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Vermont Yankee nuclear plant announces closure
August 27, 2013 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Entergy announces it will close and decommission the contested Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in southern VT. Vermont Public Radio covers governor Peter Shumlin's announcement.
posted by maniabug (66 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's to hoping solar prices drop enough to offset the coming rise in natural gas prices. The low price of gas has caused a rather dramatic shift towards its use as a fuel for electricity generation. When the price goes up, we're going to be sad we shut down plants like this.

Also glad I don't live somewhere I'm forced to buy power from Entergy. Expect rate increases to help pay for the costs associated with decommissioning the plant. In the long run, utilities are cost plus.
posted by wierdo at 9:36 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seriously? Nuclear is our *only* option to cover us for the transition from fossil fuels to wind & solar without a lengthy stay in "third-world-country" levels of power grid.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 9:44 AM on August 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


I will never in my life understand the fetishism for nuclear power. It has never once delivered on anything it promised - it's always more expensive and less productive than advertised. Now people are getting misty-eyed for a Fukushima-era nuke plant (built in '72, Fukushima in '71) where the company keeps fighting safety reviews? Good grief.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:45 AM on August 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


Another important step to our fossil fuel future!
posted by vorpal bunny at 9:50 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


The goal shouldn't be to keep power prices down at current consumption levels. Nothing is going to accomplish that. Every large-scale energy scheme we know about is dependent on conventional energy and unsustainable economic arrangements.

That's why peak oil is driving a long economic contraction ahead. America is definitely headed for patterns of energy use that resemble what we call "third-world".

We need to accept that and quit acting as if our current power habit is a "need" that "must be met". It won't be. The question isn't what will "replace" nuclear power, but how much damage we're willing to do while we stay in denial.
posted by maniabug at 9:52 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not misty eyes, Slap*Happy, it's the reality of the future value of the asset that is being retired. New nuclear is basically off the table. Old nuclear is what we've got. As I said, natural gas prices aren't going to stay where they are for that much longer.

Not to mention all the energy that's going to be expended replacing this thing with something else, whether it be solar panels or gas turbines.
posted by wierdo at 9:56 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Weirdo, you're upset about power consumers having to shoulder the costs of decomissioning? Were you not expecting those costs to ever be paid? Do you think it's ok to defer them in the hopes that magically there will be plenty of money (or woo woo technology) to solve that problem sometime in the far future?

Energy is pushing for SAFESTOR, rather than paying for decommissioning now (even though decommissioning would help mitigate the job loss in the near term). Apparently they are gambling that in 60 years when there is no money for decommissioning, we will have long gotten oven the expectation that there would be.

Old nuclear is what we've got, and it's a ticking time bomb as the infrastructure it depends on deteriorates in the decades ahead. We need to deal with that danger now, by closing plants.
posted by maniabug at 10:03 AM on August 27, 2013


The core problem with nuclear power is that it's not a future asset. It's a current asset, and a much larger future liability.
posted by maniabug at 10:06 AM on August 27, 2013


Nuclear power is not going to save us. Only a reduction in human population can save us. The Earth simply does not have the space and resources to supply us with raw materials and filter/clean/process our output. Energy is only one piece of the big picture.
posted by DU at 10:06 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Good. Vermont Yankee was mismanaged and the only reason it's actually shutting is because VT has laws in place that actually led to a referendum of the unsafe practices they were specifically engaging in (not about the generalized debate about nuclear safety but specific illegal things that VY was doing) even though they weren't the final nail in the coffin of this situation. Vermont has a small enough population that the loss of VY isn't going to be the huge problem that it would be in a much larger place without other options. There's been some good inroads made into alternative power models (with some state level grants and subsidies) and also a serious conservation awareness movement that are all helping to make a Vermont Yankee-free Vermont a genuine option and not just a cutting-off-our-nose-to-spite-our-face move.

Friendly note: if this thread could not just become a bunch of people who hadn't read the articles arguing about nuclear power in general that would be grand.
posted by jessamyn at 10:07 AM on August 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


I did a bit of googling, and the average cost of a monthly household electric bill in 1950, before the big nuclear buildout, was around ~$100/month, adjusted for inflation. The average cost of a monthly electric bill in 2013 in the US is... ~$100/month. (Cue sad trombone)
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:09 AM on August 27, 2013


Yeah, and speaking of renewable power, VT already gets more than a quarter of its power from Hydro-Quebec, which is hydroelectric - not that there isn't an environmental impact from that too, but it's not like the other feasible options are coal and oil alone.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:14 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vermont Yankee is a perfect example of why I am against nuclear power. Not because of concern about meltdown or contamination but because the US government is not a mature enough state is safely manage fission reactors.

Vermont Yankee is an old design, is running at 120% of originial output even though it's past the point of it's original decommissioning date. There have been a run of failures which suggest that the plant is degrading. Plus, Entergy has been trying to spin-off Vermont Yankee, Indian Point and Pilgrim to a separate corporation, presumably to avoid liability for decommisioning. Meanwhile, the courts have decided that states have no right to regulate nuclear power and the courts have limited jurisdiction so that sole regulatory authority lies with the NRC, which appears rooted in the "Atoms for Peace" era and is in no way independent from the industry it created and now regulates.

In an alternate reality, Vermont Yankee was never sold to Entergy and has been decommissioned and replaced with a modern nuclear design. But in our reality, this is the next best thing. Shumlin is a Republican governor. When even the republicans are trying to close a power plant you know that whole thing is rotten.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:23 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nuclear is by and large safe but Vermont Yankee should have been shut down a long, long time ago.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:23 AM on August 27, 2013


I grew up in that area, and in the late 70s my family lived in the town of Hinsdale which is in New Hampshire but sits right across the border from Vermont Yankee, separated only by the Connecticut river.

As a child of 5 or 6 my dad would drive me to school in the mornings and as we came over a certain hill there would always be a gigantic plume of steam being released from the reactors and rising high into the air. The colder the day, the more awe-inspiring it was. Here is a picture I took about 10 years ago to give you a small sense of what that looks like.

It's kinda weird to have these beautiful but eerie memories tied into that place.
posted by jeremias at 10:25 AM on August 27, 2013


Shumlin is a Republican governor.

No he isn't.
posted by rollbiz at 10:26 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shumlin is a Republican governor.

No he isn't. If you mean "in spirit" I don't totally disagree, but he was elected as a Democrat.
posted by jessamyn at 10:26 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


...a Fukushima-era nuke plant (built in '72, Fukushima in '71) where the company keeps fighting safety reviews?

Let us not forget Pilgrim, built in '72, and also owned by Entergy. All three are the same GE design, BTW (Pilgrim has a different cooling system than Fukushima, and its emergency generators are elevated). Also - "Pilgrim keeps its spent nuclear fuel in an on-site storage pool, waiting for federal direction on the correct disposal process."
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:28 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


No he isn't. If you mean "in spirit" I don't totally disagree, but he was elected as a Democrat.

Yeah whoops, I was thinking of Douglas who tried to stay on both sides of the fence. I don't think there is any constituency in the area who is happy about Vermont Yankee.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:32 AM on August 27, 2013


In my own alternate reality, the legal struggle over Vermont Yankee might have turned into a national level debate over the merits of pre-emption, in which the NRC exercises sole authority over radiological safety, leaving states powerless to respond to their constituents who choose not to have faith in the NRC and prefer to address nuclear risks by closing plants. That pre-emption is quite unreasonable.

It wouldn't surprise me if Entergy were closing this plant to forestall such a challenge, using the conveniently placed shale bubble as a foil.

Alternate realities being conspicuously absent, though, I'll settle for this one.
posted by maniabug at 10:37 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Related (and highly relevant to me, since my brother worked there): USEC closes Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, the only American-owned plant for enriching uranium.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:55 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've mentioned this particular reactor several times on Metafilter, as an example of why nuclear energy cannot be safely extracted. I'm glad it will finally be shut down. My only worry is that the rest of the unsafe reactors using a similar design will stay in commission for a while longer.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:59 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, it should be fun hearing my parents opinion of this this weekend...
posted by maryr at 11:12 AM on August 27, 2013


I will never in my life understand the fetishism for nuclear power. It has never once delivered on anything it promised

I'm not sure why it's necessary to point out that the whole point of nuclear power these days is reduced carbon emissions, which it does deliver on. I thought that goal was relatively obvious.
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:37 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I did a bit of googling, and the average cost of a monthly household electric bill in 1950, before the big nuclear buildout, was around ~$100/month, adjusted for inflation. The average cost of a monthly electric bill in 2013 in the US is... ~$100/month. (Cue sad trombone)

I think your comparison is misleading: I'll bet you that between household appliances, air conditioning and home electronics, the average 2013 household consumes a lot more energy than the average 1950 household. According to this table of IEA data, US citizens consume about 13 GWh/year per capita, up from about 10 GWh/year in 1980 - the earilest data available.

(For comparison, the UK is at ~ 6 GWh/year, Germany at 7GWh/year and nuclear-happy France at 8 GWh/year)
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:44 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I worked at VY for two summers when I was in college. That's when I decided never to work for a corporation.

As I was typing this, my mother wrote me to complain that VY closing means that her property taxes are going up. I'm not sure how she thinks that is going to work. I guess they will carry the plant away with a giant helicopter and force the townsfolk to pay for it?
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 11:51 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vermont Yankee? Sounds like something that should be fighting kaiju in Hong Kong.
posted by happyroach at 11:56 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


According to this table of IEA data, US citizens consume about 13 GWh/year per capita, up from about 10 GWh/year in 1980

13000 KWh = 13MWh, not 13 GWh

For comparison, the UK is at ~ 6 GWh/year, Germany at 7GWh/year and nuclear-happy France at 8 GWh/year

...some of which is efficiency, and some of which is having a far milder and more consistent climate than the vast majority of US residents face.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:07 PM on August 27, 2013


I'm not sure how she thinks that is going to work. I guess they will carry the plant away with a giant helicopter and force the townsfolk to pay for it?

When you shut down a power plant the assessed value of it changes and the property taxes (or payment-in-lieu actually) are usually made much smaller.

My hometown had an old peaking plant in it that only ran a few hours a year. Its closing this year and property taxes are going up like 30%.
posted by JPD at 12:09 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The people of Vernon have already benefited from that tax revenue source. They're not losing anything they wouldn't have had if the plant weren't there, and they ought not feel entitled to it in perpetuity. Vernon can do what any town anywhere does in the face of changing revenues: decide on whatever mix of budget cuts and tax hikes is appropriate.
posted by maniabug at 12:23 PM on August 27, 2013


Funny, I am typing this about 80 miles from Three Mile Island, which if I heard an NPR report correctly the other day also is scheduled to be decommissioned............. in the 2030's.

My location also puts me on the front line of another battle related to this story: the environmental impact of "fracking", which is used to extract the natural gas that according to the first link is making Vermont Yankee uneconomical to operate. Apparently fracking involves poisoning wells, streams, flames shooting out of faucets, and lifetime gag orders on children intended to prevent them from talking about the impacts.

All human activity has an impact.
posted by eagles123 at 12:26 PM on August 27, 2013


The Earth simply does not have the space and resources to supply us with raw materials and filter/clean/process our output.

Simple Solution to that one.
posted by mikelieman at 12:31 PM on August 27, 2013


13000 KWh = 13MWh, not 13 GWh

Guilty as charged, you get the idea though.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:46 PM on August 27, 2013


Pournelle's book is a great example of the wall of denial people try to hide behind, from the realities of constrained resources. Limits to growth? No way, we'll just go to the stars!

Mining asteroids, indeed. His preface excerpt on Amazon says the threat of famine isn't as acute as it was. I'm sorry, but his credentials as a futurologist are hereby revoked.
posted by maniabug at 12:56 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a lovely quote that I wish I had the full context of from Shumlin comparing job losses at Vermont Yankee to the recent IBM layoffs thusly: "IBM is here for the duration," - @GovPeterShumlin on VT Yankee job loss vs. IBM layoffs. #VT Yankee license was set to expire. The most recent IBM layoff was about 400 workers (nearly 10% of the workforce there). Burlington Free Press says 650 jobs at the closing nuclear plant, about 260 of which are Vermonters (the rest are from MA, NY).
posted by maryr at 1:29 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


(The comment especially interests me because there's no particular reason to assume that the Essex IBM plant is here "for the duration". It's old technology. Part of the reason it has survived as well as it has is because the newer technology copper lines in NY took longer than expected to get up to speed.)
posted by maryr at 1:30 PM on August 27, 2013


a high school friend of mine is one of those people who will be losing his job when VY closes at next outage.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:18 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just because this old nuke plant is getting shut down does not mean it's a death knell for nuclear power. An old nuke plant with obsolete technology is getting shut down after reaching the end of its life. End of story.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:31 PM on August 27, 2013


There used to be another Yankee nuclear plant in Rowe, MA, not that far from the VT one. It shut down in 1992. The NRC finally declared it fully decommissioned in 2007. Yes it took 15 years to decommission the thing. Except:
While most of the grounds were released as safe, a cask storage facility remained under NRC supervision. 533 spent fuel assemblies (weighing approximately 800 lbs each) are still on-site, contained in dry casks built of concrete and steel. These will be located at the site until the U.S. Department of Energy completes a permanent storage facility for spent nuclear reactor fuel and the spent fuel stored at Rowe can be transferred to such a future federal facility. The time frame for removal of spent fuel from the Yankee Rowe site is unknown.
Nuclear power, now and in the future.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:38 PM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Huzzah! As someone living in the evacuation zone for this leaky, error-ridden pile of shit-waiting-to-go-off I say Huzzah! Do we need another Fukushima? Seriously?
posted by jammy at 4:41 PM on August 27, 2013


> There used to be another Yankee nuclear plant in Rowe, MA, not that far from the VT one

I still can recite my spiel from when I was canvassing about that 25 years ago. "Hi, my name's Sara and I'm from Mass Citizens for Safe Energy. We're the campaign that's leading the effort to shut down nuclear power plants in Massachusetts..."

And by this time the door is probably closed. I was a terrible canvasser.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:01 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


At least the damn thing is going to stop making more problems. Too damn bad Vermont let itself become dependent on it for 2/3 of its power. There are excellent winds up there when they decide to use it.

Ironic that Vermont was home to the first megawatt-size wind turbine, installed at Grandpa's Knob in 1941.
posted by Twang at 6:32 PM on August 27, 2013


Too damn bad Vermont let itself become dependent on it for 2/3 of its power.

I'm not sure we did? It's possible I'm misunderstanding statistics but the phrase I see bandied about (Wikipedia links are dead, I've seen the stats elsewhere too) are "It provided 71.8% of all electricity generated in Vermont in 2008 and meets 35% of the overall electricity requirements of the state."

So it's meeting 35% of VTs electricity needs and, if I am understanding correctly, generating 72% of the electricity that is generated in Vermont but not necessarily being sold there. The co-op electric company I used to buy power from was fully divested from them and bought a lot of electricity from Hydro Quebec and also was building biomass generators that were supplying a small bit of energy.

Interestingly VT Yankee's press release cites the lack of ability to make money as one of the reasons they are closing.
Wholesale market design flaws that continue to result in artificially low energy and capacity prices in the region, and do not provide adequate compensation to merchant nuclear plants for the fuel diversity benefits they provide.
So the markets are flawed and you can tell they are flawed because VT Yankee can't make enough money for all of the "fuel diversity benefits" they offer? Fuck 'em.

We have a lot of solar farms going up. I have a pal who works for a wind turbine company also in Vermont and he says one of the problems is that the start-up costs are prohibitive. Turbines are expensive to build and the big ones can't really be built with the sort of economies of scale that would drive prices down.
posted by jessamyn at 6:45 PM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


They've recently started installing turbines on some of the mountains, as my grandmother and mother excitedly pointed out to me from my grandfather's hospital room in Burlington. I have my doubts about solar in Vermont being a solution beyond personal use.

Totally unrelated to the above: Is the Vermont Yankee Tower really the tallest building in the state?
posted by maryr at 7:25 PM on August 27, 2013


So the markets are flawed and you can tell they are flawed because VT Yankee can't make enough money for all of the "fuel diversity benefits" they offer? Fuck 'em.

The energy companies were blaming the high cost of nuclear energy on needless regulations from ignorant politicians... back in the early '70s. Yup, Fukushima and Three Mile Island are overbuilt by the pro-nuke crowd's standards. That's why you can't have a nuclear pile in your very own home town, with electricity too cheap to meter. (Which has now been handily reformed into a quote about fusion powerplants. In 1954. Sure.) Regulatory Ratcheting by anti-science fanatics!

The cognitive dissonance is astounding.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:54 PM on August 27, 2013


jessamyn: " So the markets are flawed and you can tell they are flawed because VT Yankee can't make enough money for all of the "fuel diversity benefits" they offer? Fuck 'em."

They're not at all wrong when they say the electricity market in this country is flawed. I'd call it an understatement. It is yet another example of "deregulation" actually meaning "changing regulations to favor my donors over everyone else, including my constituents."
posted by wierdo at 8:57 PM on August 27, 2013


What's wrong with mining asteroids?

And the essential point shouldn't be lost. The ULTIMATE solution to our energy problems is space based solar/beamed microwave. And the sooner we start assembling and using this 1970's era technology, the sooner we get to the end-state.

Outer Space.

See, the one thing that space based solar needs is the one thing we ain't got, but when we get, gives us everything.

Cheap heavy lift to GEO.

Once we have that, we loft supplies and construction crews. The rest will be history.
posted by mikelieman at 12:15 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vermont Yankee? Sounds like something that should be fighting kaiju in Hong Kong.

Probably one of the Mark 1 generation.
posted by radwolf76 at 3:15 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have my doubts about solar in Vermont being a solution beyond personal use.

Don't. There are solar farms going up all over New England. My town just started putting solar arrays on the roofs of all the schools. Even with the drop in gas prices from fracking, solar's numbers are becoming attractive. Even if it were only useful for "personal use," that's a big chunk of the picture.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:31 AM on August 28, 2013


Cheap heavy lift to GEO, right. One couldn't ask for a better illustration of the basic problem. As long as we stay with that story of "as soon as we magically get that one thing that requires a huge amount of energy, then we can get unlimited energy and we don't have to discard our myth of eternal progress", we will keep on damaging the planet and failing to confront the same reality of resource constraints that all other life forms accept. We'll keep on being being a cancer.

This attitude, this monstrous cultural ego trip, is what we must fix. We have all grown up with an anomalous condition of abundant concentrated energy that came from the exploitation of petroleum. We consider it normal, but it isn't.

What's wrong with mining asteroids is that it's not going to happen, and dwelling on it does not promote the change in consciousness we desperately need.
posted by maniabug at 5:22 AM on August 28, 2013


he co-op electric company I used to buy power from was fully divested from them and bought a lot of electricity from Hydro Quebec and also was building biomass generators that were supplying a small bit of energy.

It doesn't really work like this. Unless your co-op has completely disconnected itself from the grid and is whole self-sufficient, then the fact that Vermont Yankee is in your area and offering energy to the grid means that you are taking power from it. You might not be paying for it, but the fact that you demand load and they provide power means that they matter. The marginal cost of power in your area is a function of VT Yankee providing power. That's why I tend to view "Buy Green Power" Vendors as - well not a scam exactly, but greenwashing how the power grid actually works. Its not like some electrons have labels and can be parsed.

Interestingly VT Yankee's press release cites the lack of ability to make money as one of the reasons they are closing.
Wholesale market design flaws that continue to result in artificially low energy and capacity prices in the region, and do not provide adequate compensation to merchant nuclear plants for the fuel diversity benefits they provide.


This is sort of bullshit, but not as bullshit as it sounds. The problem with renewables is that wind is variable and solar is variable, so a functioning grid requires backup power. Now in the case of nuclear and even more so coal this complaint is bullshit as the plants aren't really designed to ramp up and down in a short time period to fill in the gaps. But we do need to figure out a way to make sure gas fired plants stay on line to provide back-up power - that's what a capacity payment is. Or figure out energy storage in the longer-term.
posted by JPD at 7:11 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]



Cheap heavy lift to GEO, right. One couldn't ask for a better illustration of the basic problem. As long as we stay with that story of "as soon as we magically


Why do you think regular Big Dumb Reusable Rocket Rides to GEO are 'Magic" in the year 2013?

We went from Orville and Wilbur on the beach to jets in 40 years.

We went from Jets to THE MOON 30 years from that.

Since we went to the moon, not a whole lot.

To conclude, FUCK YOU PRESIDENT RICHARD M. NIXON.
posted by mikelieman at 7:13 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The take-home point here is that just because we were able to do those things on the upside of cheap energy doesn't mean we can do them on the downside.

Wrights -> Jets -> Moon is not explained by our innate greatness and innovating spirit. They are, rather, the consequence of the cheap abundant energy that is getting more expensive and harder to extract. That is a clear argument against extrapolating the particular trends of the past century into this next century.

The problem with the myth of progress is that it assumes, in the face of compelling evidence, that those trends will continue indefinitely.

Might we have been able to mine an asteroid if we had marshalled the world's petroleum resource carefully? Maybe. But that's irrelevant.

JPD, what's so horrible about intermittent power sources? The adjustment of expectations is one of our most useful tools as we adapt to the lower energy future we really need (and will get). Where I live, we have power outages occasionally and it's not the end of the world. It would be easy to live with part-time power, especially if the outages were scheduled as part of a sensible public conservation program. But that seems far away so long as many people insist that we "must" have constant access to as much energy as we can waste at rates "too cheap to meter".

Sorry if all this makes me sound like a wingnut. It's an issue I feel passionately about. I'd rather my kids have a healthy world to live in than a new iPod every month and a vacation house on mars.
posted by maniabug at 7:48 AM on August 28, 2013


JPD, what's so horrible about intermittent power sources?

This is not a serious question - are you honestly suggesting telling people rolling brownouts is not just a viable path but a preferable path?

Not to mention that a grid designed to carry intermittent power would require a massive redesign from what we have today. They are designed for stable loads.

And you can't schedule the outages we're talking about here. That's kind of the point.

And yes, it makes you sound like a wingnut.
posted by JPD at 8:23 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


It doesn't really work like this.

Yes and no. Again, unless I am misunderstanding this is like saying that a country didn't fully divest from South Africa because they still did business with companies that did business with South Africa and they're all part of the system of global capitalism. I totally understand that when VY totally shuts down everyone's power costs (in Vermont and all over the Northeast) are going to go up because there's not that low-cost power coming in to the grid any more and everyone's going to be scrambling to find the lowest cost electricity they can.

But the co-op is not some "Green power" greenwashing semi-scam. They stopped buying power from VY in 2002 and were heavily involved in the movement to shut it down, fully knowing it would make the cost of power go up. You can read this longish article they wrote when this was still being considered and not yet a done deal. It's a good backgrounder for people who would like more stuff to read from that angle of things.
posted by jessamyn at 8:29 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


sort of. sort of not. Its much more explicit than the SA argument. That said I totally get that they are earnest about it. I didn't say they were a quasi scam - rather that the wind power re-sellers were.

Think of your local power grid as river with the power plants being a bunch of streams that pour into it with water that is completely indistinguishable from one another. Think of all of the local utilities and distribution networks as people with buckets scooping that water out to the point that there is nothing left. Some of the streams themselves can magically flex themselves up and down to make sure every bucket taker gets exactly as much water as they want. Some streams (VT Yankee) always produce as much water as they can.

In the case of VT Yankee which can produce 620 MW of power and produced 4703 Gw-h - which means it ran at something 87% of its annual capacity. I don't have the data handy but I see from elsewhere that 48% of 620 MW is about 28% of Vermont's peak electricity demand - I can also find load data for the VT zone of the NE ISO that tells me min demand over the last ten years is ~470 MW - so if VT Yankee is running (which it is about 90% of the time) we can guess that about 60% or so of the power flowing into the grid during the middle of the night is coming from VT Yankee. So when your co-op shoves its bucket into the river it is absolutely scooping up power from VT Yankee. Once the electrons are in the grid they are absolutely fungible.

Now the way it works in real life is that your co-op has entered into bi-lateral contracts with other baseload power providers - probably gas fired CCGT and Hydro - and what they are paying is going to to be the marginal cost of the most expensive to fire CCGT that needs to run + transmission cost from them to the local node. But the thing is - the people buy power from Entergy are also paying that same exact price - because that's where the market clears for everyone who demands baseload power.

Now taking VT Yankee off the grids impact on pricing is purely going to be a function of the marginal cost of the incremental plant moved onto the cost curve. Since most CCGT's are less than 20 years old they all tend to have about the same energy costs, so really the only difference is going to be an increase in transmission costs and maybe higher gas transmission costs depending on where the new plant on the curve is.
posted by JPD at 9:07 AM on August 28, 2013


ETA: and the reason why the wind power resellers are a scam is because you can't buy wind power as baseload, what your co-op is doing is just choosing whom they buy baseload from, so its not greenwashing or anything like that.
posted by JPD at 9:09 AM on August 28, 2013


>They are, rather, the consequence of the cheap abundant energy that is getting more expensive and harder to extract.

You don't have to extract it really. The Sun supplies all we need. The only question is "Where do we put the buckets to collect it for the greatest return on investment?"

Some people want to waste time putting them on the earth. I suggest that's neither optimal, nor any sort of requirement driven by technological limitations, but rather driven by political and short-term economic issues.

Save the oil for Tupperware is what I say...
posted by mikelieman at 9:16 AM on August 28, 2013


That's right, all energy sources on Earth do basically come from the sun. The issue we're talking around is diffuse versus concentrated energy. The world ran on the sun's diffuse energy before the fossil fuel bonanza, as it will after. We just can't maintain recent growth trends that way, which is for the best.

Maintaining solar collection infrastructure in space clearly changes the Energy Returned On Energy Invested scenario. Putting things in space takes a lot of energy. Greatest return on investment is a slippery concept, depending on whether you consider things like global warming and Fukushima to be "externalities" or as part of the cost/benefit analysis.

In other words, rolling brownouts and ditching the current large grid arrangement are certainly preferable to the awful consequences our energy appetite has already established in our future. Any transition away from petroleum will entail a massive redesign; my argument is simply that reducing our demand dramatically is one of the more viable of those redesigns, and inevitable.
posted by maniabug at 9:51 AM on August 28, 2013


we can and should focus on the demand side. I'd like to think we could do that without forcing rolling black outs.
posted by JPD at 10:24 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's right, all energy sources on Earth do basically come from the sun.

Geothermal and tidal. So.... no.

In other words, rolling brownouts

Flywheel storage is the next piece of the puzzle currently falling into place. So... no.

Sorry, no mad-max, back-to-nature apocalypse for you. Perhaps you could hope for an asteroid impact instead to lead us all to your golden dystopia?
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:15 AM on August 28, 2013


Straw man. Being skeptical of centralized energy-intensive projects and advocating much lower energy consumption do not make me a doomer. I foresee difficulty and compromise, not apocalypse.

For managing our use of lower energy inputs, the flywheel may very well have a place in the process of adaptation I'm talking about. It is totally in keeping with a program of much less consuption.
posted by maniabug at 12:26 PM on August 28, 2013


Flywheel storage is the next piece of the puzzle currently falling into place.

But the flywheel in your link costs $1,333/kW. For the average home that they say needs 15kW worth of storage per night, that's $20K, roughly double the cost of an equivalent battery array. I couldn't quite make out if the 700-pound, refrigerator-sized device described on the second page is going to provide the 15kW, or if you'd need several of them.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:33 PM on August 28, 2013


call me crazy - but advocating for discontinuous power makes you a doomer.
posted by JPD at 12:36 PM on August 28, 2013


Thanks for the more extensive explanation earlier, JPD, I appreciate it.
posted by jessamyn at 12:42 PM on August 28, 2013


"Too damn bad Vermont let itself become dependent on it for 2/3 of its power."

I thought they had maple turbines.
posted by klangklangston at 3:54 PM on August 28, 2013


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