Vermont Yankee redux: naturally gas

Vermont Yankee recycled to become a 620-megawatt biomass power plant would be the third-largest on Earth and the third-largest producer of biomass ash and emissions. It also would block the proposed western New England electricity corridor.

How many acres of biomass would be harvested, then delivered daily by how many trucks and trains? Would they also remove the ash for disposal somewhere?

Also burning trash? The Union of Concerned Scientists “does not consider waste-to-energy plants that burn raw municipal waste to be a sustainable form of biomass. Waste-to-energy plants emit high levels of air pollution, including toxic metals, chlorinated compounds and plastics.” Plus toxic ash.

Or natural gas? Crossing northern Massachusetts near potential “anchor tenants” Erving Paper Mills and recycled Vermont Yankee, the proposed Kinder Morgan Northeast Energy Direct Project could include a “lateral” also supplying Brattleboro and Putney, where manufacturers already burn natural gas delivered by trucks.

Yankee should be recycled to burn only natural gas and justify a pipeline serving and spurring the economy of southeast Vermont. Opponents should be asked what they propose instead of prosperity.

Blocking the western New England electricity corridor? Gov. Peter Shumlin has proposed it to deliver Gouvernement du Québec’s Hydro-Québec electricity to southern New England via Vermont (Vermont Public Radio, Sept. 9, 2013).

Already built from Vernon, where VELCO’s switchyard next to Yankee connects it to the New England grid, northward to New Haven, Vermont, it can be extended to Québec via an existing right-of-way.

This switchyard and transmission lines, like all electrical connections, have limited capacity. Closing Yankee, and keeping it closed, frees this capacity so that Hydro-Québec can bypass New Hampshire’s stalled Northern Pass transmission-line project.


False assumptions about SAFSTOR of Vermont Yankee

Entergy implicitly reminded us of our false assumptions about SAFSTOR of Vermont Yankee during the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP) Nov. 14 public hearing at Vernon.

Entergy owns the site and can keep it. The security perimeter around nuclear fuel in dry casks may leave no reusable land.

What if cumulative decommissioning costs exceed the balance of the decommissioning fund due to inflation or deficient investment income?

U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency standards for SAFSTOR (safe enclosure) allow active and passive options (Safe Enclosure of Nuclear Facilities During Deferred Dismantling, 2002, pp. 12-13). “The active option for safe enclosure of the facility is characterized by allowing entry at all times, having dedicated personnel to survey the facility and environmental conditions during the entire storage period and keeping the equipment and systems operational during the safe enclosure period. …The essential feature of the passive option is the fact that the site is not staffed for the majority of the safe enclosure period but only during periods of inspection and maintenance.”

“Significant safety issues arise from: potential failure of barriers used to confine radioactive materials; unidentified areas of significant contamination; new or unrecognized waste streams; …spread of contamination during maintenance and surveillance activities; …deterioration of buildings, structures, systems and components which may have an impact on safe worker access or on final dismantling; potential impacts of non-radiological component failure on overall safety…” (cited above, p. 8).

Can Entergy (and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission resident inspectors) be trusted to safeguard all of the above during decades of SAFSTOR of Vermont Yankee?

In the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns (beginning March 11, 2011), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission focused on appropriately upgrading safety precautions at American nuclear-power plants, especially those sharing the same design, including Vermont Yankee.

“Potential issues identified include … degraded or missing flood protection features (e.g., seals)” (U.S. NRC Response to Fukushima, April 15, 2013, p. 8).

“On May 24, 2012 [Entergy reported to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in its own words], with the plant at 100 percent power, Vermont Yankee (VY) discovered the potential for water intrusion into the Vital Switchgear Rooms via an underground spare conduit that was found to be missing its flood seal. The missing flood seal compromised the interior flood design controls for the Switchgear Rooms. Were flooding of the Switchgear Rooms to occur, the operability of switchgear providing electrical power to Division I and II Engineered Safety Feature systems and Emergency Core Cooling Systems could be affected. This could threaten the capability to shut down the reactor and maintain it in a safe shutdown condition.” (Licensee Event Report 05000271/2012-001-01, Potential to Flood Switchgear Room Due to Missing Conduit Flood Seal, emphasis added).

“On March 19, 2013 [Entergy reported to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in its own words], with the plant in the cold shutdown condition during a refueling outage, Vermont Yankee discovered water from dredging operations inside two electrical manholes located in the Vital Switchgear Rooms. On March 23, 2013, it was identified that the water had entered the two manholes through a partially dislodged flood seal in an underground spare conduit that communicates with the Switchgear Room manholes. On March 27, 2013, during an extent of condition review, an additional water intrusion pathway into the Switchgear Rooms via an abandoned sump pump discharge line was discovered. The dislodged flood seal and sump pump discharge line compromised the interior flood design controls for the Switchgear Rooms. The causes of the dislodged flood seal were due to the seal not being conservatively sized or tested for the application it was used in and failure to take timely corrective actions following a similar event reported in LER 2012-001-01 ” [quoted above] (Licensee Event Report 05000271/2013-001-00, Potential to Flood Switchgear Room Due to Missing Conduit Flood Seal, emphasis added).

On November 8, 2013, Entergy again reported to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in its own words: “On 11/7/13, it was identified that a missing conduit flood seal between an outside manhole and the West Switchgear Room compromised the flooding design of both the East and West Switchgear Rooms. Compensatory measures were implemented for the flood seal in accordance with the plant’s barrier control process. Repair of the seal is in progress. The event is being reported under 10CFR 50.72(b)(3)(v) as internal flooding of both Switchgear Rooms could affect (a.) safe shutdown, (b.) removal of decay heat, (c.) control of release of radioactive material and (d.) mitigating an accident. (Event Notification Report for November 8, 2013, Event Number 49514, Conduit Flood Seal Missing, emphasis added)

Entergy cannot be trusted to safeguard Vermont Yankee during decades of SAFSTOR, because they do not bother to check their work for mistakes, even when the risk, as they state in the previous paragraph, is nuclear catastrophe. Neither do resident inspectors employed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That such a risk is unlikely is irrelevant, because it is irrevocable.

I am pronuclear, but such habitual executive, managerial, professional and regulatory inattentive complacency is indefensible.

Vermont Yankee: SAFSTOR & more

Testimony by Vernon resident Howard Fairman to members of the Commerce and Economic Development and the Natural Resources and Energy Committees of the Vermont House of Representatives during their public hearing at Vernon, Vermont, October 28, 2013, regarding impending closure of Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee.

Deferred dismantling of a nuclear-power plant, called “SAFSTOR” in the United States, is a United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) radiological safety standard implemented by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Quoting the NRC, “under SAFSTOR, often considered ‘deferred dismantling,’ a nuclear facility is maintained and monitored in a condition that allows the radioactivity to decay; afterwards, it is dismantled and the property decontaminated” (emphasis added). U.S.NRC: Decommissioning Nuclear Power Plants

SAFSTOR does not address or mandate disabling or prevention of future operation.

According to the IAEA: “Deferral of dismantling and demolition may reduce the quantities of radioactive waste produced and reduce radiation exposure to site personnel. In addition, this delay in dismantling may permit technological improvements in the future to be incorporated into the process when decommissioning activities are resumed. However, this option could result in the loss of trained and knowledgeable workers.

“There may be additional disadvantages in delaying dismantling and demolition. If deferred dismantling is being considered for a prolonged period of time, due regard should be given to gradual deterioration of the structures, systems and components designed to act as barriers between the radionuclide inventory and the environment. This deterioration may also apply to systems that could be necessary during plant dismantling.”
UN IAEA: Decommissioning of nuclear power plants & research reactors, p.17

I commend your attention to the IAEA’s active and passive options for SAFSTOR and their obvious further disadvantages.
Safe enclosure of nuclear facilities during deferred dismantling, p.15

Mothballing an operating nuclear-power plant via SAFSTOR can allow it to be restarted afterward, such as when natural-gas prices naturally rise with growing domestic demand and international exports, making Vermont Yankee again profitable to operate.

When electricity generated by burning natural gas, already half of New England’s electricity supply, becomes sufficiently costly, Vermonters and our employers may want Vermont Yankee to be restarted to lower our electricity bills.

Moreover, quoting ISO New England: “Given current and anticipated levels of gas usage, potential gas unavailability threatens the reliability of the electric system due to the limited-capacity pipelines used to transport gas, potential gas supply interruptions, and the ‘just-in-time’ nature of the resource.”
ISO New England: Addressing gas dependence (July 2012), p. 1

Quoting the Boston Business Journal dated yesterday, October 27:
New England’s reliance on natural gas drives power bills up nearly 20% this winter

Vermont Yankee, while in SAFSTOR, can be sold along with its decommissioning fund and liabilities to investors betting that future technological improvements and/or enhanced investment performance will leave unspent millions as windfall profits after successful decommissioning, if Vermont Yankee is not instead profitably restarted.

SAFSTOR benefits Entergy Nuclear and potential buyers of Vermont Yankee.

Vernon and Vermont will benefit when Vermont Yankee has been removed entirely and the site has become a greenfield available for creation of new jobs and tax revenues.

Until then, the Town of Vernon and Vernon Town School District, in compensation for enforced unavailability of the Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee site for new economic development, should receive annual hosting payments equal to Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee’s current municipal and education property taxes indexed for inflation.

Who owns Green Mountain Power?

[November 4, 2013: Hyperlinks reviewed and updated.]

An open letter to:
Members of the Vermont House of Representatives
Members of the Vermont Senate

Governor Peter Shumlin

Associated Press Vermont Bureau
Vermont Press Bureau

[My sources are: official corporation registrations by the Vermont Secretary of State and Revenu Québec (French only); and official Web sites of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Gaz Métro, Northern New England Energy Corporation and Green Mountain Power. All are hyperlinked below.]

At this eleventh hour of Vermont’s energy independence, public and legislative opinion are unaware that the merger of Central Vermont Public Service into Green Mountain Power is fundamentally different from any other, because Vermont’s electricity (and natural gas) future will be controlled forever by a foreign government.

Gouvernement du Québec (no official name in English) owns Green Mountain Power via its $176.2 billion (December 31, 2012) Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (Québec Deposit and Investment Fund, which has no official name in English).

“Created in 1965, the Caisse is now one of the largest institutional fund managers in Canada and North America. The leading private equity investor in Canada, it is also one of the 10 largest real estate asset managers in the world.”

The Caisse invests the capital of public (equivalent to our Social Security trust funds) and semi-public pension and insurance plans and similar trust funds.

The Caisse’s government-appointed chairman of the board, Robert Tessier, also was chairman of Green Mountain Power, attesting Gouvernement du Québec’s close supervision of the merger of Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service.

[November 4, 2013: Green Mountain Power’s Web site no longer lists its board of directors, but Bloomberg Businessweek does.]

Northern New England Energy Corporation wholly owns Green Mountain Power (and Vermont Gas Systems).

Gaz Métro Limited Partnership wholly owns Northern New England Energy Corporation.

Gaz Métro Inc. owns a controlling 71 percent of Gaz Métro Limited Partnership.

Silent partner (taking no part in management) Valener Energy Company (Toronto Stock Exchange: VNR) owns 29 percent of Gaz Métro Limited Partnership.

Noverco Inc., a holding company officially registered at the same business address as the Caisse, wholly owns Gaz Métro Inc. (Click on “Find an enterprise”; enter Noverco.)

Trencap Limited Partnership, officially registered at the same business address as the Caisse, owns a controlling 61.11 percent of Noverco. (Click on “Find an enterprise”; enter Trencap.)

Enbridge Inc. (New York Stock Exchange: ENB) of Calgary, Alberta, owns 38.89 percent of Noverco.

The Caisse owns a controlling 65.81 percent of Trencap Limited Partnership.

Silent partners own 34.19 percent of Trencap: three pension plans and British Columbia Investment Management Corporation.

Gouvernement du Québec unconditionally governs the Caisse (the Fund) and owns its investments (An act respecting the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec):

4. “The Fund shall be a mandatary of the State.”

4. “The property belonging to the Fund shall be the property of the State.”

5. “Board members other than the chair and the president and chief executive officer are appointed by the Government.”

5.1 “The Government shall appoint the chair of the board of directors.”

5.3 “The board of directors shall appoint the president and chief executive officer taking into account the expertise and experience profile established by the Fund and with the approval of the Government.”

13. “The board of directors shall make the regulations of the Fund. Such regulations … shall be submitted to the Government for approval, and published in the Gazette officielle du Québec. They shall be laid before the National Assembly within 15 days if then in session; if not, they shall be laid before it within 15 days after the opening of the next session.”

Gouvernement du Québec also wholly owns Hydro-Québec. Within Québec, everyone buys electricity generated, transmitted, distributed and delivered by Hydro-Québec.

By law, more than 90 percent of this electricity (the “heritage pool”) is sold to Québecers at 2.79 cents a kilowatt-hour (Hydro-Québec Strategic Plan 2009‒2013, p. 6).

Export sales at market rates subsidize Québec businesses competing with us under free trade.

In March 1999, Central Vermont Public Service and Green Mountain Power proposed a forgotten, similar merger, including divestiture of their generating assets, with publicly traded, shareholder ownership.

Gouvernement du Québec is proposing to merge and integrate CVPS and GMP with its own generating assets under its majority ownership as a foreign government.

Is this what Vermonters want?

Are “smart” electric meters smart enough?

“Smart” electric meters benefit power companies by eliminating meter readers, their jobs and onsite visits to cut off or restore service.

How they truly benefit consumers is unclear.

What is clear is that smart meters will open the electric distribution grid and our homes and workplaces to new and unprecedented security and privacy risks.

Communicating with power companies via two-way wireless (radio) connections to nearby utility poles, smart meters will be the most extensive computer network in Vermont and a leading attraction for malicious hackers, who can work on hacking and disrupting it with a laptop computer in a vehicle parked anywhere.

Rapidly introducing smart meters everywhere in Vermont invites universal disruption when they are hacked, especially with a software worm, which will spread faster and faster (exponentially) from a meter to many meters, perhaps cutting off service.

The fundamental question then will be: How quickly can these meters be upgraded to fix a vulnerability that hackers found and exploited (as they will)?

Some key technical questions:

  • Are the wireless meter-pole connections encrypted?
  • How strong is the encryption?
  • Is there a hardware firewall?
  • Can the security software be fixed and updated quickly from a central location soon after hackers break in?

Anyone who says that hackers can’t or won’t break into the smart-meter network is wrong.

We shouldn’t believe everything that we find on the Internet, but Technology Review, published by Massachusetts of Technology (MIT), is a gold standard:

The big smart grid challenges

Meters for the smart grid

Smart meters not ready for prime time

Hacking the smart grid

Hacking the smart grid

Can software patch the ailing power grid?

Researchers hack mobile data communications

The challenges of big data on the smart grid

Howard Fairman
Vermont Uncommon Taters
Vernon, Vermont

Vermont’s energy future: a Canadian view

[Note to the reader: Simply an interested observer, I have no connection with Valener Inc., such as owning or promoting its stock.]

Vermonters can explore and invest in Vermont’s Canadian energy future through investor-owned Valener Inc. (Toronto Stock Exchange: VNR;

Public Valener owns 29 percent of Gaz Métro Limited Partnership; private Gaz Métro Inc. owns 71 percent.

Providing customary reports to investors, Gaz Métro executives and directors have informed Valener stockholders that the Canadian natural-gas pipeline serving Franklin and Chittenden Counties will be extended from Burlington to Middlebury by 2015 (Investor Presentation, May 26, 2011, p. 22).

An interesting map of CVPS’s and GMP’s territories shows that southern and central Vermont’s energy future is already Canadian, but northern Vermont’s energy future is still in play (Consolidated Financial Report, June 30, 2011, p. 14).

It also identifies just one major power plant in Vermont: Vermont Yankee. Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan includes a natural-gas-fueled replacement as an anchor load to facilitate extending the pipeline to Middlebury and beyond (p. IV-93).

Environmental lobbyists may shoot down these projects as they did the proposed Albany-Bennington-Rutland natural-gas pipeline and power plants. If they do not object, we should ask why they changed their minds.

Howard Fairman
Vernon, Vermont, USA

Vermont’s energy future: Who is listening to whom?

The Rutland Herald (Vermont) wrote in an editorial (“Energy answers,” August 6, 2011 [online for subscribers]):

“Findings from the state Department of Public Service confirm the conventional wisdom about the possibilities for the state’s energy future and point in the direction of common sense.

“The department is drawing up a much anticipated new energy plan that could provide direction for policy choices as the state confronts the many challenges related to energy and the environment.

“As part of the process of drawing up the plan, the department has collected comments from thousands of Vermonters in order to assess public opinion on energy issues.”

Nevertheless, the CEP (Comprehensive Energy Plan) Public Involvement Report (Vermont Department of Public Service, August 3, 2011) is not a “public opinion survey.”

According to this report (page 4):

“It is not an exhaustive record of public comments, nor is it a scientific survey of Vermonters. Rather, it captures general trends and suggestions to form a snapshot of public opinion across a variety of energy issues.

“It reflects the views of the comments received, but it is not necessarily representative of the views of all Vermonters or the Administration. Comments have not been edited for factual accuracy.

“Comments were received via email and the CEP website, as well as verbally at stakeholder meetings and public forums.”

In other words, advocates for or against particular energy options, not necessarily Vermonters, shared their views. Feasibilities, environmental impacts and true costs (including subsidies) have not been determined.

The Rutland Herald wrote: “For example, Vermonters like the idea of decentralized, small-scale, ‘distributed power generation’.” Some Vermonters do, though perhaps not if their properties turn out to be affected or taken by the generation facilities or the transmission lines connecting them to the Vermont grid.

A century ago, Vermont had decentralized, small-scale, distributed power generation. Everyone outside of those neighborhoods waited until electricity came to their neighborhoods. My already settled neighborhood, a mile from the 1909 Vernon hydro plant, waited until 1956 — 47 years.

Nowadays, every Vermonter’s work and leisure depend on electricity. Availability, reliability and affordability will be our demands, whatever the energy source.

Howard Fairman
Vernon, Vermont, USA

Vermont Uncommon Taters: plain, nutritious, organic, underground, local food for thought about Vermont.