By Guy Page
Black activist Malcolm X often told other speakers to “Make It Plain.” He practiced what he preached with straight talk like, “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. The rock was landed on us.” In a VPR-PBS poll this July, our fellow Vermonters also “made it plain” — our biggest problems are the economy, jobs, cost of living, taxes, and opiate addiction.
The poll asked a simple question: “What do you think is the most important problem facing the State of Vermont today?” 27 percent answered, “the economy, jobs and cost of living.”19 percent answered “drugs and opiate addiction.” 11 percent answered “taxes.” Gold, silver and bronze go to pocketbook, opiates, and pocketbook.
Every other issue clogged the back of the pack at five percent or less: Health care 5 percent, environment, climate and energy 4 percent, schools 3 percent, guns and gun control and marijuana legalization just 2 percent each, clean water 1 percent.
So the next time some lobbyist, legislator, or candidate tells you that Vermonters Demand Change on this issue or that, it’s okay to roll your eyes and cite the poll. Unless of course it’s a change for the better for pocketbook, opiates, and pocketbook.
Vermonters have made it plain. But who’s listening?
Large utility says New Hampshire should be more welcoming to non-white workers
Last week, Tucker Carlson of Fox News made a stir criticizing a July 27 New York Times story for purportedly saying 94 percent white New Hampshire should be less white. He said, in effect, “there’s nothing wrong with being white” and chastised the Times for suggesting otherwise.
In fact, the Times story doesn’t criticize white people. Nor does it advise New Hampshire to be less white. Yet it portrays sympathetically a group of New Hampshire business/state leaders, including a spokesperson for MA/CT/NH utility Eversource, who “want to change New Hampshire’s demographics.” No longer do only social justice groups want Northern New England to be more welcoming to non-whites. These leaders say New Hampshire must work harder to attract skilled non-whites because the state faces ultra-low unemployment, an opioid crisis that is disabling many workers, and aging workforce.
The Times also notes Vermont is 95 percent white. Also, Vermont faces the same need for workers for much the same reasons. So it may be just a matter of time before Tucker and the Times set their sights on the Green Mountain State.
Germany closed carbon-free nuke plants, now fills energy gap with brown coal
Vermont, with similar energy policy, also relies more on gas, oil, coal for power
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, once lauded as the “Climate Chancellor” for closing nuclear power plants beginning in 2011, is now being pilloried by environmentalists for filling the resulting carbon-free energy gap by building new coal-burning plants and bulldozing ancient towns in Saxony to mine “brown” lignite coal, National Public Radio reported.
Like Germany, Vermont developed its renewable power industry with strong, top-down laws, regulations and subsidies. In fact the Vermont Legislature looked to Germany’s Energiewende” as a template of sorts for its own renewable revolution.
Like Germany, Vermont has a powerful “green” lobby/industry that rejoiced when Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant closed, even though it made more carbon-free power (620 megawatts) than every instate hydro, solar and wind generator combined. They predicted — a prophecy as yet unfulfilled — that solar and wind power and conservation would fill Vermont Yankee’s clean energy gap.
Like Germany, Vermont is now paying the price. When carbon-free Vermont Yankee slid out of the state’s power portfolio in 2012, fossil-fuel power from southern New England slid in. While our carbon footprint grew, our power reliability shrank. New England only avoided blackouts last December/January by burning huge, dirty, expensive reserves of coal and oil. Vermont may not be digging new coal mines in the Green Mountains, but we are dug in deeper than ever to fossil-fuel dependency. The Vermont Climate Commission reported that total (electricity/heating/transportation) greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont have risen at least 16 percent since 1990.
New England once hosted six greenhouse-gas free nuclear power plants. After Pilgrim in Massachusetts closes next year there will be only two. Vermont Electric Co-op buys 17 percent of its electricity from Seabrook in New Hampshire. Green Mountain Power gets electricity from Seabrook and Millstone in Connecticut. But Millstone may soon close, battered by the same ultra-low natural gas prices that shuttered Vermont Yankee and will soon close Pilgrim. Seabrook alone appears financially sound.
What can be done? The U.S. Dept. of Energy and some industry leaders would bolster nuclear plants with small per-kilowatt-hour subsidies taking effect only when the market price dips too low for nuclear plant economic sustainability. This energy-diverse, climate-friendly, reliability-enhancing measure is opposed by renewable and fossil fuel power industries, which seek market hegemony. Keeping Millstone open with a modest per-kilowatt subsidy when market power is particularly cheap would be a good first step. But right now, it seems unlikely.
Nuclear power is not the only bridge to an affordable, clean energy future. Another is large, “utility scale” battery storage. Vermont’s second largest utility, Vermont Electric Co-op, last week announced plans to buy “peak” power from a utility-scale battery to be built in Hinesburg next year. Normally peak power is high is the juice of last resort, high in both price and carbon emissions. The battery system will hold up to five megawatts, available to VEC at peak times.
But unless battery design changes drastically, grid storage can’t be called renewable. Lithium-ion batteries require special metals that are in increasingly short supply. Someday the supply will run out.
VT Digger reports the Climate Commission also recommended cost-effective improvements in public transportation and residential energy conservation. In fact the Scott administration already has built a solid track record of clean, pro-business clean energy policies and initiatives. But that must be the subject of a future column.
Like Germany, Vermont has climate skeptics who are often accused of swallowing the “big lie” that global warming is not manmade. If so, they are not alone in accepting falsehood over facts. Most power industry analysts say the United States can’t achieve meaningful carbon emission reduction without nuclear power, which even after several plant closures produces more zero-emissions power (20 percent of total load) than renewable wind, solar, biomass, hydro, and geothermal (17 percent) combined.
It’s all about fuel density. A few pellets of uranium burned in a reactor building sited on a few acres will yield more carbon-free power more reliably than the wind and sun energy captured by steel and glass factories spread over thousands of acres of cleared pasture, forest and mountaintop. Yet the same “green” voices who ask us all to sacrifice on behalf of emissions reduction won’t lift a finger to type a single op-ed in support of keeping carbon-free nuclear power viable in New England. Who’s swallowing the big lie now?
Vermont Yankee completes transfer of spent fuel into ultra-safe “dry casks”
A constant criticism of nuclear power is that storing spent fuel is inherently unsafe and cost-prohibitive. Last week, Vermont Yankee plant owner Entergy announced the successful transfer of all spent nuclear fuel into ultra-safe dry cask storage, within budget and two years ahead of schedule.
The 58 dry casks stored on a concrete pad at Vermont Yankee now contain all of the spent nuclear fuel from 42 years of affordable, zero-emissions energy generation at 620-megawatt Vermont Yankee. Prior to their transfer into dry casks, a total of 3,880 fuel assemblies were stored in a pool of water in the reactor building.
Both pool and dry cask storage meet stringent U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) safety standards. Many industry safety experts prefer dry casks as an even safer option. Critics of Vermont Yankee often claimed the roof over the spent fuel pool was vulnerable to attack. This scenario, rejected by the NRC as highly unlikely, is now moot. The Holtec dry casks have been found to be impervious to impacts from trucks, locomotives, and falling jet airplanes. Earlier this year, NorthStar, which is buying the site, said it expects the spent fuel to be moved out of Vermont for good by 2030.
After the plant site is decommissioned in about 10 years, the Town of Vernon anticipates partnership with a new industrial partner on this attractive piece of real estate. It has a railyard, a river, access to the Interstate, a local government experienced with working with industry and eager to do so again, and — perhaps best of all — a nearby electrical grid switchyard capable of importing and exporting huge quantities of electricity.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.