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December 10, 2008

Vermont Yankee & That Sinking Feeling

Radioactive_2_2 The state of Vermont's Department of Public Service is now receiving monthly updates from Entergy on the performance of Vermont Yankee's Decommissioning Fund — you know, the amount of money that needs to be set aside to clean up the plant once its closed.

Anyone with a 401(k) knows the stock market has been in a bit of a rut. OK, a ditch. OK, maybe a canyon. Anyway, as I pointed out in "Fair Game" in October the fund's value has actually been dropping precipitously since the end of 2007.

So, here's a rundown with the latest, Nov. 30, 2008 figures tacked on.

March 31, 2006:   $391,882,501

Sept 30, 2006:     $402,410,980

March 31, 2007:   $422,182,237

Sept 30, 2007:     $440,003, 672

March 31, 2008:   $427,406,446

Sept 30, 2008:     $397,035,937

Oct 31, 2008:       $364,426,383

Nov 30, 2008:       $360,673,692

It's good to remember that when Entergy bought the plant in 2002, the fund's value was roughly $304 million. All of that money came from ratepayers. In other words, you and I, not investments or corporate profits.

Given that taxayers in Connecticut and Massachusetts were asked to pony up the shortfall when their nuke plants were shut down, it should give anyone pause that the cost of decommissioning Vermont Yankee could run as high as $1.2 billion.

VY officials contend the plant could be mothballed for up to 60 years until enough investment money accrues in the fund to break down the reactor site.

The tanking of the fund only adds to Vermont Yankee's woes as it tries to convince lawmakers to give it a thumbs up to operate for another 20 years. At least one key lawmaker has said he doesn't expect there to be a vote taken this session, but rather in 2010.

A group of anti-nuke activists hopes to fill that void by putting Vermont Yankee's relicensure request up for a public vote on Town Meeting Day 2009. So far, people in about 40 towns have expressed an interest, according to Dan DeWalt, one of the resolution's backers.

The resolution asks the Legislature to:

  1. Agree that the power produced by Vermont Yankee's equals 2% of what is used in the region, and that such a small amount of power can be replaced with renewables and conservation;
  2. Operating VY beyond 2012, a time in which it will be 40 years old, does not benefit the general welfare of the state; and,
  3. Entergy should be held liable to pay for the full cost of decommissioning Vermont Yankee.

Meanwhile, Entergy has dumped its long-term lobbying team of Gerry Morris and Allison Crowley DeMag. In Mid-October, Entergy hired on MacLean, Meehan, and Rice as their lobbying firm of choice. Christopher Rice will serve as the nuke company's chief face under the Golden Dome.

Before anyone gets hot headed about this whole situation lets not forget that nuclear power has the safest track record of any major source of electrical power in the USA. In the states there have been zero deaths due to nuclear power, compare that to the 50 annual deaths to coal mining not to mention black lung or the countless military deaths to obtain oil. The only nuclear accidents in the states were human error. These could have been avoided if the proper safety systems were not turned off (Three Mile Island). To all you activists who are going to bring up Chernobyl, that is a perfect example. . . . of why that specific type of reactor is banned by the western world. Safety should be a concern and that is why Yankee Electric should be checked randomly and often. ~DAn

In other words, you and I, not investments or corporate profits.

You mean you and me, not you and I. You wouldn't say "the money came from I."

Dickish corrections aside, the resolution's claim that VY only accounts for "2% of what is used in the region" seems dubious. I don't know what "the region" means, but according to the Vermont Department of Public Service's website, VY met 35% of Vermont's total electricity demand in 2003.

I'm not in favor of nuclear power. I'm just wary of statistics. -Steve

Haik: Thanks for the correction. Nothing like late-night typing and self-editing. Sigh.

To your point about "region". In this context, the resolution considers all of New England as the region, not just Vermont.

...the resolution considers all of New England as the region, not just Vermont.

Exactly. Except not all of New England will be voting on this. Do they expect us to believe that a few people turning the lights off in Boston are going to eliminate the need for electricity in VT that VY currently satisfies? That's silly. They might as well argue that VY produces a totally negligible percentage of the world's total electricity, so it really isn't necessary at all.

"To your point about "region". In this context, the resolution considers all of New England as the region, not just Vermont."

If the issue is re-licensure in Vermont, then Haik is right: that is a meaningless statistic. What does and should matter to Vermonters is the amount of electricity *Vermonters* get from VY, not what part of the "regional" supply VY provides.

Since the power grid covers an area much larger than New England, you could just as easily say, "VY only accounts for .000000000000000000001 % of the nationwide power supply," or some such. Again, a statistic that has no meaning to the issue of concern to Vermonters: whether to relicense VY.

Zero deaths due to nuclear power? Karen Silkwood:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Silkwood

That's at least one...but yeah, coal claims thousands of lives every year, I do still see your point.

Nuclear is a great method for centralized, rich-people controlled energy. However, decentralized and renewable energy is way more effective and efficient. The real question is, do we keep subsidizing corporations, or invest in our own communities?

That's the point, we want dencentralized, community owned and generated renewable energy. Local to Vermont, controlled by Vermont!
Germany in 4 yrs installed 3300MW of solar PV! Off the shelf, available today technology. and Vermont gets 20% more sun than Germany.
Even the DPS reports 25-35% energy efficiency savings are possible which would nearly replace all the power VT gets from VY.
And that would be far cheaper than the new power contract ENVY's not negotiating quickly with CVPS and GMP. Where Entergy has stated to its shareholders that they are going to maximize profits from VY.

Dan L Said:
To all you activists who are going to bring up Chernobyl, that is a perfect example. . . . of why that specific type of reactor is banned by the western world.
Great Point! The dangerous and outdated design of Vermont Yankee (GE Mark 1 BWR) is also banned by the western world.

One of the sketchiest things about the 37 year old reactor is that the radioactivity containment system in the event of an accident is NOTHING compared to that of a modern plant.

Further, the fuel pool at VY is located outside the containment area, contains over 41 million curies of waste (Chernobyl released 2 million curries), and would be a very easy target for terrorists... indeed, the National Governors Association describes these reactors as "pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction."

Haik Said:
Do they expect us to believe that a few people turning the lights off in Boston are going to eliminate the need for electricity in VT that VY currently satisfies? That's silly. They might as well argue that VY produces a totally negligible percentage of the world's total electricity, so it really isn't necessary at all.
The idea behind this point is that our lights won't go out without Vermont Yankee. The New England Grid (of which we are a member) has available at any time way more than ample replacement power which can be tapped. (and is each time the plant powers down due to an "non-safety related incident")

We can close Vermont Yankee as scheduled in 2012, get a short-term contract to replace the 220ish MW while we get clean, homegrown energy and more efficiency online here in VT.

"The idea behind this point is that our lights won't go out without Vermont Yankee. The New England Grid (of which we are a member) has available at any time way more than ample replacement power which can be tapped. (and is each time the plant powers down due to an "non-safety related incident")
We can close Vermont Yankee as scheduled in 2012, get a short-term contract to replace the 220ish MW while we get clean, homegrown energy and more efficiency online here in VT."

The above comment shows that you don't know the difference between the theoretical, and the real.

I can't even put up a wind turbine on my own property without my neighbor suing me because he doesn't like the way it looks. We aren't going to replace 300 megawatts of electricity from VY with 300,000 individual wind turbines, my enormously naive friend. At least not in my lifetime or yours. Unless the Vt. Legislature decides to abolish the Public Service Board and nuisance lawsuits.

Yes, Vermont can "theoretically" survive without VY by buying 300+ megawatts of power on the "spot market" while 300,000 wind-turbine nuisance lawsuits wind their way through the court system (which, by the way, is closed due to budget cuts). That will be both enormously expensive, and unreliable.

And exactly where does that spot market power that's available on "the grid" come from? Oh, filthy coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, etc., that are spewing tons of sulfur dioxide and carbon into the atmosphere, that's where. And, ironically, where does that sulfur dioxide land? Oh, in Vermont! Thanks for your help with my encironment, sir.

And exactly how much will it cost? My share of VY power currently costs 4 cents per kilowatt hour. I'd prefer not to pay $1.00 per kilowatt hour for my replacement power from "the grid." Thanks so much for concerning yourself with my economic well-being, sir.

Anything is theoretically possible. No one but you, however, believes we can shut Yankee down now and suffer no serious consequences. I would strongly prefer not to start drawing down on my kids' college fund and my own retirement fund to pay for your energy fantasies.

Let's just all hold hands and sing "kumbaya" and our collective spiritual energy will get us through.

LAJHHMSE,

Take a deep breath. You make at least two decent points about my original comment. Your tone, however, is about as patronizing and disrespectful as it gets. You're clearly not interested in a substantive debate on the legitimate issues you bring up. That sucks.

There was a wonderful debate on Flatlanders Vs. Natives in regards to winter driving at the BFP website last I looked. You should take your inflammatory nonsense over there.

Thanks,
Ivan Jacobs
Burlington
ivan56k_AT_yahoo_DOT_com

Sorry, you posted a bare-bones comment that we could shut down VY now and all you said is "the lights won't go out." That was an arguably true, but terribly misleading comment. You completely failed to even mention the enormous negative and very real consequences of replacing the 1/3 of our electricity that we get from that plant. You didn't even mention that there could be any negative consequences at all. You glibly say "while we get clean, homegrown energy . . . in Vermont," but you make no mention of the enormous practical realities of doing that.

Thanks,
I can see how such simplistic comments could come across as glib, I felt they'd be more snappy and readable, I was attempting to address what the authors of the town meeting resolution were trying to get across. Sorry.

The decision to shut down VY is indeed a very serious one. Vermont has done little to no planning for a clean-energy future. A bill (H.520) a couple years ago, that would have expanded efficiency programs and made investments in clean-energy was vetoed in large part due to the lobbying of Entergy. Until the cooling-tower collapse in Aug. of 2007 policymakers assumed the plant would continue operations til 2032, allowing them to continue doing nothing on energy planning. Shutting down VY as currently scheduled on March 21, 2012 will force leadership from Montpelier.

The majority of Vermonters, according to a WCAX poll taken before the latest string of mishaps, and a DPS public engagement process done last summer, want to move away from this aging facility. I may have made this sound easy in my initial comments for that I apologize. My point was that it is COMPLETELY doable, not that it'll be easy or painless.

First, Nobody is proposing replacing VY in the near-term with the spot market... that would be stupid. Spot Market power is available on an as-needed basis at ridiculous prices, (Average is closer to .50 KWH NOT 1.00KWH) our utilities tap it, whether we like it or not, every time VY goes down for mishaps, which is happening more and more often. If we allow VY to continue operating we can expect a rate increase request just due to an increasingly common need for this outrageously costly power.

What is proposed is a short-term (5-10 year) contract with ISO-New England providers for power while we get homegrown capacity online. This power would likely come from Natural Gas which isn't ideal environmentally, but it's certainly nothing compared to "filthy coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, etc., that are spewing tons of sulfur dioxide and carbon into the atmosphere, that's where. And, ironically, where does that sulfur dioxide land? Oh, in Vermont! Thanks for your help with my encironment, sir."
None of the polluting states you mention are members of our grid. ISO-New England gets only 9% of it's power from coal, thus it's unlikely that replacement power would come from coal. Using a contractual clause we could ensure that none of our replacement power comes from coal.

As to the impact on VT ratepayers for the transition. First, It's very important to realize that the 4.5 Cents per-kilowatt-hour that we pay now for VY is due to a sweet contract that expires in 2012. VY sells most of it's power out of state at the actual market rate of around 15 cents/KWH. It's unreasonable to believe that, if allowed to continue operations, we'll get cheap power beyond 2012 from Vermont Yankee. We could feasibly secure a contract for between .10 - .20 cents a KWH from the grid or with infrastructure upgrades we could expand what we receive from Hydro-Quebec (currently 6.5 cents/kwh). Or some combination thereof. The savings to Vermont ratepayers in keeping VY online are highly negligible.

Now, to building in-state renewable capacity. You say:
We aren't going to replace 300 megawatts of electricity from VY with 300,000 individual wind turbines, my enormously naive friend. At least not in my lifetime or yours. Unless the Vt. Legislature decides to abolish the Public Service Board and nuisance lawsuits.
NOBODY is proposing replacing VY entirely with small-scale wind. I don't think anyone in the state wants 300,000 wind turbines. (well, maybe the NRG Systems people). You do however bring up a couple points here.

1) The permit process is needlessly complicated and inconsistent. It places the permittee at a major disadvantage where there are neighbors opposing the project. The Legislature should act to streamline the permit process for small-scale energy projects.

2) The DPS is anti-wind. The legislature should lay out exactly what the process should look like so that developers stop getting the runaround from Douglas administrators.

There are many different sources of renewable energy, some more abundant than others. The right portfolio for Vermont will be a mix. (Wind, Solar, Biomass, small-scale hydro, Cow-Power, landfill methane, Efficiency, etc...)

Let's look at one scenario:

Just 10 industrial wind farms (fewer than 300 big turbines) could replace over half of the power coming from VY. Building these wind farms would mean a huge amount of money going into local property taxes. Also an opportunity to save our family farms... farmers can lease their land to wind developers, cows don't mind wind turbines.

We could do much more with Biomass. VT is something like 80-90% trees. We could sustainably harvest enough wood for a couple more 50mw woodchip plants like the McNeil generating station in Burlington. This would create good paying jobs for Vermonters doing the sustainable forestry, trucking the wood, and running the plants.

Small-scale projects. We don't have the incentives other states have to encourage these projects, our permitting-process, as mentioned, is just plain discouraging. The legislature should look at the work other states have done to encourage homeowners and businesses to make common-sense investments.

Efficiency. "the cheapest KWH is the one you don't use." It costs about 3 cents a KWH and it's unknown just how much waste is out there. Burlington has cut residential electricity use 24% since 1999 with very modest investments. Efficiency Vermont is a worldwide model in finding savings; the legislature should expand the scope of their work.

Replacing Vermont Yankee makes sense for the environment, economy and people of VT and can be done within 10 years.

"a couple years ago, that would have expanded efficiency programs and made investments in clean-energy was vetoed in large part due to the lobbying of Entergy"

This doesn't even come close to recounting what really happened. It was a last-minute single-ing out of Entergy for an ad hoc tax-slam to pay the ENTIRE bill for a new program. They didn't lobby against an energy efficency bill -- they fought off an unfair tax against themselves. The way you spin what really happened raises credibility issues regarding anything else you say.

"while we get homegrown capacity online."

What homegrown capacity? What plants will you build? Where will you build them? Who will pay for and build them? How long will it take to get them through the PSB process? And assuming they get approved by the PSB, how long will it take for them to get past the multiplicity of lawsuits that are filed afterwards? Anybody who's been awake in Vermont for, oh, say, the last 15 years knows that the 5-10 years you are talking about to bring 300+ megawatts on line in Vermont is a complete joke.

You say that the replacement power will come from natural gas plants. Maybe you haven't been in Vermont for very long. Please ask somebody what happened to the natural gas power plant that was proposed for Rutland about 10 or so years ago. Are you getting any power from it now? No? Oh yeah, that's because it was threatened with lawsuits from "environmentalists" and it died before it ever got started.

"The Legislature should act to streamline the permit process for small-scale energy projects."

You must be kidding. I've been advocating this for a while. It isn't going to happen. The Dems had a virtually veto-proof majority for the last 4 years and it didn't happen. It isn't going to happen. We live in a NIMBY state. Nobody in Vermont is going to "streamline" the permitting process. You need to get real.

"The DPS is anti-wind"

The Legislature isn't much better. 100 Democrats and nobody made any strong moves to promote wind. Face it, Vermont doesn't seem to like wind.

You raise a lot of possibilities, but you don't accept the reality that Vermont isn't going to embrace and pay for all your preferred energy alternatives, especially in 10 years.

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