Hats Off: Request to Step-Up Oversight for Vermont Yankee

Aug 20, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Hats off to Vermont regulators for requesting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to put an end to the string of mishaps at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

photo courtesy of shersteve@flickr.com

Vermont Yankee is an aging nuclear plant on the banks of the Connecticut River. It is increasingly showing its age and the time for stepped up oversight is long overdue. The request cites incidents that “continue to pile up”, including:

 “a misaligned valve in the pool where the plant stores highly radioactive spent fuel waste allowed 2,700 gallons of water to drain out of the pool. Another involved epoxy applied to a condenser to keep it from leaking; that interfered with the condenser’s operation and forced the plant to reduce its power output.”

It is time for the NRC to step in and show its willingness to exert more than lackluster oversight of the nation’s nuclear fleet.

With The New York Times reporting from Japan that “the nuclear accident at Fukushima was a preventable disaster rooted in government-industry collusion and the worst conformist conventions of Japanese culture,” it is important that similar problems not occur here in the US.

The NRC is responsible for matters concerning radiological health and safety at nuclear power plants. It is important that they provide real oversight and not have a cozy relationship with industry that lets problems “pile up” or human error and poor management continue.

Thank you Vermont regulators for keeping the pressure on the NRC.

PSNH Ratepayers Get Cleaner, Cheaper Power Choices

Aug 13, 2012 by  | Bio |  4 Comment »

If you have a greener, cheaper choice, make it! (photo credit: ilovebutter/flickr)

Most customers of Public Service Company of New Hampshire get one of the worst electricity deals in New England. Their ratepayer dollars subsidize the operation of PSNH’s outdated, inefficient coal-fired power plants; they live with the public health impacts of air pollution from PSNH plants; they have seen (and will see) their rates rise thanks to PSNH’s abysmal planning; and they won’t see much if any benefit from the billion-dollar transmission project – Northern Pass – that PSNH is spending so much time promoting. Meanwhile, electricity for other New Englanders is getting cleaner and cheaper.

The good news for PSNH customers: they now have choices.

One of the more promising reforms associated with the restructuring of the region’s electric market in the late 1990s – “retail choice” – has been painfully slow to materialize for New Hampshire residents and small businesses. Most have been stuck with PSNH’s default energy service. (With their superior purchasing power, NH’s big businesses have been able to escape PSNH’s above-market rates for some time – either by buying power from the wholesale market themselves or through power buying groups organized by the likes of the Business and Industry Association.)

In the last few months, several companies – including Resident Power and Electricity NH – have started offering electric service to New Hampshire residents, and more companies are planning to do the same. Just last week, the Portsmouth Herald reported that USource (an affiliate of New Hampshire utility Unitil) is now working with chambers of commerce around the state to serve groups of small businesses. (UPDATE (8/14): Per today’s Union Leader, add Glacial Energy to the list.)

These companies’ rates beat PSNH’s energy service rate, and the savings are likely to increase as PSNH’s rate rises. And because these non-PSNH suppliers buy from cleaner, cheaper power sources, customers who switch do not pay to support PSNH’s dirty, uneconomic power plants. If you’re planning to switch, you should carefully read and understand the terms of your new contract. PSNH will continue to deliver your power and handle all billing.

It’s a win-win, a bit like finding that local, organic produce is priced less than conventionally-grown produce. (If you frequent one of New England’s many vibrant farmer’s markets or stop at a roadside stand this time of year, you often find yourself making exactly this discovery!)

But the competition is not good news for PSNH’s coal-fired business model  – or for the many customers who aren’t aware of their choices or are nervous about making the switch, whose rates will rise even faster as PSNH’s customer base shrinks. PSNH recently released its latest report on how many customers are making the switch – known as customer “migration” – and the numbers keep getting worse for PSNH. In June:

  • More than 86% of large commercial and industrial customers did not buy power from PSNH (accounting for 95% of the power delivered to such customers). Even though there was little room for them to grow, these numbers have climbed since last fall. 68% of medium-sized businesses also are choosing other suppliers.
  • With choices for New Hampshire residents and small businesses growing, PSNH’s numbers show that the percentage of residential customers who have left PSNH doubled (from a very small base) between April and June. This number is poised to increase dramatically. According to Electricity NH, which launched in June, it has already signed up 10,000 New Hampshire customers. We understand that Resident Power also is signing up customers at a fast clip.
  • Overall, 42% of power delivered to PSNH customers came from a supplier other than PSNH. This figure was 34% as of last July and has risen by almost a quarter in 12 months. Stated differently, since last July, PSNH has lost about 12% of its energy supply business.

These developments are only the latest signs that the writing is on the wall for PSNH’s coal-fired power plants and the disastrous public policy that keeps them in business. While CLF works to make sure New Hampshire policymakers get the message, PSNH ratepayers are getting the opportunity to send their own message to PSNH: no, thanks, we deserve better.

The Waste of Nuclear Power

Aug 10, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A recent decision from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) offers hope that the nuclear industry’s free ride is coming to an end. The problem of what to do with the ever-growing amount of nuclear waste that is stockpiled at nuclear sites around the country has been vexing industry and regulators for years. It is a shameful reminder of poor management. Our nuclear reactors continue to operate and generate more waste when we have no real solution for its long-term storage.

Absent a permanent answer, the waste sits where it ends up when it is no longer useful. In the case of Vermont, it sits on the banks of the Connecticut River or in a spent fuel pool of the same style and vintage as was used at the Fukushima reactor.

On August 7, the NRC decided no new or extended licenses will be finalized until the Commission completes the environmental review of waste issues that a Federal Appeals Court required in a June decision. Specifically the NRC decided it will:

(1) suspend final licensing decisions in reactor licensing cases, pending the completion of our action on the remanded Waste Confidence proceeding; (2) provide an opportunity for public comment on any generic determinations that we may make in either an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS); and (3) provide at least sixty days to seek consideration in individual licensing cases of any site-specific concerns relating to the remanded proceedings.  (pg.3)

This is a very significant decision. The Federal Court gave the Commission a strong rebuke when it rejected NRC and industry claims that keeping waste where it is indefinitely is safe based only on a limited analysis of keeping it there for twenty years.

The waste storage issue is huge. It is crazy to think we can continue to license and operate nuclear facilities when we acknowledge we don’t have a place to put the waste. This decision is a step in the right direction, as we now have some assurance the impacts will be evaluated and the public will be allowed to participate in that process.

It is unclear what effect this will have on existing licenses. The specific decision only addressed licenses that are pending, including renewals.  As for Vermont Yankee, it is likely that these decisions will affect the state-level Public Service Board review. Vermont regulators must determine if continued operation “promotes the general good of the state.” While issues of radiological health and safety can legally only be managed at the federal level, the indefinite storage of waste and the lack of solutions produce economic burdens that are important for state regulators to address. Vermont and other states cannot be stiffed into holding the bag and bearing the economic burdens of unsound nuclear waste management. this harms Vermont’s “general good.”

Additional information is available in this Vermont Digger article - Nuclear Regulatory Commission halts nuclear power licensing decisions

 

A View from Inside (and Outside) the Annual Meeting of the New England Governors

Aug 7, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Last week I found myself on the beautiful shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington Vermont at the 36th Annual meeting of the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.

Normally, this meeting is a low key affair that doesn’t have a big impact on the place where it is being held. That was not the case this year. Protests outside the meeting drew attention to issues, like potential import of tar sands oil into New England, that were not on the formal meeting agenda.

An Op-Ed by CLF President John Kassel which ran in a number of regional newspapers before and after the meeting and can now be found on the CLF blog, as well as those protests and pointed inquiries by the press in the meeting forced drew focus towards important and contentious issues like tar sands oil imports and the Northern Pass project.

But the action inside the conference was real and important.  Some notable highlights:

  • The Governors adopted a plan for “regional procurement” of renewable energy that creates an important framework for getting much needed clean renewable energy to get built across New England
  • The Governors and Premiers came together to hail the progress that has been made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across our shared region since 2001 and to lay out a framework for further action
  • A plan was adopted for moving towards a cleaner transportation system that maintains and builds mobility while moving away from gasoline and other dirty fuels that produce a range of pollutants

The overall story here is of a cross-border region that is struggling to do the right thing for its economy and its environment.  The challenge we all face is ensuring that our states and provinces live up to the promises of their words, making the difficult transition away from dirty fossil fuels and providing leadership to both the United States and Canada to build a new clean energy economy.

Can New England and Canada Achieve ‘Frenergy’?

Aug 6, 2012 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

Against a backdrop of protesters vehemently opposing bad proposals to bring energy from Canada into New England, governors from the six New England states this week demonstrated their commitment to a clean energy future for our region. They resolved to pool their buying power, regionally, for renewable energy. This will boost wind and solar energy, among other clean sources, at the best available price — a much-needed step on our path to affordable renewable energy and independence from dirty fossil fuels.

The resolution was announced at the 36th annual meeting of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, held July 29th and 30th in Burlington, Vermont. The protesters outside the meeting had the attention of high-ranking officials from Canada, whose energy system has been linked with ours – in small ways so far – for decades.  That linkage could grow dramatically in the future, for mutual benefit.  Eastern Canada has the potential to serve markets all over New England with low-carbon, low-cost and clean electricity from renewable sources. And New England needs it, if we get it on the right terms.

The wrong terms are exemplified by the Trailbreaker proposal and the Northern Pass transmission project, the two Canadian energy proposals galvanizing protesters outside the meetings in Burlington. Trailbreaker would send slurry oil derived from tar sands in Western Canada to Portland, Maine by reversing the flow of the Portland-to-Montreal pipeline that has cut across Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine since it was built over 50 years ago. Northern Pass would cut a route running the length of New Hampshire, including through the White Mountains, for a high-voltage DC transmission line to deliver Canadian hydropower to parts of New England. In both cases, the environmental burdens far outweigh any benefits for our region.

However, long-term supplies of hydro, wind and other sources of power – that respect and significantly benefit the landscape through which they are transmitted, support rather than undermine the development of New England’s own renewable energy resources, replace coal  and other dirty fuels, keep the lights on at reasonable cost, and accurately account for their impacts – are what New England needs. The details will be complicated, but they can be worked out.

Conversations inside the meeting were tilting in the direction of such productive cross-border cooperation, and the announcement of a regional resolution to bring clean, affordable energy to New England may have provided some salve for the protesters. Still, we need to continue to be vigilant about Trailbreaker and Northern Pass and we will spend the effort to defeat them if we must. But any effort spent on these deeply-flawed proposals –whether advancing them or fighting them – is an unfortunate use of precious time for both countries, given the urgent call of climate change.

The sooner we get to the task of building our shared clean energy future the better, for New Englanders and our friends to the north.

International Nuclear Lessons

Jul 27, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Environmental issues span the globe. When it comes to nuclear power, global action is needed. That’s why it was a privilege for CLF advocates to meet with a number of environmental lawyers from Japan, many of whom are members of the Japan Environmental Lawyers Federation.

The tragedy of Fukushima shows the need for the US to stop giving nuclear power a free pass. Just yesterday another mishap at the accident-prone Vermont Yankee facility resulted in the draining of some of the radioactive cooling water. Enough already.

Our conversation addressed how environmental groups operate. We also touched on some of the litigation tools available to protect our environment from the risks of nuclear power – from problems with the storage of waste, the possibilities of accidents, and the economic problems that nuclear power creates.

Our colleagues in Japan have a far keener sense of how important this work is. As different as our legal systems are, it was interesting to find the similarities as well, including how challenging it is to navigate the interplay of state or local government oversight with federal regulations.

The attorneys shared with CLF MA advocate Jenny Rushlow that most Japanese attorneys interested in practicing environmental law are only able to dedicate a small percentage of their time to environmental cases, as it is difficult to find compensation for that work. As a result, the attorneys we met with mostly take on environmental cases on a volunteer basis. The group reported on a number of high impact cases, including a current lawsuit aimed at classifying carbon dioxide as a pollutant, much like the Massachusetts v. EPA case.

Energy Efficiency: A Regional Legacy of Transformation

Jul 12, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of Department of Energy @ flickr.com

In the past 25 years, our lives have become increasingly “plugged in.” We have an ever-increasing number of devices in our lives, our homes, and our offices that use electricity. What is amazing is that with our foresight and work during this same time period, our region now uses energy efficiently more than ever – reducing pollution, saving money, growing jobs, and cutting through partisan politics to succeed.

That’s a regional legacy to be proud of and one highlighted in the recent op-ed co-authored by former CLF President Douglas Foy. 

With the publication of “Power to Spare”  in 1987, CLF and others set forth the effective “out of the box” thinking that allows for reduced energy consumption while increasing economic growth. As the op-ed recounts:

“Our proposition was unique: To shift incentives that encouraged utilities to sell more power, to a new model that would reward them for promoting conservation. By putting efficiency on a level playing field with coal, gas, oil and nuclear, we would be able to lower demand, cut consumption, decrease total use and reduce pollution. We promised to boost the local economy at the same time through the job intensive investments in efficiency and by reaping the economic benefits of lower energy costs.”

And it’s been a success that continues.

Massachusetts passed the “Green Communities Act” and has grown energy efficiency jobs and lowered electric costs, with average rates for residential consumers dropping from the 4th highest to 11th highest place.

Rhode Island recently approved an aggressive efficiency budget and is expected to meet more than 100% of its anticipated load growth with energy efficiency, not through additional polluting electricity generation.

In New Hampshire, CLF Ventures recently managed a statewide project helping communities throughout the state identify ways to reduce energy consumption and costs through greater efficiency.

Vermont has its own efficiency utility that works statewide providing one-stop-shopping for businesses and residents to reduce costs and energy use with a budget designed to achieve over 2% annual savings.

Maine now has an independent energy efficiency authority which, in 2011, obtained state-wide energy savings equivalent to the output of a 110MW power plant by obtaining $3 of savings for every $1 invested by the program.

The transformation begun 25 years ago – that we are all a part of – continues. It provides a model for the country, and a model for further action to tackle climate change.

Coal Free Massachusetts Coalition Launches Campaign to Phase Out Coal

Jul 11, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Today marks the launch of the Coal Free Massachusetts Coalition Campaign to Phase Out Coal, Protect Public Health, and Transition to 21st Century Clean Energy. Across the state, in communities where the remaining coal plants operate, local residents and supporters have joined to call for the end of coal. The campaign issued the following statement:

It’s time to end reliance on coal-fired power plants in Massachusetts according to a new state-wide coalition of environmental, public health, faith and community groups, and elected officials. Citizens gathered in coordinated events across the state in Somerset, Holyoke, and Salem to announce a new Massachusetts campaign to protect public health and communities, renew efforts to make the transition to energy efficiency and clean renewable energy sources, and revitalize local economies to create more jobs.

Coal Free Massachusetts announced the following platform:

  • Phase out all of Massachusetts’ coal-fired power plants by 2020;
  • Advance energy efficiency and clean renewable energy like responsibly sited wind and solar to
    support the transition from coal electricity generation in Massachusetts
  • Partner with and empower community leadership and vision for clean energy and clean-tech
    development for our host communities, including:
  • Robust transition plans focused on the long-term health of the community
  • Innovative opportunities for growing the green economy
  • Support for workers and municipal revenues

Coal burning is highly polluting and devastating from a public health perspective. The coal burning plants in Massachusetts – Salem Harbor Station, Mount Tom (Holyoke), and Brayton Point Station (Somerset) – are the largest air polluters in the Commonwealth. In 2011, coal only provided 8% of the total energy in New England but still emitted more than 8 million tons of CO2 in Massachusetts alone. One in 10 New Englanders suffer from asthma and MA ranks 20th in mortality linked to coal plants. A 2010 Clean Air Task Force report showed that pollution from coal-fired power plants causes 251 deaths, 211 hospital admissions, and 471 heart attacks in Massachusetts every year. Nationwide more than 112 coal plants have announced retirement under pressure from local communities and efforts to protect public health. MA spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually – $252 million in 2008 alone – importing coal from other states and countries, including some places that are hostile to the US.

CLF has long worked to clean up dirty, polluting power plants, and is proud to be part of this continued effort to move Massachusetts away from reliance on coal and towards clean energy resources such as efficiency, conservation and renewable generation.  Click on the links to find out more about what CLF and the Coal Free Massachusetts coalition are doing and how you can join!

More Tarzan, Less Tar Sands

Jun 20, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Moving to a clean energy future means keeping the dirty stuff out. If you are cleaning house in a dust storm, the first thing you do is close the door. 

photo courtesy of Zak Griefen

Environmental groups gathered to show the need to close the door in New England on tar sands oil – the dirtiest of dirty oil. We are moving in the wrong direction to bring oil in and through New England that increases global warming pollution even more.  

Tar sands are a carbon bomb that will catapult us past several dangerous climate tipping points. It has no part in our region’s clean energy future.

A new report, Going in Reverse: The Tar Sands Threat to Central Canada and New England, outlines an array of threats associated with tar sands.

In late May, a pipeline company announced it would reverse the flow of a 62-year-old pipeline bringing oil from southern Ontario to Montreal. Reversing the pipeline opend the door to another pipeline reversal enabling tar sands to flow through Vermont, and New Hampshire to Portland, Maine. The tar sands industry has been in a desperate search for a port of export since the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway projects have become mired in controversy. CLF and others expressed concern that these proposals are being advanced by the same pipeline company responsible for the largest tar sands spill in U.S. history resulting the devastation of the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. 

As the placard of one young CLF supporter noted, we need “More Tarzan, Less Tar Sand.” The help of a super-hero would be nice. In the meantime, let’s just shut the door.

Associated Press story:  Alarm Raised About Potential Tar Sands Pipeline

 

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