Vermont Yankee: Out of the Fission and Into the Fire?

- by Ann Darling, The Safe and Green Campaign

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power station in southeastern Vermont will close in December of this year after operating for over 40 years. The owner, Entergy Nuclear, is based in New Orleans and is the second largest nuclear power company in the U.S.

As a member of the Safe and Green Campaign, which is made up of activists who live close to the nuke and whose homeland is the most in harm’s way, I have witnessed some pretty dirty tactics to keep this particular form of dirty energy going. The litany of problems and deceit seemed never to end – a transformer fire, rotted cooling towers flooding the site with water, tritium leaks, lies under oath, multiple lawsuits, regulatory complicity and deafness, the silencing of the Vermont legislature, state inaction on the heating of the Connecticut River, bargaining in back rooms with the Governor to make a deal with an acknowledged devil (Entergy), the challenge to democracy embodied in federal law that says only “experts” can understand or address nuclear safety issues. And that’s not all, by far.

But now Vermont Yankee is closing. Music to my ears? Well, for a few moments we celebrated. We celebrated our role in supporting the State of Vermont to enact legislation to take some control back for the state, and in the ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit between Entergy and Vermont. We celebrated the organizing of many meaningful and fun actions that mobilized thousands. We celebrated not having to go to any more Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings that just left us angry and incredulous (I have to admit I enjoyed scolding the young NRC staffer about not cleaning up after himself and leaving all the radioactive waste in an incredibly vulnerable pool of water.)

Yankee said it closed because it was no longer profitable to operate due to the cheap cost of natural gas. OK, I can accept that. And I also know that the millions of dollars Entergy had to spend on lawsuits and security, and the bad press they got, also played an important role that we are very proud of.

But now back to reality. Yankee has been a large employer in our rural area, and it has paid very high salaries and supported lots of local non-profits. Its closing will have a major impact on a local economy that is already weak. Entergy has promised $10 million over five years for economic development, and there are a lot of competing ideas for that money. The Safe and Green Campaign, among others, will be here to watchdog the decommissioning process, and two of our members have been nominated to a state panel that will be closely involved in overseeing that.

People are scared. Fear can make it hard to think through things well. They are scared about what’s going to happen with property values and small businesses already hanging on by a very thin thread. They have a fundamental disquiet with developing many small power generating facilities that use solar and wind. They believe they need big facilities to generate enough power. And they don’t seem to really take conservation and efficiency seriously.

Now there’s a proposal to use the VY site for biomass with a tie in to a natural gas pipeline that’s trying to go through just south in Massachusetts. Lots of people are jumping at this like it’s actually the answer to everything. (Remember what I said about what being scared does to us?) After all, there are heavy duty transmission lines there, a railroad running right by the front gates, a well-established lumber industry, a river, an interstate. For four decades we’ve been living with the insanity of boiling water with radioactivity to generate electricity. We don’t think replacing that by burning biomass and emitting particulates and greenhouse gases, pressuring our beautiful forests, and burning more fracked gas makes any more sense than nuclear. As my friend Leslie said, “Bye-bye locally grown, truly green energy development. Hello, huge facility owned by yet another conglomerate of corporate investors.”

The Safe and Green Campaign has always had to emphasize the “safe” part of our work because we have been living under the pall of catastrophe for so long. But our banner doesn’t have a “No Nukes” symbol on it. It has an iconic picture of the sun’s glorious rays, and we need to shift our balance more and more to the “green” part of our work. Now we need to educate ourselves even more about all the ways to produce sustainable energy, and tap into our allies who helped create Vermont’s progressive plan for developing renewable energy. We need to be able to make sense to the people who are scared, with good reason, about our communities’ survival. We have been reaching out to the local 350.org group and others, and that’s good. We need to keep reaching out and take it as far up and across the power “food chain” as we can. This isn’t a “one site at a time” issue. It’s a national and international travesty that will send us to climate catastrophe if we don’t all work together.

Biomass Rejected in Favor of Solar in Springfield, VT

-  by Susan Smallheer, July 17, 2014, Rutland Herald

North Springfield, Vt. — Out with biomass, in with solar panels.

Winstanley Enterprises announced Wednesday that it was seeking state approval to build five, 500-kilowatt solar arrays in the North Springfield Industrial Park.

Some of the land that will be used was earlier proposed to be the site of the ill-fated North Springfield Sustainable Energy Project, which was rejected by state regulators earlier this year. The biomass plant would have burned tons of woodchips a year to produce 35 megawatts of electricity.

The developers of the project could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

But according to a news release sent out earlier in the day, it is a joint project of Winstanley Enteprises LLC, of Concord, Mass., Green Lantern Development LLC, of Waterbury and Powersmith Farm Inc., of Guilford.

But according to the three groups’ news release, the five arrays would total 2.5 megawatts of electricity, and represent approximately $8 million in capital investment.

By comparison, the biomass plant was estimated to cost upward of $150 million.

July issue of The Biomass Monitor: More Pollution Isn't a Climate Solution

Take a peek at the July 2014 issue of The Biomass Monitor, the nation's leading publication tracking the health and environmental impacts of "biomass" energy.

Inside this issue:

-"EPA Should Follow the Science on Biomass"

-"The Ten Commandments of Movement Solidarity"

-"Activists Shut Down Biomass Incinerator in Oregon"

...and more!

Please share the July 2014 issue of The Biomass Monitor with your friends, colleagues, neighbors, media, and elected officials!

Subscribe to monthly email issues of The Biomass Monitor here. 

More Logging and Biomass Burning Won’t Solve Job Woes

-  by Rob Handy, July 6, 2014, Register Guard

During my tenure as a Lane County commissioner, I watched Lane County’s timber harvest rise from 337 million board feet in 2009 to 590 million board feet in 2012, reported concisely by the state Department of Forestry. In spite of this huge surge, a 75 percent increase, I never witnessed the often-predicted surge in jobs or revenues.

What I did witness was a distinct increase in clear-cutting, especially in the forests closest to Eugene. That was accompanied by rural residents in Triangle Lake being contaminated from the aerial spraying of forest poisons and by the degrading of such public waters as Quartz Creek, a vital McKenzie River tributary.

I also noticed how increased burning of logging slash made the valley murky with smoke. Ironically, the Seneca biomass energy facility I contested, instead of reducing slash burning, has degraded our air quality further by increasing its allowable pollution!

Wood Stoves a Major Contributor to “Unhealthy” Air Days in Clallam County, WA

Read The Biomass Monitor's coverage of the story behind these air pollution tests: "Tracking Biomass Air Pollution on the Olympic Peninsula" 

-  by Arwyn Rice, July 14, 2014, Peninsula Daily News  

PORT ANGELES — Air quality in central and eastern Clallam County is generally good, but wood burning for home heating and transportation-related pollutants are contributing to occasional “unhealthy” air days, according to a year-long Olympic Region Clean Air Agency study.

Odelle Hadley, senior air monitoring specialist for the agency, presented the study to about 40 area residents during a meeting at the Port Angeles Library on Sunday.

The study, undertaken in 2013 to identify which location would best represent the area to test air quality, is a precursor to testing air quality impacts of the new co-generation biomass boiler at the Nippon Paper Industries USA Inc. plant in Port Angeles.

Nippon’s new biomass boiler — one of four boilers at the plant — was operational for about a month in November and December but has been under repair since, so the study does not reflect any impact the boiler may have on local air quality, Hadley said.

Council Concerned Over Reports of Land Contamination from Oklahoma Incinerator

-  by Josh Newtown, April 23, 2014, Tahlequah Daily Press

TAHLEQUAH — Negotiations involving the purchase of nearly 20 homes on 7 acres of land near Basin Avenue hit a snag Monday night when concerns surfaced over potential contamination of the area.

Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols had proposed the city purchase the homes and duplexes as a large step in a greenbelt project, which would establish a solid park and trail system from the downtown area to the site of the city’s old solid waste transfer station.

Until Monday, details of the negotiations had been mostly discussed behind closed doors, though Nichols confirmed the list price for the property to be $480,000.

After an executive session Monday night, councilors emerged and announced they had concerns that soil in the area might be contaminated. Councilors then voted unanimously to deny the purchase of the property.

“Of foremost concern is the questionable quality of the soil in the area,” Weston said in an email to the Daily Press. “We were informed [Monday] night that back in the ‘60s, the land where the homes sit now was a dump site from an incinerator. Waste was allegedly burned in an incinerator and then dumped on Basin as landfill. Knowing that young children would likely be exposed to any possible hazards, the councilors want to ensure the safety of our citizens and have the soil tested.”

Group Calls for Probe of Nova Scotia Biomass Logging

[The forest footprint for a biomass incinerator is massive. Will be interesting to see if any probe is done in regards to this facility. -Ed.]

-  by Erin Pottie, June 27, 2014, Cape Breton Bureau

A Cape Breton environmental group is calling for an emergency review of harvesting practices at Nova Scotia Power’s biomass plant in Point Tupper.

On Friday, the Margaree Environmental Association issued a letter to Premier Stephen McNeil requesting a delay in harvesting to allow the province to examine the plant’s wood supply.

Association co-chair Neal Livingston said the plant has shown itself to be a “voracious” consumer of wood fibre.

Not only is quality material being directed to the plant, there is also too much forest resource being cut, he added.

“You basically kinda have a monster there and it wants to be fed,” Livingston said. “I think that rather than get it wrong and have it continue to be a bigger and bigger problem, it’s a really good time to take a look at what’s going on here.”

NSP has said up to 650,000 tonnes of wood waste will be needed to run the plant per year.

The 60-megawatt power generating station, located in Richmond County, is part of Nova Scotia’s plan to source 25 per cent of the province’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

But in recent months, business owners who rely on the forest for a living have told The Chronicle Herald that high-quality hardwoods are making their way into the biomass plant.

Biomass Industry Lashes Out at Solar Subsidies

[The heavily-subsidized, polluting biomass energy industry cries foul over getting a smaller slice of the taxpayer pie than smokestack-free solar energy in California. -Ed.] 

-  by Bonner R. Cohen, July 15, 2014, Heartland

The California Wind Energy Association and other renewable energy groups criticized a new law extending special tax breaks to the California solar power industry. Wind power, biomass, and geothermal power groups say the special benefits for solar power tilt the playing field against other renewable power options.

Senate Bill 871, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on June 20, extends until 2025 an exemption for solar power systems from state property taxes. The existing exemption was not scheduled to expire until 2017, but the legislature rushed the new exemption into law at the end of the session with almost no advance notice or opportunity for debate.

Renewable Groups Criticize Solar Deal
"There is no reason for the State Legislature and Governor Brown to extend a property tax exemption to large scale solar energy projects at this time," said Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Association, in a press statement.

"What is disturbing is this tax break for the solar industry comes at a time when existing biomass projects are shutting down," Julee Malinowski-Ball, executive director for the California Biomass Energy Alliance, said in the same press statement. "Wind and geothermal renewable energy producers are also facing challenges in getting utilities to recontract for their existing resources. California needs these resources to balance our energy portfolio and meet long-term greenhouse gas reduction goals."

Massachusetts Grants Millions to Biomass Industry

[Millions of taxpayer dollars go to polluting biomass incineration under the guise of "clean" energy. -Ed.]

-  by Anna Simet, June 5, 2014, Biomass Magazine

Massachusetts has dedicated $3.5 million to nine renewable thermal projects in the state through a new grant program, the Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Business Investment Financing Program.

Funds for the program are being drawn from the state’s Alternative Compliance Payment funds, which are payments made by electricity suppliers when they do not meet state renewable energy portfolio standard obligations. Payment amounts vary according to technology class and compliance year. For example, in 2014, suppliers in RPS Class I—which includes sources installed after 1997—must pay $66.16 per MWh not achieved.

 Each year, ACP funds are allocated by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. Through the new program, a variety of technologies are eligible for funding, including woody biomass, grass pellets, advanced biofuels, biogas, solar thermal, and inverter driven air and ground source heat pumps.

Cutting the Trees We Need to Save the Forest

-  by Bob Berwyn, July 7, 2014, The Colorado Independent

Even here, in a cool forest hollow near Tenmile Creek, you can feel the tom-toms.

It’s a distant beat, born in the marbled halls of Congress, where political forces blow an ill wind across Colorado’s forests. Nearly every Western elected official with a clump of shrubby cottonwoods in his or her jurisdiction claims to be a forest expert. And when senators and congress members make forest policy, rhetoric usually trumps science — as is the case with laws requiring new logging projects that may wipe out some of the very trees needed to replenish forests in the global warming era.

The drumbeat of support for logging is a political response to the threat of a forest health crisis that no longer exists, and maybe never did.

Showing their natural resilience, Colorado forests are bouncing back from the pine beetle outbreak that peaked between 2007 and 2009, when the bugs spread across a mind-boggling 1 million acres of forest each year. But by last year, bug numbers dropped back to natural levels — just enough to take out a stand of sick, old trees now and then. Contrary to the spin out of D.C., it’s nature’s way. After all, pine beetles are no foreign invaders. They evolved with lodgepoles over millions of years to drive forest death and rebirth.

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