By Rob Roper
At the September 2 meeting of the Cross Sector Mitigation subcommittee of the Climate Council, member Christine Donovan asked hired consultant David Hill a reasonable question, “If we have missed an important pathway [to decarbonization] or have been promoting a pathway that isn’t really a highly effective pathway for the state moving forward will you all be telling us that?”
The expected answer would, of course, be “Of course!” If there was some way to meet the carbon reduction benchmarks mandated in the law then one would expect the person you’re paying good taxpayer money to help find a solution to say so. Not so David Hill.
His answer, “We’re not looking into the small modular nuclear reactor pathway for Vermont right now. It’s not been discussed. It’s not been put forward…. By the end of this report we will not be coming out with something that says you really should be doing small modular reactors or carbon sequestration.”
First reaction: Why didn’t a single member of the subcommittee loudly follow up with, “Well, why the hell not?” The committee might find at the end of their research that the small, modular nuclear reactors are not the right solution for Vermont, but to not even look into it – technology that provides large quantities of baseload energy with zero carbon output from a small geographic footprint – is inexcusable and negligent.
Other states are looking into and moving forward with small, modular nuclear power for economic and climate related reasons. Idaho has a pilot project going called the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) involving six 77 MWe NuScale Power Modules which is expected to be on line in 2030. Montana is also revamping its regulatory structure to pave the way for a small modular nuclear future.
Vermont should at least be considering this technology. It’s worth noting, the six 77 MWe modules of Idaho’s little pilot project could power every household in Vermont with some left over and could do so in such a way as to preserve our ridgelines and pastures from massive, ugly and less reliable wind and solar facilities. NuScale, a company that builds the reactors in question, has a video on their website comparing the geographic and environmental footprints of carbon free energy producers. To make 1000 megawatts from wind, for example, would require 94 square miles of Vermont ridgelines. The same amount of solar would require 17 square miles of open fields. Small, modular nuclear could do the job on just 0.14 square miles in any out of the way place we find appropriate.
So, why isn’t the Vermont Climate Council at least curious about the small modular nuclear pathway?
This from David Hill’s LinkedIn description with emphasis added: “David is the Principal Investigator for the Vermont Solar Market Pathways project supported by the US DOE’s SunShot Initiative. He is also leading work on the development and launch of SunShares a subsidiary of VEIC providing a unique community solar business model pairing employers with employees…. David is a past Chairman of the Board of Directors for the American Solar Energy Society.”
Hmmm…. A cynical person might draw certain conclusions from this. One might also look at who donates money to the party and politicians who lead in the Vermont legislature – wind and solar developers vs. small modular nuclear manufacturers – and wonder if all this legislative activity is less about saving the planet and more about feathering the nests of the politically connected.
– Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.