Energy

Natural gas plant eyed in Vernon

The blue and purple line is the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, which Vernon is considering tapping into for its proposed gas plant. Courtesy of Kinder Morgan
The blue and purple line is the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, which Vernon is considering tapping into for its proposed gas plant. Courtesy of Kinder Morgan
VERNON – In a town hit hard by the shutdown of Vermont Yankee, officials say a natural-gas plant – with development costs estimated at $750 million – may be in the works.

The optimism in Vernon is carefully qualified, however. For one thing, the plant is far from a sure bet, and it’s not yet been disclosed which sites are under consideration. Also, there have been a few recent hints of opposition from the general public, though the town government has been generally supportive of the concept so far.

Power lines cut across a Vermont hillside. Photo by Josh Larkin/VTDigger
Power lines cut across a Vermont hillside. Photo by Josh Larkin/VTDigger

But this much is clear: Vernon Planning Commission has been meeting regularly with a coordinator and potential developer who is interested in pursuing a gas plant that would tie into the proposed Kinder Morgan Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project in neighboring Massachusetts.

“We’ve probably got four or five sites under consideration,” said Don Campbell, a Winhall resident who has experience in utility finance and is guiding the gas-plant effort. “The one that we would go forward with is the one that has the most appeal to Vernon.”

A meeting to gauge the public’s support for a plant proposal may be imminent, and those who are backing the project say time is of the essence.

“We have an opportunity to cause this to happen now,” Campbell said. “We won’t have that opportunity in another year.”

Vernon, like all of Windham County, still is in the early phases of grappling with the economic blow of Vermont Yankee’s shutdown. The workforce has been cut roughly in half since the plant stopped producing power Dec. 29, and more job losses are scheduled for 2016.

Decommissioning the plant is expected to take decades, and spent nuclear fuel will be stored on site for the foreseeable future. So those involved in the gas-plant effort are quick to say that they are not looking to redevelop the core Vermont Yankee property that will be encumbered with long-term nuclear-regulatory issues.

At the same time, the group sees value in the electrical infrastructure that served Vermont Yankee for four decades.

Bob Spencer, chair of the Vernon Planning Commission, said at a recent meeting that a natural gas plant in the vicinity of the Vermont Yankee plant is “the most-obvious choice.”

“And it’s an economical choice for the developer because of the connection to the existing power lines and the other infrastructure that’s there – whether it’s on Entergy property or adjacent property,” Spencer said.

Campbell said the town is evaluating “all the options” for reusing the Vermont Yankee infrastructure “that has continued value.”

Campbell and a partner in the venture, Brattleboro resident Hervey Scudder, are no strangers to Vernon. Last year, they sat down with the Selectboard to discuss the possibility of a biomass-fueled power plant with a possible natural-gas component.

Complications with that proposal, including the controversy that has plagued some biomass projects, led to the idea being scuttled. “We just concluded that would be too heavy of a lift,” Campbell said.

Now, attention has turned to a fully gas-powered plant. The key component of Vernon’s idea is the proposed Northeast Energy Direct gas pipeline, pursued by Houston-based Kinder Morgan as a way to bring large quantities of relatively cheap natural gas from the shale fields of Pennsylvania to the New England market.

Kinder Morgan maps show the pipeline curling out of New York state and into northwest and north-central Massachusetts before turning north into New Hampshire and ultimately terminating in Dracut, Massachusetts, on that state’s border with New Hampshire. The project has not yet received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but Kinder Morgan is projecting that the pipeline could be in service by late 2018.

Advocates for a Vernon gas plant can see that, on the pipeline’s route through Massachusetts, it passes tantalizingly close to the Vermont border. Campbell said a 7-mile spur running along existing utility infrastructure could reach Vernon.

Campbell said he has been in touch with Kinder Morgan, where a spokesman for the pipeline project did not respond to a request for comment. He has not yet contacted federal or state officials.

But Campbell said he has been busy assembling a “first-tier” development team for a potential Vernon gas plant including technical, financial and legal partners. He declined to name those partners but said they “are very close by. I’m going back to New York on a regular basis.”

Campbell said he is relying on his experience and expertise to piece together the Vernon proposal. He worked as an investment banker “specializing in investor and publicly owned electric and gas utilities for two decades.” He lists Kidder, Peabody & Co.; Credit Suisse First Boston; and Paine Webber on his resume. In Vermont, he has set up a company called Stonewall Energy Advisors LLC.

But those credentials, and the groundwork already laid for the gas project, may not mean much without a go-ahead signal from Vernon. Campbell repeatedly said that, without broad support in the town, the project won’t proceed, and he resists the term “developer” at this stage of the game.

“We’re supporting Vernon as facilitators,” Campbell said. “When Vernon says, ‘Now you’re charged (with pursuing a gas plant),’ then we’re wearing the developer hat.”

“If it’s right for the town, and there’s town support, then we’ll go the next steps,” he added. “We have zero commercial relationship with anybody. The only master we have is with Vernon.”

Vernon Planning Commission, given that its mission includes land-use planning and economic development, has been talking with Campbell and Scudder throughout 2015. At a recent meeting, Spencer assured Selectboard members and residents that the commission has been acting in an advisory and information-gathering role. He also noted that Vernon has no zoning regulations.

“We have no authority or approval process as a planning commission,” Spencer said. “We’re doing this more as informational and actually trying to give feedback when they ask us a question.”

While not advocating for a Vernon gas plant, Spencer and other planning commission members say they believe there is a place and a need for such a project in the area. They cite the loss of Vermont Yankee’s 650 megawatts of power generation, and they argue that renewable energy alone cannot keep the electric grid stable.

“If we’re going to achieve our (renewables) goal, we’re going to have to do things like this gas plant,” said Patty O’Donnell, a former Selectboard chairwoman who now serves on Vernon Planning Commission. “There is going to be a gas plant somewhere, because the region needs it.”

Such a project would not come without controversy. If the Vernon initiative moves forward, there will be questions about the safety and environmental impact of a gas plant, not to mention concerns about natural-gas extraction itself: Both Vermont and New York have banned the practice of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.

Later in the Aug. 31 Vernon Selectboard meeting where Spencer gave his presentation, resident Bronna Zlochiver flatly declared, “For the record, I am opposed to a gas-powered plant coming to Vernon.”

Officials say they expect to soon take the gas-plant proposal – with more detail than is currently available – to the townspeople. Vernon Selectboard Chairwoman Chris Howe said she believes the Planning Commission is “doing a fantastic job,” but she wants more public input soon.

“As far as the gas plant goes, I don’t have any comments to speak of one way or the other as of yet,” Howe said. “I really think, though, that it is important to let the people of Vernon decide if we should pursue this any further.”

Planning Commission member Janet Rasmussen said that’s the intent, but not before there is more to talk about. The idea is that, “when we come to the town, we can present you with as much information as we possibly can, which we don’t have yet,” she said.

Looming above the debate is the idea that, even if Vernon decides it wants a gas plant, it may not get one.

“We’re likely not the only town in this corridor that’s thought of this,” Rasmussen said.

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  • Kathy Nelson

    It would be good to see the electric infrastructure in Vernon continue to be used. While there may not be as many jobs with a gas power plant there will at least be some there to make up for the losses at Vermont Yankee. I hope the people of Vernon will accept this offer and be awarded the the plant.

    A new reactor at this location would be cleaner than a gas power plant but the gas plant is cleaner than a biomass burner. Gas is already supplying close to half of the ISO grid power and Vermont might as well do something to keep that grid stable.

    • James Tillingham

      Something tells me that a nuclear fuels engineer isn’t going to want to work at a gas plant (not that’s its likely they’d be offered a job anyway).

      • Kevin Daniels

        The vast majority of engineers at nuclear power plant aren’t “nuclear fuels engineers.” In fact, none of them are because that’s not an actual degree but semantics aside, maybe ~15% of the engineers at a nuclear power plant have BSNEs or higher.

        An NE might or might not want to work at a gas plant but if they wanted to, the degree wouldn’t be an issue.

        • James Tillingham

          Interesting. One of my colleagues from grad school has a job at a Midwestern utility and his job title is “Engineer-Nuclear Fuels”. He is MSNE with 11 years experience. And no, he told me he would not work at a gas-fueled plant because of his lack of background in that area. There are plenty of thermal sciences types who might take such a position, if it were even offered to grad school types (probably not).

  • John Baker

    The “electric infrastructure” in Vernon is still being used and will be for the foreseeable future.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a gas turbine at the site but I don’t see much of a chance of it happening.

    A new reactor? Not a chance.

  • Glenn Thompson

    To much NG already on the ISO-NE grid! At some point, NG prices will spike again….then what? Knowing, Solar and Wind alone will never produce a large % of electric power, this is probably the only option?

    What the region needs….is another Nuclear Power plant! Fat chance of that happening.

  • Pete Novick

    “In a town hit hard by the shutdown of Vermont Yankee, officials say a natural-gas plant – with development costs estimated at $750 million – may be in the works.”

    I think the author meant to discuss a natural gas power plant, though it isn’t clear at first.

    General Electric builds perhaps the power industry’s most thermally efficient and cost-competitive combined-cycle power plant. In a combined cycle power plant, the same working fluid, (in this case, natural gas), is used to power a turbine which is connected to a electric generator. The turbine end is very similar in operation to the turbine hanging under the wing of a jet airplane.

    The waste heat exhausted from the turbine combustor is then directed to a steam generator, and the steam generated is directed another turbine which is connected to a second electric generator. The exhaust steam is condensed and returned to the steam generator. The condenser requires a large volume of water to operate efficiently and the VT Yankee site, adjacent to the Connecticut River, provides plenty of that.

    Here’s a link to a GE summary of a combined-cycle power plant:

    https://powergen.gepower.com/plan-build/tools-resources/power-generation-basics/combined-cycle-power-plants.html

    Personally, I think it’s a great idea and I would strongly urge the town of Vernon to hire their own power generation subject matter expert who could best represent the town’s interests before Vermont state authorities, as well as all the other parties to the proposed deal.

    At the state level, Vermont has a very poor record of respecting the towns’ needs and desires in energy matters.

    Oh, I almost forgot. What is biomass power generation spelled backwards?

    Answer: D-I-R-T-Y

    Cheers

    • Willem Post

      Pete,

      It is about time.

      With existing infrastructures in place, the $750 million is more than sufficient for a 60% efficient, 600 MW combined cycle gas turbine, CCGT, plant, made by a US company, i.e., GE.

      Such a plant lasts about 40 years.

      The energy would be STEADY, 24/7/365, except for outages.

      THE PLANT WOULD REQUIRE NO SUBSIDIES.

      Fuel requirements would be about 3413/0.6 = 5,688 Btu/kWh.

      Because of a nearby, abundant natural gas supply, gas prices are less $4/million Btu, i.e., the fuel cost of a kWh would be about $4 x 5,688/1,000,000 = 2.28 c/kWh!!!

      CO2 emissions would be about 117 lb/1,000,000 Btu/5,688 Btu/kWh = 0.665 lb CO2/kWh; a coal plant emits about 2.0 lb CO2/kWh, about 3 times as much.

      No buying of PV panels (last about 25 years) made with dirty coal plants in China,

      No shipping of 3 MW, 459-ft tall wind turbines from Denmark (need major overhauls well before their 20th or 25th year).

      Wind and solar systems provide weather-dependent, variable, intermittent, grid-disturbing, unsteady energy, that is about 3 to 4 times more expensive than energy from natural gas.

      All this is a major plus for the Vernon area and the Vermont economy.

      • Pete Novick

        Hear hear!

      • Jacob Gregory

        Well, let’s look at the CO2 numbers again using your figure of 0.665 lbs. of CO2 per KWHr. Assume a nameplate capacity of 600 MW. Using the EIA figures for gas-fired power plant capacity factors, it seems the best number for the last few years are in the range of 60%. Using that gives an annual output of 3,155,760,000 KWHrs. The CO2 annual release is thus 2,098,580,400 pounds, or another 1,049,290 tons per year added to the biosphere. Compared to zero, which is what VY produced (as well as making more energy per year), it seems like a step backward for anyone concerned about climate change.

        • Willem Post

          Jacob,

          Compared to nuclear and hydro, gas certainly emits more CO2.

          Using the national average capacity factor of gas plants is not valid, as the proposed plant likely would be base-loaded at near 100% of rated output., as was Vermont Yankee.

          Regarding wind energy and CO2, the Irish system uses gas turbines for balancing its wind energy, as would New England. Based on a study, BASED ENTIRELY ON EMPIRICAL DATA, the 17% wind energy of Ireland, reduced only 0.526 of the promised CO2 Here are the details from this article:
          http://www.theenergycollective.com/willem-post/2264202/reducing-us-primary-energy-wind-and-solar-energy-and-energy-efficiency

          Ireland had an island grid with a minor connection with the UK grid until October 2012. Eirgrid, the operator of the grid, publishes ¼-hour data regarding CO2 emissions, wind energy production, fuel consumption and energy generation. Drs. Udo and Wheatley made several analyses based on 2011 and earlier Irish grid operations data that offer clear evidence of the effectiveness of CO2 emission reduction decreasing with increasing annual wind energy percentages.

          The Wheatley study of the Irish grid shows: Wind energy CO2 reduction effectiveness = (CO2 intensity, metric ton/MWh, with wind)/(CO2 intensity with no wind) = (0.279, @ 17% wind)/(0.53, @ no wind) = 0.526, based on SEMO data.

          If 17% wind energy, wind energy promoters typically claim a 17% reduction in CO2, i.e., 83% is left over.

          If 17% wind energy, actual performance data of the Irish grid shows, 0.526 x 17% is reduced = 8.94%, i.e., 91.06% is left over.

          What applied to the Irish grid would apply to the New England grid as well, unless the balancing is done with hydro, a la Denmark.

          Europe is facing the same problem, but it is stuck with mostly gas turbine balancing, as it does not have nearly enough hydro capacity for balancing.

          Fuel and CO2 Reductions Less Than Claimed: If we assume, at zero wind energy, the gas turbines produce 100 kWh of electricity, requiring, at an average efficiency of 0.50, 100 x 3413/0.5 = 682,600 Btu of gas, then 682600 x 117/1000000 = 79.864 lb CO2 are emitted.

          According to wind proponents, at 17% wind energy, 83 kWh is produced requiring 83 x 3413/0.50 = 566,558 Btu of gas, which emits 566558 x 117/1000000 = 66.287 lb CO2, for a THEORETICAL emission reduction of 13.577 lb CO2.

          In the real world, the CO2 reduction is 13.577 x 0.526 = 7.144 lb CO2, for a remaining emission of 79.864 – 7.144 = 72.723 lb CO2, which would be emitted by 621,560 Btu of gas {(621560/1000000) x 117 = 72.723 lb CO2}.

          To produce 83 kWh with 621,560 Btu of gas, the turbine efficiency would need to be 83 x 3413/621560 = 0.45575, for a turbine efficiency reduction of 100 x (1 – 0.45575/0.50) = 8.85%. Actually, Ireland’s turbines produce much more than 100 kWh in a year, but whatever they produce is at a reduced efficiency, courtesy of integrating variable wind energy.

          For example, in 2013, natural gas was 2098 ktoe/4382 ktoe = 48% of the energy for electricity generation; see SEIA report. This likely included 2098 – 2098/1.0855 = 171 ktoe for balancing wind energy, which, at $10/million Btu, would be 171 x 39653 million x $10/million = $67.8 million; it is likely there are other costs, such as increased wear and tear.

          It must be a real downer for the Irish people, after making the investments to build out wind turbine systems and despoiling the visuals of much of their country, to find out the reductions of gas costs and CO2 emissions are less than half of what was promised, and, as more wind turbine systems are added, that percentage will decrease even more!!

          http://docs.wind-watch.org/Wheatley-Ireland-CO2.pdf
          http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/89476/wind-energy-co2-emissions-are-overstated
          http://joewheatley.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/report.pdf
          http://www.seai.ie/Publications/Statistics_Publications/Energy_in_Ireland/Energy_in_Ireland_Key_Statistics/Energy-in-Ireland-Key-Statistics-2014.pdf

          • Jacob Gregory

            I had to use a number and didn’t want to pick one out of thin air, so I went with the documented values for conventional (not CCGT) gas turbine plants. But if we assume near 100% capacity factor, all that does is dump more CO2 into the biosphere than I estimated. Not good.

            CO2 and methane (fugitive emissions) are incredibly harmful greenhouse gases. Everyone pays attention to atmospheric degradation, but very little air time is devoted to ocean acidification, which is the counterpart to atmospheric degradation and a direct consequence of CO and CO2 releases. Some forms of marine life are extraordinarily sensitive to the pH of the oceans. And if you kill the oceans, you’ll kill life on this planet as surely as you will poisoning the atmosphere.

            By throwing away nuclear and going all-in on natural gas, New England is a leader, but not the kind of leader you want. New England is leading the way to destruction of the environment.

    • Jim Walsh

      After reading this article I have a few questions for the author and anyone who can comment with accuracy. With the recent TDI proposal to deliver 1000MW of power to a new DC/AC converter station in Ludlow Vermont –here are my questions.
      Does SE Vermont have the transmission line capacity to handle 1000MW and also the gas facility this article describes? Will the 1000 MW proposal rule out anything in Vermont going forward? If both projects are developed where and when will any transmission and or distribution upgrades take place?
      Thanks
      Jim Walsh
      New Haven, Vt.

  • gary sachs

    Please be Aware folks,

    If the Vermont Yankee site is used for any other
    industrial use after being a NUKE- then Entergy is off the hook for cleaning up the site to stringent VT. standards.

    Pay heed – that is the game.

    I advocate holding them to the strictest standard and making em clean up their own waste. gfv

  • Jacob Gregory

    So, lets make clear what we’re talking about. You throw away a functional, reliable, zero-emissions plant, Vermont Yankee, and now want to build a dirty gas-burner in place of it? That plant will use shale gas which comes from, get ready for it, fracking, something we know everybody in New England just loves. No matter how efficient a gas burner is, it still produces CO, CO2, NOx, fugitive emissions of methane, and any number of other things. That means more atmospheric degradation and climate change, more acidification of the oceans, more depletion of natural resources. And you think this is progress? What kind of people would think that?

    • Willem Post

      Jacob,
      Building, installing wind and solar panel systems cause significant CO2 and other emissions, and, their energy becomes a large percentage of the energy mix, the OTHER generators have to ramp up and down, at part load, which requires more Btu/kWh, and emits more CO2/kWh.

      Wind turbine systems on ridge lines would:

      – Cause major environmental damage to mostly pristine ridgelines.
      – Be highly visible, and highly damaging to tourism and ambiance.
      – Expose tens of thousands of people to excessive noise, affecting their sleep, health and overall wellbeing.
      http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/84293/wind-turbine-noise-and-air-pressure-pulses
      – Have higher capital costs/MW, compared to Great Plains and Panhandle
      – Have higher O & M costs/MWh, compared to Great Plains and Panhandle
      – Have lower capacity factors, compared to Great Plains and Panhandle
      – Have higher energy cost/kWh than Great Plains and Panhandle
      – Have shorter useful service lives (15 – 25 years) due to adverse winter conditions compared to Great Plains and Panhandle.

      FUEL AND CO2 REDUCTION DUE TO WIND ENERGY IS LESS THAN CLAIMED

      Ireland had an island grid with a minor connection with the UK grid until October 2012. Eirgrid, the operator of the grid, publishes ¼-hour data regarding CO2 emissions, wind energy production, fuel consumption and energy generation. Drs. Udo and Wheatley made several analyses based on 2011 and earlier Irish grid operations data that offer clear evidence of the effectiveness of CO2 emission reduction decreasing with increasing annual wind energy percentages.

      The Wheatley study of the Irish grid shows: Wind energy CO2 reduction effectiveness = (CO2 intensity, metric ton/MWh, with wind)/(CO2 intensity with no wind) = (0.279, @ 17% wind)/(0.53, @ no wind) = 0.526, based on SEMO data.

      If 17% wind energy, wind energy promoters typically claim a 17% reduction in CO2, i.e., 83% is left over.

      If 17% wind energy, actual performance data of the Irish grid shows, 0.526 x 17% is reduced = 8.94%, i.e., 91.06% is left over.

      What applied to the Irish grid would apply to the New England grid as well, unless the balancing is done with hydro, a la Denmark.

      Europe is facing the same problem, but it is stuck with mostly gas turbine balancing, as it does not have nearly enough hydro capacity for balancing.

      http://docs.wind-watch.org/Wheatley-Ireland-CO2.pdf
      http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/89476/wind-energy-co2-emissions-are-overstated
      http://joewheatley.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/report.pdf

      • Jacob Gregory

        You don’t have to tell me all that, I’m well aware of it. I think it’s stupid they trashed Vermont Yankee. If they’d kept it running, there would not be all this thrashing around trying to cover the loss with either dirty power plants like gas burners, or unreliable and outrageously expensive, subsidized sources like wind and solar.

      • Willem Post

        Addition to Sept 21; 9:48 am comment:

        Fuel and CO2 Reductions Less Than Claimed:

        If we assume, at zero wind energy, the gas turbines produce 100 kWh of electricity, requiring, at an average efficiency of 0.50, 100 x 3413/0.5 = 682,600 Btu of gas, then 682600 x 117/1000000 = 79.864 lb CO2 are emitted.

        According to wind proponents, at 17% wind energy, 83 kWh is produced requiring 83 x 3413/0.50 = 566,558 Btu of gas, which produces 566558 x 117/1000000 = 66.287 lb CO2, for a THEORETICAL emission reduction of 13.577 lb CO2.

        In the real world, the CO2 reduction is 13.577 x 0.526 = 7.144 lb CO2, for an ACTUAL reduction of 79.864 – 7.144 = 72.723 lb CO2, which would be produced by 621,560 Btu of gas {(621560/1000000) x 117 = 72.723 lb CO2}.

        To produce 83 kWh with 621,560 Btu of gas, the turbine efficiency would be 83 x 3413/621560 = 0.45575, for a turbine efficiency reduction of 100 x (1 – 0.45575/0.50) = 8.85%. Actually, Ireland’s turbines produce much more than 100 kWh in a year, but whatever they produce is at a reduced efficiency, courtesy of integrating variable wind energy.

        In 2013, natural gas was 2098/4382 = 48% of the energy for electricity generation. This likely was at least 8.85% greater due to balancing wind energy.

        http://www.seai.ie/Publications/Statistics_Publications/Energy_in_Ireland/Energy_in_Ireland_Key_Statistics/Energy-in-Ireland-Key-Statistics-2014.pdf

        Some people likely have been wondering why expensive gas imports have not decreased that much will all that wind energy on the grid. Now we know the reason.

  • Jeff Nichols

    Seems like a very promising opportunity that makes good use of infrastructure already in place. Will be interesting to see how the State responds to having solar, wind and high energy prices undermined by this potential project.

  • Kai Mikkel Forlie

    I can’t believe folks are supporting this proposal. How many of you have children? I guess you are totally fine with continuing forsaking their future just so you can watch your tv’s, power your air conditioners and charge your electric cars? What hubris! What entitlement! Islands are descending beneath the waves, global temperatures are rising, the polar ice caps are shrinking, Greenland is melting (!!), millions of climate refugees are already on the move and you can’t see your nose in spite of your face. Wake up. This is insanity. When will supporters of projects like this ever learn? Our ‘modern’ lifestyle is totally unsustainable and will not stand the test of time. So, continuing along as though everything is OK does nothing to minimize the debilitating impact that the last hundred and fifty years of excess will have on the future. The hell with everyone else, lets continue the party until there’s nothing left.

  • Ryan Garvey

    Any void left by the closing of Vermont Yankee — in either energy production or jobs — is not best filled by a new power plant operating on fracked gas piped in from out of state. Continued reliance on fossil fuel will not help our economy, our health or our climate. And it certainly won’t get us any closer to the publicly supported goal of 90% renewable energy goal by 2050. Instead, let’s consider putting a price on carbon pollution and investing in efficiency and renewable power. This boosts our energy independence and keeps more of our money and jobs local.

    • Jacob Gregory

      Can’t carry the load. Wind has maybe a 25-30% capacity factor at best, solar even less, so those will never come close to supplying even a significant fraction of generating needs. Efficiency (conservation) in and of itself can’t carry the load because you still need an energy source to conserve. If you had a 100% efficient home and no energy source you’d still freeze in the dark, because if you conserve 100% of nothing you get, well, nothing. Without nuclear, you’re going to be either importing Canadian hydropower or burning more fossil fuels. Those are your choices.