergy management for not hanging on? Do we shed tears, lick our wounds, and slink off into the night? NO! Our advocacy goes on. The underlying issues remain the same. The world-wide antinuclear movement seeks any opportunity to discredit nuclear power, in any way it can—by delaying legal proceedings, protesting in order to run up costs, and every other possible tactic to serve their purpose. Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning is yet another opportunity for the antinuclear movement. Historically, it has inserted itself into other decommissionings in New England.

peter shumlin c 120x148

Governor Shumlin of Vermont

The state of Vermont, through the governor and others, have announced that it will oppose the SAFSTOR option, and advocate for finishing the decommissioning as soon as possible. This is not a surprise. Vermont Yankee received a 20-year license renewal from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2011. During the relicensing discussions, decommissioning was examined. The opponents said that they want everything about the plant gone as soon as possible. They are demanding a “greenfield” process where the site is returned to its condition prior to the plant’s construction, and is available for unlimited use. Their definition of “greenfield” includes excavating, no matter how deep, to remove all traces of even the non-radioactive foundations. The governor tipped his hand two years ago, as reported in this Yes Vermont Yankee post.

protestors 195x130Once in a while, when trying to prove a point, the proof drops into your lap. On September 4, an op-ed by one of the Vermont Yankee opponents was published. It clearly says that the SAFSTOR proposal is a “line in the asphalt.” All of us who believe in nuclear power need to read, and understand, what this letter means.

There is much work to be done here and elsewhere in continuing to tell the truth and opposing the spread of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt at the grassroots level.

A decommissioning plan is not due to the NRC until two years after the plant’s shutdown. Then, the discussion begins. That could be the end of 2015 or 2016.

Stay tuned!

____________________

Shaffer

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, his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow.  He is a former member of the ANS Public Information Committee, consults in nuclear public outreach, and is coordinator of 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 Nuclear Power Station to close end of 2014

“Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station generates 72.5 percent of the state’s electricity while emitting no greenhouse gases.”

So reads the first sentence of a fact sheet on Vermont Yankee from the Nuclear Energy Institute. By “greenhouse gases,” read “virtually any emissions at all.”

It seems that this single, enormous fact would have long ago settled debate about the continued operation of Vermont Yankee. However, it is not environmental debate that will close the plant next year. It is an electricity market structure that undervalues fuel supply diversity, and continuous, reliable, baseload generation of massive supplies of emission-free energy.

Entergy Corporation, owner and operator of the plant, explained its reasoning for the decision in this press release and FAQ.

Many thanks to the professionals at Vermont Yankee, among the best in the business, who continue to safely operate the plant.

vermont yankee c 405x201

__________________________

Power Play: People, Politics, Electricity, Nuclear

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontEnergy-related events in Vermont continue to be a jumble of citizen activism, political maneuvering, changes to the electric power system, and an overall focus on nuclear power.

The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant continues to run well. Among recent developments, plant owner Entergy is reorganizing personnel and is slightly reducing staff systemwide—Vermont Yankee will lose 30 positions by the end of the year, some through retirement. False alarms from refueling floor radiation monitors led to detector replacements. A lawsuit over extra power costs due to cooling tower outages years ago was settled.

Citizen activism

The “usual suspects” have, of course, weighed in on the staff reduction at Vermont Yankee. The New England Coalition and Vermont Public Interest Research Group have asked the Vermont Public Service Board, which is considering Vermont Yankee’s application for a new Certificate of Public Good needed to continue operation of the plant, to consider the layoffs as a pertinent factor in terms of reliability and economic impact. This, in spite of the fact that the financial capability of a nuclear power plant to operate safely is a matter of the original plant application and continuing license, and that a federal court has ruled that the state of Vermont has intruded on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s exclusive jurisdiction over nuclear safety. It will be interesting to see if the board takes up this issue, especially since the positions to be eliminated have not been announced.

The SAGE Alliance, for the second consecutive year, is sponsoring a flotilla to travel down the Connecticut River to the Vermont Yankee plant. The event is purportedly to publicize concerns about river warming by the plant. However, that issue is already undergoing a thorough investigation by regulatory agencies. A final decision on a new water discharge permit will come after consideration of the latest science by outside experts working for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

On August 6, the 68th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, a small group of repeat protesters once again blocked the Vermont Yankee plant gates, delaying second shift personnel from entering. The protestors were arrested again. The only press coverage was through the group’s press release—in the Park Forrest, IL news (per Google search).

our children climate faith symposium 201x208Two climate change events have been organized for mid-month. One of them, Our Children, Climate, Faith Symposium will feature speakers from many religious faiths, and is sponsored by the United Church of Strafford. The event is organized by Jeff Wolfe, a member of that church, and the founder of groSolar, a solar installation company.

The second event, The Rendezvous: Truth, Justice, Culture, Energy, will look at “the thorny, ineffective, policy mess that currently passes for a response to climate change at the state and federal level.” It is a “meet-up” sponsored by Mountain Occupiers, a group of conservationists and renewable energy advocates. The event will take place on the family farm of one of the lead organizers.

Political maneuvering

The 63-MW Lowell Mountain wind farm, recently completed, is not always able to send all of its power to the grid. The problem is described by the grid operator, ISO New England, as “inadequate infrastructure.” A $10-million synchronous condenser is under construction.

lowell turbines 206x201That a major generating project could go into service without adequate transmission seems rather strange, to say the least. What happened and why has not yet been ferreted out. During a recent heat wave affecting Vermont and much of the country, Lowell Mountain’s output could not be entirely accepted because of these transmission problems. Thus a slanted word was applied—“curtailed”—as Meredith Angwin discusses at Yes Vermont Yankee. Meredith says “not dispatched” is a more apt description—and perhaps it should be “unable to be dispatched.” Vermont’s Governor Shumlin sent a letter to ISO New England complaining about the failure to use all available renewable energy during a time of peak demand.

Vermont Yankee recently had some false alarms from the area radiation detectors on the refueling floor. Operators followed procedures, then immediately checked to see if plant conditions revealed the source of the alarms. Everything was normal, so a technician with a portable instrument verified that all was safe. The instruments were replaced, and the manufacturer indicated that there had been problems with these instruments. The state Department of Public Service has sent a letter to the NRC requesting detailed information on the event.

Electric power

In addition to the transmission connection problems with the Lowell Mountain wind farm, the Vermont Public Service Board will investigate alleged violations of noise restrictions in considering that project’s Certificate of Public Good.

There is also an ongoing discussion of the state’s Energy Plan, including how much electric power will be needed in the future. The goal is 90 percent renewable sources for all energy used by 2050. “All” includes transportation and building heating as well. With current and foreseeable technologies, this means most personal transportation will need to be electric. This factor alone implies roughly tripling the state’s electric power use. A concurrent goal is for these energy sources to be in-state.

The state has programs to encourage renewable energy projects of all kinds. The state’s comprehensive energy plan at first allowed only small hydro-electric projects, but when this seemed problematic for the schedule, the legislature allowed prospective and existing large projects to be included—however, the fact that Hydro-Quebec is not exactly in-state does not seem to be an immediate concern.

Nuclear power

Some years ago the Vermont legislature created the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP). It is chaired by the commissioner of the Department of Public Service, with members from state agencies, the legislature, and the public. The panel meets periodically on an apparently random schedule. I’ve never heard or read of it making any recommendations to the legislature. Instead, it seems to serve as a vehicle for members of the public to vent against Vermont Yankee. The panel met on July 17 and heard an hour-long, fact-filled presentation from Entergy engineer Bernard Buteau. The lessons learned from the Fukushima accident and the actions the plant has taken and will take were presented, followed by a grilling of questions by the panel members.

In the recently completed legislative session, a bill was passed to expand the number of people the Red Cross would shelter for an extended period of time due to an evacuation caused by Vermont Yankee. The cost, of course, gets passed to the plant.

The plant itself is operating at full capacity and is legally in a holding pattern. Entergy sued the state over the legislature’s preventing the Public Service Board from releasing its findings on a new Certificate of Public Good for the plant. This was a de facto shutdown move, and the plant won in federal district court. This decision was appealed to the circuit court of appeals, and heard in January. A decision is awaited. Meanwhile, the Public Service Board started all over on the Certificate of Public Good, and has concluded the hearings. Final briefs are due soon and the board’s schedule calls for completion of its work this fall.

The future

What will the Public Service Board do when they have reached a decision on the Certificate of Public Good—but before the federal court decision is final? An existing act of the legislature blocks them from releasing the board’s findings. That act is in the courts. When the courts finish—what happens? If the act is struck down, then the Certificate of Public Good findings would be released. If the decision were to not issue a Certificate of Public Good, thus calling for a shut down, it is my opinion that Entergy would sue in state court, at least.

Meanwhile, the power play of this jumble of forces—very much like a “tug of war”—will continue for many years. Climate change will continue to be an issue, as will energy and the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

vermont yankee c 405x201

__________________________________________

Shaffer

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 former 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.

A Dangerous Precedent or a Slippery Slope?

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontThe governor of Vermont last year established the “Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission” after citizens protested  a proposed wind farm (meanwhile, the legislature proposed a wind farm moratorium bill). The main purpose of the governor’s initiative was to evaluate how much local input should be required in energy siting decisions.

Many Vermont citizens have been taught by nuclear opponents to raise “Not In My Backyard!” cries against nuclear-related issues—and now, this tactic has extended far beyond nuclear. Will Vermont allow every small locality to block projects needed for the state, regional, and national good?

“Wind at the backs” of wind power developers

Vermont’s policy is to encourage the development of alternative energy sources, which include wind, solar, biomass, and small hydro. The policy also supports energy conservation and efficiency, through an energy efficiency utility. And there are federal tax breaks and incentives for these projects. In addition, the state provides a “feed-in tariff” where power is bought by the distribution utility at a higher price than that from other sources.

All energy projects are now required to go through an identical permitting process. The Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) issues Certificates of Public Good (CPG) for energy and other projects. The PSB also conducts an investigation of project applications, including quasi-judicial public hearings, to determine if projects meet the legal criteria for a CPG. Participants in the hearing process must formally apply, and must be represented by legal counsel.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Industrial wind turbines

Vermont residents living near wind power projects have opposed their construction. The latest designs of large wind turbines, dubbed “Industrial Wind Turbines” by opponents, are over 400 feet tall to the top of the blades. Objections are often raised about environmental impacts. In addition, destroying the view is an objection.

sheffield wind

The impact of land clearing, roads, and ridge line facilities is another major objection.

land clearing

Local citizens have formed groups to lobby their elected officials against these “wind farms.”

save our ridgelines

An objection raised against all projects is that legal counsel is required to formally participate before the PSB. This creates a hurdle for local citizens due to its expense.

The Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission

From the Commission’s charter:

“On October 2, 2012, Governor Peter Shumlin created the Governor’s Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission. The charge of the Commission is to survey best practices for siting approval of electric generation projects (all facilities except for net- and group-net-metered facilities) and for public participation and representation in the siting process and to report to the Governor and to the Vermont Legislature on their findings by April 30, 2013. The Commission will also look at alternative dispute resolution processes for project siting, permit coordination opportunities, how cumulative project impact is considered, and whether generic siting guidelines should be developed.”

The Commission’s report states that it is in the context of goals already set by law:

  • By 2022: 127.5 MW of new in-state renewable electric generation contracts provided through the Standard Offer program of SPEED (30 V.S.A. § 8005a(c))
  • By 2025: 25 percent of all energy from in-state renewables (10 V.S.A. § 579(a))
  • By 2028: 50-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; 75 percent by 2050 (10 V.S.A. § 578(a))
  • By 2032: 75-percent renewables in electric sales (30 V.S.A. § 8005(d) (4) (A)

Also, the state’s 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan requires:

  • By 2050: 90 percent of all energy from renewables

Recommendations

The report’s recommendations are introduced as follows:

“The Commission believes that Vermont can address potentially competing interests and advance clean energy projects efficiently while also protecting the state’s natural resources. An effective and efficient siting process is essential to achieve this. With this in mind, the Commission is particularly focused on recommendations related to the following aspects of the siting process:

      • The role of—and opportunities for—public participation and representation.
      • Process uniformity, transparency, and efficiency.
      • Adequate protection from negative environmental, cultural, and health impacts.
      • Ensuring that the best rather than easiest sites are selected by maintaining a process that rewards appropriately sited projects, thus making the process easier and more predictable for all parties.
      • Encouraging projects that are community-led with the aim of increasing project acceptance and reducing costly contestation of projects for all parties.
      • Avoiding unintended consequences, including keeping the budgetary and retail rate consequences of the recommendations to a minimum.”

Recommendations are grouped in categories:

      • Increase emphasis on planning
      • Simplify tier system
      • Increase opportunity for public participation
      • Improve the siting process for increased transparency, efficiency, and predictability
      • Ensure adequate environmental, health, and other protection
      • Cross cutting recommendations

A key to understanding the whole report is the final policy recommendation:

“27. Although many of the following points have been covered in the body of this report, the Commission recommends that the PSB pay particular attention to these issues in the near term as they relate to siting electric generation within its current jurisdiction: a) the public need for procedural advice throughout the application process (Case Manager); b) an improved PSB website including an online case management system; c) consideration of economic efficiency and least environmental damage, with particular attention to climate change; d) health issues; e) cumulative impacts, which may include aesthetic, grid, economic and health effects; f) potential effects on neighboring property values; g) consideration of view shed in accommodating participation of communities; h) setbacks; i) principal concerns raised at public hearings for the project; and j) a more efficient process for smaller, community sponsored projects.”

The legislature

In January, a bill calling for a three year moratorium on wind power projects was introduced in Vermont’s  Senate. The bill went through the usual committee reviews, in both houses. However, after this process the bill was then changed into an Act of the legislature that requires up to six joint meetings of the Senate and House Committees on Natural Resources and Energy, during a time that the legislature is not in session. This was not surprising, since the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy is an ardent supporter of alternative energies. The committees are to review the Siting Commission’s report.

A slippery slope?

A major recommendation of the Siting Commission concerns including more local input in the project approval process. Based on what has happened, and continues to happen, concerning the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, dealing with local objections is a major hurdle. Right now, the objections of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plants opponents are heard by the PSB. Vermont Yankee’s opponents have formed groups, raised money, retained counsel, and formally participate in the approval process, at the state and federal level. The opponents want the plant shut down, no matter what.

The obvious problem, which has gone unspoken, is that when there are two sides that desire conflicting results in a controversial issue, both sides can’t be satisfied. Most elected officials don’t like to tell constituents “No,” particularly when an emotional issue is involved. In this era of one-issue politics, elected officials, considering their re-election possibilities, are wary of any group that will oppose them based solely on their stand on one issue alone.

The Commission’s report contains many good recommendations. It admits that the current process was set up when generating projects were large and infrequent. Now that projects are smaller and numerous, the process has to be streamlined. In particular, a tiered system is recommended, so that projects are subjected to a review process matched to their size and potential impact.

The danger in the process, as I see it, is coming up with a solution that will allow small local groups to have a veto over projects—energy, communications, or others—that are needed by the county, region, state, nation, or world. This could create a situation where nothing gets done. For example, in Windham County, home of Vermont Yankee, some do not want nuclear power—and they also do not want wind power.

My grandmother used to say, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” The Commission’s report could be viewed as trying to have everything, and saying nothing about hard choices.

__________________________

Shaffer

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.

Speaking out of turn at the NRC meeting

By Meredith Angwin

viewfromVermontA few days ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public meeting to discuss its yearly assessment of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The assessment results were excellent (all green).

Last year’s meeting and this year’s meeting

The plant also had excellent results last year, but the NRC meeting last year was a situation that moved close to mob rule. I wrote about it in The Politics of Intimidation at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

I didn’t know what to expect this year, and I said as much in a radio interview at WAMC. Well, let’s put it this way: I kind of expected that the meeting would be even more out of hand.

However, this year turned out to be quite different. On my own blog, I described the meeting as “mellow,” which I never would have expected. Comparatively few opponents came this year, despite organized attempts to run carpools to the meeting.

The meeting turned out to be fairly mellow. But… not completely.

An opponent tactic that did not work

At last year’s NRC meeting, a group of older women called the Shut It Down Affinity group showed up wearing costumes and masks (black clothes and white death masks) and walked single file around the room. They then took up a position behind the NRC table and refused to move. Eventually, a crowd swarmed up to support them.

This year, they tried it again—but it didn’t work. Once again, they had costumes (tied-dyed shirts) and masks (of former NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko). Once again, they started by walking single file, and then stood behind the NRC and spoke and chanted while the NRC personnel tried to begin the meeting. Once again, the NRC people left the room and then came back, with the plant opponents still standing at the front. But things were a little different this time—because the plant opponents did not overwhelmingly outnumber plant supporters.

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I speak out and speak out of turn

The women were quoting Jaczko that “all reactors should be shut down,” and the NRC was asking them to sit down, back and forth and back and forth. Then one man in the audience shouted, “It’s about democracy!” He of course meant that the women should stay in front of the room because of “democracy.”

JaczkoStanding c c 400x288 png

But I had had enough. There was a microphone on a stand in the room, and I just went up to it and interrupted the whole thing. I said something like:

“No, it’s about diversity! It’s about whether people with different opinions and different views and different backgrounds will be allowed to talk at this meeting! Apparently not!” Then I left the microphone.

This was very bold for me. I was shaking when I sat down, and I mean physically shaking, not “feeling shaken.” I still can’t believe I did this! But… you could have heard a pin drop in the room when I finished. And shortly thereafter, the Jaczko impersonators sat down and the meeting proceeded.

This time, the stand-behind-the-NRC-and-keep-talking tactic did not work.

Why didn’t the opponent tactic work?

I would like to take credit, but it was basically because the plant SUPPORTERS were showing up and the plant OPPONENTS were NOT showing up—so the supporters weren’t completely outnumbered. I would have been terrified to do something like this at last year’s meeting, in which we were completely outnumbered by opponents. But when it is more even, plant supporters can assert themselves, even when there are opponents who are trying to wreck the meeting.

I will take credit, though, for two things:

  • I didn’t attack anyone, but I made the clear statement that diversity means having various people testify, not just listening to one set of people repeat themselves.
  • I realized that the meeting was out of hand, which meant that taking action was okay. Yes, I went up to the microphone completely out of turn. In a meeting that was well run, such a tactic would have been horrible and divisive and rude and… well, you get it. But in this case, with a continuous and repetitive argument between those who ran the meeting and those who were trying to destroy it, I knew it was okay.

At least, I hope so. I also hope I never do anything like that again. The emotional strain afterwards was overwhelming. When I did it, I was mad and had energy. Afterwards, I was a mess.

I wish you all good meetings, run by Robert’s Rules of Order. I wish you peace.

___________________________

Angwin

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.

Framing the Discourse

By Meredith Angwin

viewfromVermontI have been thinking lately about “framing the discourse” on nuclear energy. Framing is the way that people use words and concepts to present their points of view in an understandable and appealing way to other people. I think that pro-nuclear people are often bad at this. We figure that “the truth will set you free,” and then we don’t spend very much time on how to frame the truth.

picture frame 173x150George Lakoff wrote the most-quoted essay on this subject: Framing 101: How to Take Back Public Discourse.

Lakoff’s first example of framing is the phrase: “Tax Relief.” This phrase implies that taxes are a burden from which anyone would seek “relief,” and that someone who relieves you of the burden is a hero. You wouldn’t want to stop a hero who is bringing “relief”—that would make you seem a “villain.”

Later in the essay, Lakoff contrasts this with the idea of taxes as an “investment” in America’s future and especially its infrastructure. Nobody needs “relief” from continuing the wise “investments” our parents made in highways, schools, the Internet…

Nuclear framing

What does framing have to do with nuclear power?

Let me give you an example. I just finished reading a book about the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant: Public Meltdown by Richard Watts.

In writing this book, Watts had amazing access to Vermont Yankee opponents, who were pleased to share their strategies with him. One strategy was designing the phrase: “Retire Vermont Yankee on Schedule.”These words were very effective framing: almost a work of genius.

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Member of Shut It Down Affinity Group at NRC meeting in Brattleboro, May 2012

The hard-core opponents don’t use this phrase among themselves. For example, there is a “shut-it-down affinity group.” The women in that group chain themselves to the Vermont Yankee fence and get arrested. They do this on a regular basis: They have been arrested about 20 times. They get lots of newspaper coverage, and they receive admiration from other opponents. But do they attract more people to their cause? I don’t think so. Most people are kind of “middle-of-the-road.” Most people don’t identify with “shut it down” rhetoric or frequent arrests.

“Retire on Schedule…” That is a different matter. That is effective framing. The statement says that you are only trying to live up to a scheduled agreement, something anyone would want to do. The word “retire” also implies that a plant is aging and should be closed. To agree with “Retire Vermont Yankee on Schedule” is to affirm that you are a law-abiding, middle-of-the-road citizen who thinks that agreements should be honored.

Of course, there was never such an agreement. Vermont Yankee’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission license was renewed: it was not retired. At the state level, Entergy’s purchase agreement in 2002 included a provision for revenue sharing after 2012 (when the first NRC license ended and was renewed). In other words, there wasn’t ever a “scheduled retirement” for 2012. There was a possible retirement (if they didn’t get a license renewal or state certificate), but the “on schedule” part is the kind of close-enough statement (like  “tax relief” or “tax investment”) to be effective framing.

Our turn

We can admire the opponents for their anti-nuclear framing, but how can we do similar framing from a pro-nuclear point of view? Let’s take the “Retire Vermont Yankee” framing. What would our framing phrase be?

  • Keep Vermont Green without greenhouse gases.
  • Make the power in Vermont!
  • Honor Vermont Yankee’s revenue agreement with Vermont.
  • Don’t cheat Vermont out of its VY revenue sharing.

Or maybe something completely different.

Let’s crowd-source this one. Suggestions please!

picture frames 201x291

________________________

Angwin

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 and Optimism

By Meredith Angwin

Refueling optimism

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant will refuel this spring, probably in March or April. Vermont Yankee’s statement announcing the refueling was optimistic about the plant’s future. Spokesman Rob Williams

“We’re proceeding business-as-usual and making upgrades where necessary. As we plan this outage our assumption is we’re operating until 2032”  (quoted by Terri Hallenbeck in the Burlington Free Press).

The Hallenbeck article also noted: There’s been much speculation that the 41-year-old plant’s closure might be impending

This negative speculation about the plant was based on a UBS report that claimed that Vermont Yankee is uneconomical and might well be closed by Entergy. Andrew Stein at Vermont Digger reported on this analysis, and an earlier article by Stein provides a link directly to the UBS report.

I wasn’t negative. I thought Vermont Yankee would refuel. As a matter of fact, I posted a blog article titled: Vermont Yankee is Refueling and I Sort of Told You So.

The “I told you so” incident came about a week before Entergy announced that it was refueling. Pat Bradley ( WAMC Plattsburgh NY) interviewed three people, including me. She asked us all about the UBS report, and I was the only one who thought the plant would continue to operate. (A link to the interview is here—it’s about three minutes long).

My optimism

Much of my optimism was a reflection of my knowledge of tendencies in the price of natural gas in this region. We have few pipelines, and when natural gas prices are higher, they force the price of electricity to be high. About a day after I was interviewed, Matt Wald of the New York Times published an article about gas and electricity prices: In New England, a Natural Gas Trap. His article confirmed my statements about gas and electricity prices in this region. Jim Hopf’s post on Potential nuclear plant closures and what could be done to stop them at ANS Nuclear Cafe also supported my optimism (the early section on natural gas prices is most relevant to Vermont Yankee).

But there’s another reason: I had learned by experience. In other words, in the past, I made a very public mistake. A year and a half ago I made a wrong prediction. I predicted that Vermont Yankee would NOT refuel at that time.  When I predicted this, a federal case about the plant was totally unresolved.

Happily, I was wrong, and Vermont Yankee did refuel. Then, the federal case was resolved a few months later, with the judge ruling for Vermont Yankee. Now it is true that the judge’s ruling has been appealed by the state, and also true that the Public Service Board hearings about the plant are still on-going. However, the current situation feels far more positive than it was a year and a half ago. Looking back at that time, I was wrong to be a pessimist.

In other words, this former pessimist has turned into an optimist.

Gas price optimism

click to enlarge

And what about those gas prices? A year and a half ago, Vermont natural gas prices were $5.80 per MMCF and trending downward.

More recently, they have been at $5.90 MMCF and trending upward.

On a broader basis (though our prices are mostly pipeline-constrained in the northeast), the rig count is low and the Henry Hub price is trending higher.

These gas prices give reasons to expect higher electricity prices in the Northeast, and therefore a better economic outlook for merchant generators in our area (such as Vermont Yankee).

Taking action: eBook optimism

I have another, more personal reason for optimism. In November, many people made statements in support of Vermont Yankee at a Public Service Board hearing. I was so impressed with the breadth and quality of this support that I asked people for copies of their statements. I received some of the statements, and I posted them as guest posts on my blog at Yes Vermont Yankee. I described this series of posts in my ANS Nuclear Cafe post: Vermont Yankee’s Greatest Hits from the Public Service Board Hearing.

But I wanted to do more with these statements, to use them to inspire others to speak for nuclear energy and nuclear plants. But how would we do this? Yesterday’s blog posts are a bit like yesterday’s newspaper: a periodical, and who will go back and read them? So I decided that these pro-Vermont Yankee statements needed to have a better home. In other words, they needed to be in a book.

My husband George and I just finished compiling an eBook: Voices for Vermont Yankee (George did most of the work). We finished it about two days ago. It contains the testimony, the pictures, and introductory material. You can buy a copy for $2.99 at Amazon for the Kindle, or at Barnes and Noble for the Nook. You don’t need an e-reader to read the book. Free e-reader apps are available for PCs, Macs, Androids, Blackberries, iPhones, and more.

I am sure you will find the combined statements in support of Vermont Yankee, all together in a book, more impressive than scrolling through my blog posts.  Within the book, they are beautifully organized and presented (George’s work) and the statements themselves are so powerful. But I am not just writing this to sell the book (though I hope you will buy it). I also have advice to give away, and my advice is free!

My advice to fellow bloggers: Build some eBooks! More pronuclear bloggers could put together eBooks on specific subjects. Let me give one example of why there should be eBooks. If you want to read Isaac Asimov’s Robot stories, why leaf through tattered old copies of science fiction magazines? The stories were first published in such magazines, but later they were assembled in a book: I, Robot. It is much easier to buy the book directly.

Perhaps a similar principle sometimes applies to blogs. If there’s a subject you have covered in a series of blog posts, you can put an eBook together, and the book will be something you can point to, refer to, or suggest that people buy. “Get the eBook” is far more understandable than telling people that if they go to a blog and search for the keyword “economics” (for example) they will find some interesting stuff.

Let’s move pro-nuclear material into yet another format, and have yet another route for pro-nuclear communication.

What are the eBooks in YOUR future?

______________________

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.

In Federal Appeals Court, Vermont Presents Backwards Economic Arguments

By Meredith Angwin

Three courts, three cases

The past week was the Week of Living Lawyerly in Vermont.

Within the space of one week, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant had to defend itself in two courts and at one Public Service Board hearing. Three separate courts, each one supposedly deciding whether or not the plant would keep operating. Each case was based on a different issue. All the cases together added to the pain and uncertainty for workers at Vermont Yankee.

All of the cases also added to fatigue for plant supporters. I think I am typical. If there’s an important hearing about Vermont Yankee, I do my best to attend it. With three separate hearings in one week, I threw up my hands and decided to follow the results in the press rather than attending. I am not proud of this. I am just saying that eventually, fatigue does set in for plant defenders.

Well, enough about me. In this post, I will cover the hearing at the federal court of appeals in New York City. If you wish to hear the hearing for yourself (it’s less than 40 minutes long), the audio is embedded in my blog post “Vermont Yankee: State Claims Economic Argument for Closing Plant.”

The federal court hearing: pre-emption or what?

In January 2012, in federal district court, Judge Gavan Murtha ruled that the legislators of Vermont had been voting on nuclear safety when they voted against Vermont Yankee. The Entergy legal team had shown quote after quote of legislators discussing the safety of the plant. Sometimes the legislators used a thin screen of “reliability” concerns, including the priceless statement: “We can’t use the s-word (safety).” Judge Murtha used many safety-related quotes in his ruling.

The lead lawyer for Entergy in that case was Kathleen Sullivan, former dean of the Stanford University Law School. The state legal team was drawn from the office of the state attorney general, Bill Sorrell. When the court decided in favor of Entergy, many opponents claimed that the Sorrell’s team had simply been “out-lawyered.”

Vermont’s case against the plant

Then, Vermont appealed the district court ruling to the federal court of appeals in New York City. For this appeal, Vermont hired a noted Washington D.C. legal firm to represent the state, and the firm’s lawyer David Frederick spoke for Vermont in the court of appeals.

Vermont had three main contentions in the appeal.

Number 1: It was procedural

The first Vermont claim was that the legislator’s involvement in the plant relicensing was merely “procedural.” I wouldn’t even mention this, except that if you listen to the audio of the hearing, you will hear Frederick state many variations on the theme: “Act 160 was merely procedural.” The justices didn’t spend much time on that, but rather tried to figure out what was behind the vote to shutter the plant.

Number 2: Judge Murtha cherry-picked the legislators’ statements

The second Vermont claim was that the Entergy lawyers had “cherry-picked” the legislators’ safety-related statements and that Murtha had merely used what the Entergy lawyers gave him. Vermont claimed that the legislative vote wasn’t about safety. A few people did say some things about “safety” but really, no big deal. The hearing included quite a few discussions of other cases, and how much importance should be given to legislative “intent”.

However, this discussion led right up to the really big question, the big issue. If the Vermont legislators weren’t concerned with safety, what were they concerned with?

Number 3:  Vermont’s concern was mainly economic. It chose to shut the plant down for economic reasons.

“Economics” was a very odd argument, because the plant is acknowledged as an economic benefit for the state economy.

In terms of economics, the legislature had commissioned a report on Vermont Yankee economics, to be prepared by two separate economic firms and called the “consensus report.” That study was due to be completed in March 2010. But the legislature voted about the plant before the report was finished. They voted in February, shortly after a tritium leak had been discovered, but before their own economic report was available.

If the legislature had waited a few weeks, they would have had the report. Also, after the report was completed, it was hardly discussed at all in Montpelier (it showed the plant as an economic asset, of course). So, the legislature’s “economic” reason for closing the plant was totally bogus on the face of it.

Backwards economics

The attorney for the state, David Frederick, made shockingly weak economic arguments. He claimed that the existence of the already-paid-for nuclear plant made it difficult for renewables to compete. Entergy attorney Kathleen Sullivan demolished that argument: If you don’t like us, don’t buy from us. The idea that a power plant supplies economical energy, and thus THAT is a reason to shut it down, because it’s too competitive…that illogical thinking is amazing.

But the Vermont economic arguments got even worse. Yes, they did.  If you have a chance, listen at the 35-minute mark of the hearing. Frederick, arguing for the state, says that the utilities still have a “relationship” with the plant worth $587 million dollars. He claims that this relationship, this tie to the plant—is a reason to shut the plant down.

Frederick is referring to the revenue-sharing agreement. According to the requirements of the 2002 sale to Entergy, the plant has to share some of its revenues with Vermont utilities. If Vermont Yankee is operating past 2012, and the plant sells power to anybody (Vermont, Connecticut, whomever) and it sells that power at above 6.1 cents per kWh (“strike price”), it has to share part of the revenue above 6.1 cents with Vermont utilities. If Vermont Yankee makes a deal with a Massachusetts utility to sell power at 8.1 cents, then it has to pay 1 cent (half of 2 cents above the strike price) to Vermont utilities.

In my own talks, I describe the Vermont Yankee revenue-sharing agreement as “potentially worth hundreds of millions to the utilities and ratepayers of Vermont.” I don’t know where Frederick came up with such a precise number ($587 million) for revenue sharing. Wherever the number came from, however, he claims this huge financial asset to Vermont utilities is a reason to shut the plant down. Well, that is an unusual claim.

In conclusion

The state’s case in the appeal process is supposedly based on economics, and frankly, their case is screwy and backwards. I can only hope that the appeals court notices the gaping holes. In summation, I will quote a Vermont Law School professor, Cheryl Hanna. She was at the appeals hearing in New York and wrote a “recap” about it. My quote is taken from the last paragraph—her summation of what she heard:

“The state should be happy that the (appeals court) bench at least took seriously their argument that Judge Murtha should not have ruled as he did. Whether the gravitas and intellect of Frederick (the state lawyer) is enough to convince them in the face of overwhelming evidence that the legislature was primarily motivated by safety is harder to call. The state still bears the burden, and the facts and (in my opinion) the law still favor Entergy. If the state loses, it won’t be because it was out-lawyered. It will be because, in the end, a federal court was reluctant to shutter a federally-licensed nuclear power plant on the basis of this particular legislative history. That has as much to do with judicial conservatism as it does with nuclear power.”

A few links:

Howard Shaffer on the challenges facing Vermont Yankee: No Holiday From Politics (at ANS Nuclear Cafe)

My blog post on the three Vermont Yankee cases:  Three Vermont Yankee Hearings: The Week of Living Lawyerly

My blog post on the federal appeals court hearing, including the embedded audio of the hearing:  State Claims Economic Argument for Closing the Plant

Vermont Law School Professor Cheryl Hanna:  A Recap of the Entergy/Vermont Yankee Oral Arguments in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals

My blog post on the economic report, released in March 2010, after the legislative vote in February 2010:  Economic Report: Well-Constructed

Some of the documents in the federal case (including Judge Murtha’s ruling) are posted at the Energy Education Project website:  Filings in Entergy Appeal

_______________________________

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.

No Holiday from Politics

By Howard Shaffer

In Vermont, the Holiday Season did not slow the wave of actions and interest about energy in general and the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in particular. Vermont Yankee continues to run very well, and there have not been even any routine events for opponents to “crow” about.

The legal front

Vermont Supreme Court

Intervenors filed suit in the Vermont Supreme Court, asking for Vermont Yankee to be shut down due to violation of a condition of the sales agreement (in 2002 from the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation to Entergy Corporation). The sales stipulation states that the plant will not operate after the expiration of its Certificate of Public Good, unless the certificate is renewed.

Vermont’s Public Service Board (PSB) is in charge of such certificates, and the plant certificate has not been renewed yet. The renewal process is underway, including two public meetings held in November. The final briefs are due to the PSB in August. The PSB will then issue its decision, although there is as yet no date set for that decision. The intervenor hopes that the Vermont Supreme Court will rule separately from the PSB, even while the PSB hearings are continuing.

Federal court

Entergy won its suit in federal district court, but the state appealed (as did Entergy, on some aspects of the decision). The appeal is scheduled to be heard in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on January 14. The district court found that the State of Vermont acted illegally by preempting the exclusive federal jurisdiction over nuclear safety. The court issued an injunction forbidding the state from attempting to shut down the plant over any of the contested issues.

The intervenor’s suit in Vermont Supreme Court is an attempt to find a loophole in that federal court ruling.

Entergy went back to the federal district court that found in its favor, asking that it issue an injunction forbidding the state from shutting down Vermont Yankee for any reason. The intervenors then filed an objection to the plant’s request, again raising the issue of “state’s rights”.

The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the intervenor’s case on January 16. It seems unlikely that state court will agree with the intervenors while there is a federal case in progress. The federal finding of illegal state action would seem to override provisions of the sales agreement.

The Public Service Board

The PBS has an open docket and a schedule for deciding on a Certificate of Public Good for Vermont Yankee’s continued operation, and a request from the plant to install a new emergency generator.

On December 27, the PSB issued an order confirming that the Vermont Yankee plant is operating in violation of PSB orders, in terms of the sales agreement and the Certificate of Public Good for Dry Cask Storage. Included in the order was the statement that the PSB will appoint a hearing officer to examine the plant’s request to install the additional emergency diesel generator.

This new generator is needed to replace the backup power now provided by the nearby Vernon Dam hydro station, which will no longer maintain a “black start” capability. The capability is being dropped based on a decision by ISO-New England, the grid operator, to change its black start capability from “bottom up, to top down“.

Vermont Yankee is licensed to have the Vernon hydro station as backup for its two in-plant emergency diesel generators. The new diesel will maintain the licensing commitment when Vernon hydro is no longer considered to be qualified as a backup. The diesel may in the future satisfy Nuclear Regulatory Commission post-Fukushima requirements. Vermont Yankee was not designated as a plant to black start the grid. Nuclear power plants take many hours to start up, so are not candidates for reenergizing the grid. The first meeting on the new diesel will be January 17.

The PSB’s order saying that Vermont Yankee is operating in violation of its orders included the requirement that the plant not use the fact that the PSB is having a hearing process on the request for a new diesel as “proof” that it approves of the plant’s operation while the federal court process plays out. This seems to be legal maneuvering. The PSB has to say this to affirm its authority, but it must consider the request to approve the new diesel. If it doesn’t consider this request, then it might be sued for de facto shutting down the plant, in violation of the intent of the federal court injunction. Along with this, the plant might have to study having backup diesel power that does not require PSB approval—perhaps trailer-mounted.

ISO New England

Also of note was ISO-New England’s “delisting” Vermont Yankee as a facility needed for grid reliability, under their “degraded grid” scenarios. Utilities in the grid will bolster their infrastructure so that Vermont Yankee would not be needed in such scenarios. This was only prudent management, given the uncertainty of the plant continuing to operate beyond this past March. However, this provides fuel to plant opponents who have claimed that Vermont Yankee is not needed for Vermont or the New England grid. The counter argument is that Vermont Yankee displaces CO2-creating generation. Also, Vermont Yankee is insurance against a price-rise in natural gas since, as Meredith Angwin has reminded us in her Valley News Op-Ed, the sales agreement for the plant includes a revenue-sharing provision above a certain grid price.

The legislature and energy issues

The Vermont legislature will continue to want to lead the nation in a transition to “green energy.” In the past, it has established conservation and efficiency programs, and enabled solar and wind installations. There is a Renewable Portfolio standard, feed-in tariffs, and tax credits to insure profitability.

Real dollar numbers are now coming in for solar and wind power, and they have garnered some attention. In addition, local residents of wind installations are objecting to their environmental impact.

Last year, Vermont’s governor created a commission to review the state’s process for approving power projects. A bill will be introduced in this year’s legislature for a three-year moratorium on large wind projects.

Another bill will be introduced for a “Thermal Efficiency Tax”. It would tax heating oil and propane to raise money to make inefficient buildings more efficient. One objection is that this tax would harm those least able to afford it.

The river and shad—again

A leading environmental writer has examined the lack of shad in the portion of the Connecticut River downstream of Vermont Yankee. It is concluded that the problem is due to the way the shad are routed through man-made channels. The Northfield pumped storage plant is between the dams, and is likely to be one of the culprits. This is in contrast to the plant opponents’ claim that the plant’s warm condenser discharge is solely responsible. The plant is also in the process of applying for an amended water quality permit.

The Brattleboro Reformer has a January 5 article summarizing the 2012 events in the struggle over Vermont Yankee’s future.

The year ahead

Vermont Yankee has continued to operate well, with not even minor routine events to give opponents “ammunition”. In the meantime, some members of the legislature seem to have grasped that solar and wind power do have some impacts that give cause for objections.

There will be much legal activity in 2013 concerning Vermont Yankee, as discussed. I predict that the Circuit Court of Appeals decision will subsequently be appealed to the US Supreme Court, as occurred in the case of the Massachusetts suit against the NRC over the Seabrook plant’s emergency plan years ago.

It will doubtless be a very interesting 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.