Several weeks ago, Vermont Senate President Peter Shumlin called a vote of the Vermont Senate on whether or not to give the Public Service Commission permission to issue a certificate of public good for the continued operation of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station. One of the premises underlying the decision that the Senate made to refuse that permission was that there were other available sources of power that could replace the plant’s output.
Presumably, before making that kind of decision, the senators would have received extensive staff briefings that supported their conclusion. Presumably, the senators would take the time required to understand the issues and make the best possible decision for the people that they represent. We all know that our representatives cannot be experts on all topics that might come before them, but most of us have at least some degree of trust that the representatives will take the time to listen to their staff briefs so that they can make a reasonably accurate decision based on the knowable facts.
The video above is a clear demonstration that Vermont Senator Peter Shumlin, at the very least, did not take the time to be reasonably well informed about energy before calling the vote in his legislative body. Despite repeated opportunities to “take a lookup” (that is the way that we answer in my profession if we are asked a question where we are not sure of the answer) Shumlin repeated that Germany gets 30% of its electricity from solar energy. When told that Wikipedia has a statistic of 1% with an eventual goal of 25% by 2050, he dismissed that as “that’s Wikipedia” as if the answer was completely wrong.
Here is the easily found fact from the US Energy Information Agency – in 2008 Germany consumed 547 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. It generated 92 billion kilowatt hours from all renewable sources combined. Even if all of those very visible windmills in Germany produced ZERO electricity, that statistic alone means that Germany produces a MAXIMUM of 92/547 = 17% of its electricity from solar energy, so without any further research he is already wrong by almost a factor of 2. With just one more click on the excellent international energy statistics page, however, Shumlin’s staff could have found that the total electricity production in Germany from “solar, tide and wave” in 2008 was just 3.8 billion kilowatt hours.
It is second grade math to compute that 3.8/547 = 0.7%. It is just one more step on a simple calculator to determine that Shumlin was off by a factor of 43 in his repeated assertion that Germany gets 30% of its electricity from solar energy.
I understand that one cannot hold a politician to the same ethical standards required of licensed engineers, but any engineer who was off by a factor of 43 in any fact used to support a decision to shut down a power plant that produces the equivalent of 85% of the total power used by the state of Vermont would have his license revoked within milliseconds.
Aside: Here are the facts about the relationship between the power produced at Vermont Yankee and the electricity consumption in the state of Vermont. In 2008, Vermont customers purchased 5.7 billion kilowatt hours hours of electricity while Vermont Yankee produced 4.9 billion kilowatt hours. That is almost 30% MORE electricity than all of the solar, wave and tide sources produced in Germany in the same year. Germany has invested more than $40 BILLION in order to build that solar generation capacity.
If the electricity produced at Vermont Yankee never left the state borders, it would be supplying 85% of the state’s needs. Once again, the source of my information is the easy to find, but quite authoritative (on historical numbers), state level electricity statistics spreadsheets produced by the Energy Information Agency. End Aside.
I do not live in Vermont and have not visited it for many years. However, if I did live there, I would be calling for an immediate apology and perhaps even a resignation from a politician who had the gall to push through an important decision based on an easily verifiable lie about the ability of the state to replace the electricity produced at Vermont Yankee with renewable energy. Because of his stubborn clinging to a lie that he has been told, he has put the livelihoods of 650 Americans at risk, endangered the economy of his state, and called into question the usefulness of the most important energy discovery of the 20th century.
Fortunately, the Vermont Senate’s vote is reversible. Vermont Yankee still exists, is running well and is no longer leaking any tritium into the environment. According to the Vermont Department of Public Health’s sample results, it never was leaking any Cobalt, contrary to another assertion by Shumlin.