Last night [Jan. 22] I attended a meeting of our local energy awareness group at which VPIRG [Vermont Public Interest Research Group] presented their arguments for the dismantling of Vt. Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt.
VPIRG was pushing their energy vision for Vt. without power from the nuke plant and wind power, commercial wind power almost entirely, making up 20% of the power of the new Vt.
The VPIRG presenter is a young guy apparently traveling around the state giving this talk. I suggest we try to go to this talk whenever you find it. They are video taped for local-access TV and local state representatives attend. This meeting was attended by Rep. Diane Lanpher. She said she wanted to see what the public feeling was on the subject.
The VPIRG presenter is James (Jamie) Moore who seems to be in his early 30’s perhaps and has a degree in geology. He’s done similar work on energy in a number of places, including D.C., and lives with his wife in an 800-sq-ft house built in the 1800’s that he renovated and insulated himself. His talk starts espousing the value of conservation and efficiency but says it can only address demand growth, canceling it.
His talk was short with a long and engaged Q & A. There were about 10 slides. The intro slide is of an artist’s presentation of the Sheffield project [approved Aug. 2007]. The King George School  [which would have turbines on three sides] is not shown. One might mention that. I didn’t have the chance. There were 12 people in the room including the presenter. One of the audience (sitting directly behind me) was drunk and occasionally loud and insistent in a restrained way. He had his own ideas about things that seemed to be shaped to put him in good stead with the majority which, near the end, tended towards disapproval regarding commercial wind power on Vt. ridgelines.
It was hard to get the microphone. Most of the questions revealed that people were interested in energy but had no depth of understanding regarding it. Some had some knowledge about a single issue. The issue was Vt. Yankee but I got the impression it was a cloaked attempt to push commercial wind and put it in a good light. The talk was flecked with the familiar lies about commercial wind, the standard misconceptions the industry maintains. There was not the opportunity to politely (that is, within the format of the meeting) correct these statements as they were spoken. I tried to do so, somewhat successfully, but had better success during the Q & A.
VPIRG is apparently trying to downplay the difference between baseload power and power that is variable and intermittent. They argue that the “smart grid” will take care of the problems with variability, though how this happens is left unclear. It’s pie in the sky offered hopefully by a smiling young fellow any mom would love. The image of variability of wind is something that changes maybe hour by hour or from morning to afternoon, not the wild fraction of a second variations we know to be the case.
Someone piped up when discussing infrastructure/power lines to move all that wind power from upstate N.Y. to Vt. (one of VPIRG’s suggestions) about his knowledge that an enormous amount of energy is lost in transmission. He said 60% to 70% is lost. Well, I don’t know about that but what struck me is that Mr. Moore didn’t have a comment on it. He didn’t correct or debate the point. The point was extended naturally by the questioner. He suggested fixing our existing transmission lines so they would not lose this power, thereby eliminating the need for more, thereby making up for Vt. Yankee’s (possibly) lost contribution. Mr. Moore does not seem to have a lot of detailed information. [The national average is about 8% of electrical energy lost in transmission. —Ed.]
Incomplete concepts of any given aspect of energy generation (gas-fired peaking plants, baseload deliberately confused by the presenter, hydro, solar, and more, including oil-making algae and switch grass cellulosics) were offered in the questions asked. He called on me and I asked my presently favorite question, the one legislators have been deliberately silent on:
If we decide to install commercial turbines on VT ridge lines, when do we say, ‘Stop!’?
I learned something from asking the question: that it rang true with people in the room. They understood it. It was not an outrageous question but a real one. There was a hush in the room following my asking it, and just after I voiced it I heard the audible in-draw of breath as if I’d opened a door to somewhere surprising. Jamie smiled bleakly, seemed about to topple over, recovered, and said, “What do you think?” He may not handle the question quite that way again. I carefully (verbally) unfolded my laundry list – for the microphone and camera and the lady (stockings, make-up, short gray skirt) sitting quietly in the back row – offering some of the other side of commercial wind. I managed to state the main points but I had to stop after I hit an item that ignited a small fire among the chairs: the sprawl observation. Folks hadn’t considered it before and it was obvious. There’s a nerve there. Wires – and the group had already voiced our disapproval of the new power line between Rutland and Burlington, the Northwest Reliability Project – good roads kept open 365 days a year (plowed in winter) carved into Vermont’s wild lands and wilderness. The primary generator of sprawl is the extension of infrastructure. I did not get to make the connection between health care and recreation areas such as Searsburg until later to folks who had questions for me after the session was over.
Either Jamie had seeded the audience with at least one person whom he called on frequently and who handed him soft pitches and backed him up, or Bob, a friend of Jamie’s, just happened to show up. He was given a disproportionate amount of microphone time and supported and elaborated on things that Jamie said.
I could not and did not defend Entergy’s appalling handling to date of Vt. Yankee. I did get to say I would rather see the plant replaced with a plant of new design (Jamie had said that it is well known that if the design for Vt. Yankee were put in front of the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] today, the proposers would be laughed out of the room … which means much more respected designs are available now.
He said one thing that made me pause: He said that he thought that either the NRC will close Vt. Yankee by disallowing the operation permit extension … or that Entergy itself might close it before 2012 because it’s a dinosaur. It’s one of the oldest plants in the country.
After the discussion of my points had died away, Diane Lanpher piped up from the back. She said, with a bright smile, that she agreed that we have to defend the beauty of Vermont. I had pointed out that 80 million people live within a day’s drive of Vt. and come here for the beauty we have here. Many other points could have been made but I didn’t get the microphone often enough.
I am not so concerned about Mr. Moore or VPIRG, of course. I am interested in the appearance – and perhaps the fact – that Vermonters interested enough to attend these energy meetings have more information than VPIRG on issues about wihch VPIRG should be fully informed. I like this impression and think the attending legislative representatives should pick up on it. The impression works in our favor. Knowledgeable and thoughtful and concerned people should attend these meetings.