VTEP Blog

NRC to Discuss Vermont Yankee Sale at 1/26 NDCAP

Posted by: Vermont Energy Partnership Staff    Posted date:  January 17, 2017

Staff from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will preview the upcoming licensing process of the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar at the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens’ Advisory Panel at Brattleboro Middle School on Thursday, January 26, 6-9 PM.

Representatives from Entergy and the State of Vermont will also give an overview of the Vermont Public Service Board Certificate of Public Good process for the proposal.

The VTEP staff and leadership fully support the sale as proposed. Both the federal (NRC) and state (PSB) regulatory hearings will provide opportunities for interested Vermonters to express comments and ask questions through email, letters, and in person. In the coming months, VTEP will provide contact and issues information to help interested Vermonters express their views.

The agenda for the January 26 meeting is available at the website for the Vermont Department of Public Service.

PSB General Counsel to serve as Commissioner of Public Service

Posted by: Vermont Energy Partnership Staff    Posted date:  January 9, 2017

Hours before taking the Oath of Office on Thursday January 5, Gov. Phil Scott (R-VT) announced the appointment of June Tierney as his first Commissioner of the Department of Public Service.

According to her biography on the Vermont Bar Association website, June Tierney has a varied and accomplished legal career, an undergraduate degree in journalism, and was a U.S. Army officer prior to becoming a lawyer:

“June Tierney has served on the staff of the Vermont Public Service Board since 2008, first as a hearing officer, and more recently as the general counsel to the Board. Prior to working at the Board, June served as an attorney in the Public Advocacy Division of the Vermont Department of Public Service (2001-2008). A 1986 graduate of Boston University (journalism) and a 1993 graduate of Vermont Law School, June began her legal career as a law clerk to Justice James L. Morse on the Vermont Supreme Court. Thereafter, she practiced law as an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York City (1994-1997), specializing in securities fraud litigation, white collar crime defense and corporate internal compliance investigations. Following her return to Vermont in 1997, June continued to litigate and to counsel clients on internal compliance matters in private practice (1997-2001). Prior to her career as a lawyer, June served four years on active duty as a commissioned officer in the United States Army, where she specialized in human resources management and developed a facility for parsing complex regulations for the benefit of soldiers in need of compassion and pragmatic solutions.”

Ms. Tierney also holds a Master’s Degree in organizational communications from Farleigh Dickinson University, and is listed as the clerk for the New England Conference of Public Utilities Commissioners (NECPUC). Former Public Service Commissioner Richard Saudek, in an online comment to the January 5, 2017 Vermont Digger story announcing her appointment, had high praise: “June Tierney is an outstanding choice. She’s thoughtful, objective and knowledgeable about public utilities regulation and energy and environmental policy,” he said.

Ms. Tierney, of Bethel, is well-acquainted with Vermont Yankee. As general counsel to the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) since 2012, she advised the PSB as it presided over Docket 8300, Vermont Yankee’s application for a Certificate of Public Good for dry cask storage of the fuel in the shutdown reactor.  Now she will step into a new role, representing the interests of the State and Gov. Phil Scott in PSB docket 8800, the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar, a New York-based plant decommissioning company.

Sale of VY to NorthStar looks better and better

Posted by: Vermont Energy Partnership Staff    Posted date:  December 21, 2016

What could be better than having the Vermont Yankee site ready for redevelopment in 15 years? Answer: having it ready in 10 years.

According to the Dec. 20 Brattleboro Reformer, the proposed buyer of Vermont Yankee can complete its decommissioning and site restoration work by as soon as 2026 – just 10 years from now. At that point, the highly valuable site will be ready for tax-paying, job-creating redevelopment..

Proposals for the Vermont Yankee site at this early date include a multi-energy source “microgrid” to power Vernon and surrounding towns, and a computer data center. The emergence of a major new employer in Vernon within 10 years is encouraging news to Windham County. As proposed, the $800 million decommissioning job would begin in less than five years, and would itself provide a major stimulant to the regional economy.

The State of Vermont, NorthStar and Entergy must still resolve questions about the scope of site restoration. Failure to do so could jeopardize the whole deal. Let’s hope the major players have made New Year’s resolutions to reach a fair, flexible site restoration agreement.

 

Energy-minded Vermonters needed to serve on state boards and commissions

Posted by: Vermont Energy Partnership Staff    Posted date:  December 9, 2016

WANTED – Vermonters who care about clean, safe, affordable, reliable energy policy to serve on state boards and commissions.

There is no such actual classified advertisement, but there COULD be, because right now the State of Vermont is looking hard for interested Vermonters to serve on the state’s many boards and commissions that deal directly or indirectly with energy siting, transmission, and conservation. Some are paid; most are volunteer (except for the free food and travel stipend). Some are advisory, others are quasi-judicial. Some are very high-profile and intensive – for example, a new Chair of the Vermont Public Service Board will be appointed in March, 2017. Others are quarterly gatherings with very little “heavy lifting.”

Energy is ubiquitous – it is everywhere and it affects everything. There are dozens of boards and commissions addressing issues such as energy, natural resources, planning, development, workforce training, conservation, and higher education. As a VTEP member, you have already demonstrated an interest in state energy policy. If you are interested in taking it to the next level and serving your fellow Vermonters on a board or commission, or even as a state employee, go to the Transition Team website established by Governor-elect Phil Scott.

On this site, you will find a long list of state boards and commissions. Click on one, and you will learn what it does, how often it meets, the length of terms and availability of seats – everything you need to know. Governor-elect Scott has stated plainly that he is looking for new blood and good ideas, and he doesn’t care what party you vote for or who you know or whether you have served in state government before. So if you have a passion for energy policy – or almost anything else affected by state government – chances are there is a board or commission of interest for you.

Happy hunting!

Since Election Day, future of Vermont wind power less certain

Posted by: Vermont Energy Partnership Staff    Posted date:  December 2, 2016

Election Day, November 8, 2016, was bleak for the future of ridgeline wind power in Vermont. The outcome of local, state and national voting signaled a vote of no confidence in the growth of utility-scale wind power in the Green Mountain State.

Local voting
Iberdrola, developers of the 24 turbine Styles Brook project, promised host towns Grafton and Windham there would be no development without voter approval by referendum. On November 8, Grafton voted 235-158 and Windham 180-101 against construction, and Iberdrola has said it will honor its commitment.

Local Vetoes a Harbinger
The Windham-Grafton vote was the latest in a line of anti-wind development referenda. Unimpressed by the 2016 Vermont Legislature’s conditional gift of a little more say in the energy siting process, municipalities are now bypassing Montpelier. If this trend of “permission by referendum” continues, towns will have carved out a local veto power for themselves over ridgeline wind development. A new precedent is being set. This is Vermont, after all. One way or another, local people will jealously protect their control of the landscape.

State Results
During the governor’s race, candidate Phil Scott promised a moratorium on ridgeline wind development if elected governor. His opponent, Democrat Sue Minter, did not. Voters chose Scott by a nine-point margin. Minter even lost hometown Waterbury, where just 34 percent of residents (Waterbury Town Plan, page 65) support local utility-scale wind power. Of course, many others issues stirred voters, but the unpopularity of instate ridgeline wind power cannot be denied.

Statewide Policy
Gov. Scott is expected to keep his promise of a moratorium. He will almost certainly appoint a like-minded commissioner to lead the Department of Public Service, the state’s energy regulator. Most importantly, the term of Vermont Public Service Board Chairman James Volz expires in March 2017. Under his watch, ridgeline wind projects in Lowell, Georgia and Sheffield were approved and constructed. Governor-elect Scott’s choice to chair the PSB is anyone’s guess, but the logical choice would be a fellow ridgeline wind skeptic.

National Outlook
President-elect Donald Trump has said wind power kills too many eagles and is an inefficient energy source, according to many media outlets. Trump also publicly called global warming a hoax and said he would restore the U.S. coal industry. In December 2015, he lost a lengthy battle to stop a wind turbine project offshore from his Scotland gold course.

Long-Term Outlook
The wind industry can be thankful that Congress extended the 2.3 cent/kilowatt-hour Production Tax Credit in 2015, even though it drops 20% every year and expires in 2019. In an impromptu interview with VTEP in Montpelier on November 22, U.S. Congressman Peter Welch said the Republicans who now control both houses of Congress “hate renewables” and that Trump supports fossil fuels. Wind power backers should not expect any new help from Congress or the new administration, he said.

This is especially likely to be true if Trump’s next Secretary of the Energy is his energy advisor, Oklahoma billionaire Harold Hamm. According to a November 19 Forbes article citing him as a leading DOE Secretary candidate, Hamm is the son of a poor sharecropper who built a trucking empire and then earned another fortune by hydrofracking oil and natural gas. Far from supporting wind subsidies, Hamm says wind should be taxed similarly to oil and gas – two percent on production in the first three years, and seven percent thereafter.

None of these local, state and national developments mean ridgeline wind has no future in Vermont. What government giveth, it taketh away, and may someday giveth back again. Thus, the next two state and federal election cycles may have different results. Still, one must wonder about the long-term sustainability of an industry that must rely not only on the ever-changing winds of nature, but also on the fickle winds of government.

Who is NorthStar?

Posted by: Vermont Energy Partnership Staff    Posted date:  November 22, 2016

On Tuesday, November 8, Entergy announced plans to sell Vermont Yankee to NorthStar, a NYC-based demolition and remediation company with extensive experience in nuclear reactor decommissioning and site restoration.  The sale is expected to be finalized by 2018 and requires prior approval of both the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Vermont Public Service Board. Both bodies are expected to rule on the proposed sale during 2017 following a lengthy hearing process.

The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP) will hold an informational meeting on the proposed sale 6 P.M. December 1 at the Brattleboro Middle School All Purpose Room. Representatives from both Entergy and NorthStar are expected to attend and discuss the proposal.

Vermonters know plenty about Entergy, but relatively little about the proposed buyer. Who is NorthStar?

Based in New York City, NorthStar was formed in April, 2014 by the merger of two leading U.S. demolition and remediation companies, according to its website: “With combined annual gross revenues approaching $600 million and nearly 50 offices nationwide, NorthStar will be the foremost provider of environmental remediation, deconstruction and demolition, nuclear decommissioning, emergency response and asset recovery management.” (NorthStar statement, April 24, 2014)

The NorthStar job portfolio reports decommissioning and site restoration at the following reactor sites:

  • Federal nuclear research reactor in Omaha, Nebraska – NorthStar was selected as the prime contractor to decommission the A.J. Blotcky Reactor Facility (AJBRF) within the Omaha Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center. The work was completed and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license was formally terminated in July, 2016. The Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center will continue to function as a hospital post-decommissioning. The owner plans to re-purpose the current AJBRF areas for storage, laboratory space, and/or staff offices.
  • University of Illinois Mark II reactor research facility – NorthStar dismantled, removed, and packaged the reactor, systems, and structures and decontaminated and removed radiologically contaminated surfaces, components, and debris with unrestricted site release. The NRC license was terminated in 2013.
  • University of Arizona reactor and Nuclear Reactor Laboratory (NRL) – NorthStar dismantled the reactor, ancillary support systems, removed all radioactive materials from the NRL, and reduced the radioactivity to levels that permitted release of the licensed area for unrestricted use. The NRC License was terminated in 2012.
  • University of Washington nuclear reactor – NorthStar removed and disposed of all hazardous and radioactive materials above unrestricted release limits to allow the University to terminate its NRC license for the training reactor, which operated from 1961 to 1988.

Each of these jobs was completed without any NRC or Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) safety violations, NorthStar said.

Vermont Yankee Support for Community Continues

Posted by: Vermont Energy Partnership Staff    Posted date:  October 26, 2016

The Winston Prouty Center in Brattleboro, named for the U.S. Senator from Newport, VT who co-sponsored legislation for children with disabilities, was founded in 1969 and today provides educational, health and housing support for hundreds of needy young children.

As the Prouty Center’s mission has grown, so has its need for space. The Center’s website states: “It is clear that expanding our existing space is critical for the Prouty Center to continue leadership in our community for early childhood education and services. We will do whatever it takes to make this happen.”

In January, the Prouty Center purchased the campus of the former Austine School rather than expand at its current location. As anyone who has ever conducted a major “move” will understand, transitional storage was desperately needed.

Vermont Yankee stepped in to help by donating a storage container to store the Center’s inventory. Executive Director Chloe Learey’s Sept. 30 thank you letter in the Brattleboro Reformer says it all:

“I am writing to express our deep thanks to Entergy Vermont Yankee for the donation of a 40 foot metal storage container to The Winston Prouty Center. We are so grateful to have this storage available to handle the large amount of inventory that came with our purchase of the former Austine campus. We are now able to move forward with plans to renovate and lease space which is a critical part of making the campus viable. This donation from Entergy is making that possible, and we appreciate their generosity.”

Vermont Yankee has long been a generous partner with Windham County social service organizations: generous with employee time, with cash donations, and with use and outright gifts of supplies and material. The plant has set an excellent example of community giving that other organizations should follow as Windham County planners seek to fill the employment, economic, and tax revenue void left by Vermont Yankee’s closure.

Renewable Transportation: What’s coming down the road?

Posted by: Vermont Energy Partnership Staff    Posted date:  October 18, 2016

What’s coming down the road in renewable transportation? According to the State of Vermont’s senior transportation planner, Vermont roads will soon see self-driving cars, more electronic passenger cars, and electric-powered public transportation buses.

Vermont’s plan for 90% renewable energy by 2050 addresses all energy uses, not just electricity. Although power generation has received most of the publicity, Vermont’s most carbon-intensive consumption is from transportation. A significant shift from gasoline to electricity for transportation will increase demand for carbon-free electricity in Vermont and regionally.

Gina Campoli, Environmental Policy Manager for the VT Department of Transportation, provided an overview of trending transportation changes at the Renewable Energy Vermont (REV) annual conference Thursday, October 14 at the Sheraton in Burlington, and offered her insight on four potentially gas-reducing and/or renewable Vermont transportation trends:

Self-driving cars. “They are coming,” Ms. Campoli said, after hearing scattered skeptical laughter when she mentioned the driver-less automobiles. The good news, she said, is that their guidance systems know where to go and the shortest way to get there. (Most of these cars will be electric-powered, according to USA Today.) The bad news, for planners seeking to reduce automobile traffic, is that the influx of self-driving cars will increase the total number of cars on the road, by giving elderly, former drivers another shot at self-transportation. Ms. Campoli  noted that her father, now living in a senior home, read about these vehicles in the Wall Street Journal and now can’t wait to purchase one. These cars may be ready for sale by 2020, according to Business Insider.

Uber taxi service. The web-based taxi service connecting entrepreneurial drivers with Smartphone-owning passengers has arrived in Vermont, Ms. Campoli said. Uber’s fare estimator offers a one-way ride from Montpelier to Burlington for $52-$70, and a shorter lift from Colchester to downtown Burlington for $14-$18.

Improved range for EV cars. Increased single-charge range of the latest passenger Electronic Vehicles (EV) to 325 miles “will help solve our rural problem,” Ms. Campoli said. For example, a new Volkswagen will travel 300 miles on a 15-minute charge, and will cost comparably to its gas-powered cars, the company claims.

Battery-powered buses. Speaking of Volkswagen, the $2.7 billion settlement over false emissions reports gives U.S. states cash to replace diesel buses with more environmentally friendly alternatives. Representatives from two EV-powered bus companies voiced their support for the settlement. A BYD Motors rep said her company would sell economically-feasible buses if provided assistance from the settlement. An EV bus operates at the equivalent of 21 miles per gallon, compared to a diesel bus getting four MPG, the rep said. A spokesperson for rival company Protera said his company has a meeting scheduled for this week with Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) to discuss its line of lithium-ion battery powered full-size buses.

VY Decommissioning Fund Supports Local Schools

Posted by: Vermont Energy Partnership Staff    Posted date:  October 10, 2016

Next summer, money from the 2013 Vermont Yankee decommissioning settlement is scheduled to help pay for the oil-to-wood pellet furnace conversion of a Windham County school.

Flood Brook Elementary School in Londonderry will become the first full-sized public school to receive a new pellet-burning furnace with Windham Wood Heat Initiative (WWHI) assistance, a program overseen by the Windham Regional Commission, WRC planner Marion Major said in an October 7 interview.

WWHI was created with funding from the December 2013 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) between Entergy and the State of Vermont that settled most of the parties’ disagreements and cleared the path for Vermont Yankee decommissioning. The MSA provides more than $40 million from Entergy for site restoration and renewable and economic development including $5.2 million for the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund. This excerpt from an April, 2015 WWHI press release summarizes the program:

“The $1.6 million-program, funded by Vermont Yankee decommissioning via the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF), will help at least 20 municipal and school buildings convert to heating with advanced wood heating systems that use local, sustainable wood while addressing those buildings’ energy efficiency and durability needs. The program also includes public education, training for local building professionals, and fuel supply procurement.”

WWHI will pay 25% of a school’s pellet furnace installation cost and also offers planning assistance. After the oil furnace at the small Esteyville school building in Brattleboro failed in September 2015, WWHI enabled the conversion to pellet heat, thus cutting oil consumption by 1100 gallons per year, according to a March 30, 2016 report on i.brattleboro.com. WWHI also has financed control system upgrades to the Academy School in Brattleboro, Bellows Falls Middle School, and Leland & Gray in Townshend. Several others schools have tentative conversion agreements that are contingent on securing voter support. But there has not yet been an oil-to-pellet furnace conversion at a full-size, traditional public school – Flood Brook is scheduled to be the first.

The unexpectedly low cost of heating oil has been a challenge to the speedy acceptance of wood pellet conversion, Ms. Major said. The emergence of the hydro-fracturing mining process that has suppressed natural gas prices – to the detriment of the nuclear power industry – also has suppressed the price of heating oil. However, Major said many school officials remember when heating oil was very expensive and understand that fuel prices are subject to rapid change.

A recent snapshot of price comparisons, however, is hardly encouraging. The February 2016 Vermont Fuel Price Report, published by the Vermont Department of Public Service, shows fuel oil costing $16.85 compared to $22.41 for wood pellets. Until pellet fuel costs as much as or less than oil, school officials will be looking an expensive conversion that – for now – consumes a more expensive fuel, as well.

An October 5 wood boiler incident that forced the evacuation of a Lebanon, NH school is highly unlikely to occur in Vermont, Ms. Major said. According to the October 6 Valley News daily newspaper, stack emissions from the Lebanon Middle School wood pellet furnace were wind-blown into the school’s air intake system, causing smoke to circulate inside the building, the News said. The Vermont systems use standards designed to prevent such incidents, Ms. Major said.

Snapshot, Context Provided for VY Decommissioning, Site Restoration Funding

Posted by: Vermont Energy Partnership Staff    Posted date:  September 27, 2016

For a snapshot of the financial status of Vermont Yankee decommissioning and site restoration funding, see this succinct statement by Aaron Kisicki, attorney for the Vermont Department of Public Service reviewed at last week’s Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen’s Advisory Panel (NDCAP) meeting:

“As of August 31, 2016, the market value of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station’s decommissioning trust fund accounts was $581,155,744. The balance of the Vermont Yankee Site Restoration Trust was $17,021,079.”

Here’s what those numbers mean: before decommissioning can begin, the decommissioning fund must be worth about $1.3 billion, as required by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. As further investment is not expected, growth will depend on market performance of the fund’s blue-chip stocks and other investment instruments.

Currently, the NRC allows Vermont Yankee to make withdrawals from the fund to complete necessary, cost-effective pre-decommissioning work, such as closing down buildings, and shutting off and dismantling some non-radiological systems. This work is ongoing, ahead of schedule, and under budget. However, the State of Vermont has also sought funding for items that are less essential, but which would nevertheless reduce the fund balance, such as a multi-million dollar emergency planning zone within ten miles of the plant, despite Entergy and the NRC’s assertion that a “cold” nuclear reactor doesn’t warrant this level of emergency preparedness. (The State and Vermont Yankee eventually settled on funding of $600,000 for 2017-2018 combined.)

The Site Restoration Trust has been designated to restore the decommissioned Vermont Yankee site to a “greenfield” state, the removal of all buildings and other construction, after decommissioning. This agreement to “greenfield” Vermont Yankee, despite no obligations by NRC regulations, demonstrates the company’s willingness to go above and beyond as a good neighbor to Vernon and Windham County.

While the details of site restoration were not finalized in the otherwise comprehensive 2013 Master Settlement Agreement between Entergy and the State of Vermont, it is likely that during 2017, a Vermont Yankee site restoration plan will be proposed to the Vermont Public Service Board.

 
  Vermont Energy Partnership © 2016