Meredith Angwin, who blogs at Yes Vermont Yankee and Northwest Clean Energy, was recently invited to talk with Pat McDonald on her television show called Vote for Vermont: Listening Beyond the Sound Bites.
Angwin and McDonald covered a number of topics during the conversation.
- Meredith explained how we safely store used nuclear fuel, why some countries recycle it while we do not, and how there are two separate entities in West Texas/East New Mexico that have expressed interest in hosting an interim used storage facility.
- They spoke about the enormous reduction in the work force at Vermont Yankee, from an operating staff of 600 people with periodic influxes for refueling outages to an eventual security staff of about 50 people after all of the fuel that is currently in the used fuel pool has been transferred to dry casks and moved to the holding pads. That work force reduction process will be complete by 2020.
- McDonald expressed admiration for Meredith’s Yes Vermont Yankee blog and the skill with which it is written to be understandable by anyone.
- Angwin worked to correct the misconception that Vermont Yankee’s closing had not effect on Vermont utilities because “they did not have any contracts” to buy power from the plant. As she correctly stated, electrons carry no labels that indicate their origin. The grid delivers electricity from whatever sources are closest to the load, not matter what the paper agreements say. The lost of a large, emission-free generator like Vermont Yankee changes the natural of the process used to make electrons move as current rather dramatically.
- After the closure of Vermont Yankee, the electricity production in Vermont has fallen by 2/3, but electricity consumption continues almost unabated. That means that about 70% of the power consumed in Vermont now comes via transmission lines from sources located outside of the state.
- Meredith explained how the decision to close Vermont Yankee has weakened Vermont utilities and their ability to negotiate power contracts because it removed a “Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement” BATNA. Instead of having an option to walk away from a negotiation with Hydro Quebec, for example, to return home to strike a deal with Entergy and Vermont Yankee, future negotiators be forced to stay at the table even if Hydro Quebec offers lousy terms and conditions for their electricity. Quebec might have a surplus of capacity now, but if the economy recovers, that surplus might find closer customers.
- Angwin helped McDonald to realize that of the 7% of New England’s electricity that was coming from “renewables” on the day the show was aired, 48% came from burning wood and 45% came from burning refuse (trash). McDonald was surprised; she had not seen “wood” listed in any description of renewables that she had read. Angwin explained that wood is the vast majority of the material lumped into the category of “biomass” in New England.
- McDonald introduced a recently announced project to build a new natural gas plant in Vernon near the current location of Vermont Yankee in order to take advantage of its connections to the electrical grid.
Aside: I’ve visited Vermont Yankee. My guess is that there might also be a move in the near future to locate a wood burning biomass plant there. There are several existing wood processing/lumber facilities within a few miles of the former power plant. Neither wood burning nor gas burning will do anything to make Vernon a more pleasant and clean place to live or work. End Aside.
- Angwin explained that the new pipeline being built by Vermont Gas Systems is actually owned by Gaz Metro, a Canadian company, that will be supplying its gas from Canada.
- McDonald and Angwin discussed gas pipelines in general and Angwin explained that new pipelines built under current codes and standards are far safer than older pipelines that can be corroded and more difficult to inspect than is now required.
- At the end of the show, McDonald expressed her desire, twice, to invite Angwin back because energy is too large and important a topic to be limited to a half and hour discussion. I’m looking forward to the second installment.