Sunday, February 28, 2010

States grapple with nuclear energy

Experience varies widely

State quartersWhat’s a state legislature to do? The President earlier this month went to Maryland, which already had two nuclear reactors and is planning a third, to announce he’s granting an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to two more new nuclear reactors in Georgia. That’s two states down, 48 to go.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for states that don’t already have nuclear reactors to sign up for them. However, states that do have reactors are still not falling all over themselves to follow in the President’s footsteps.

West Virginia’s coal legacy lives to fend off nuclear another day

Lawmakers in West Virginia, a coal state if ever there is one, saw to it that a bill to lift the ban on new nuclear reactors in that state never got out of committee in the state senate. Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, saw his initiative buried in “no” votes by the Senate Judiciary Committee Feb 17.

In the end it was the coal industry that cast the decisive vote in the committee meeting even though a representative of the West Virginia Environmental Council, which also opposed the measure, got considerable face time with the committee. Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, said:

“We’re a coal state. We develop our technologies to burn coal, burn it cleaner, so we can produce power, produce it here.”

Garvin’s clincher was a NIMBY tactic. He asked committee members, “Who among you wants to go home and tell your constituents you are bringing a nuclear reactor to your district?”

Colorado will not go nuclear for now

Despite some cheerleading by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo), Xcel Energy (NYSE:XEL) said last week it has no plans to build or invest in a nuclear reactor in Colorado. With a market capitalization of less than $10 billion, such a “bet the company” decision is simply not in the picture. With the company’s stock trading just less than $1 off its 52-week high, executives there with stock compensation looking them in the eye have no intention of spooking investors.

Environmental groups in Colorado have been mounting concerted attacks on uranium mining in the state. While Udall is generally seen as a “green” politician, his qualified endorsement of nuclear energy startled some green groups. They also raised objections about water use by nuclear plants in a state where population growth is already impacting water rights for farming.

Tri-state Generation continues to flirt with the idea of a nuclear power plant in far southeast Colorado to serve its customers in Kansas. That state rejected the utility’s plans for coal-fired plants. Spokesman Robert McLennan said Feb 17, “We are preserving the option to build a nuclear facility in the future.” He added that the company was encouraged by the President’s announcement on loan guarantees and plans to expand the program.

Next door in Wyoming the state legislature is establishing a task force to study development of nuclear energy. The state is a major uranium mining center so legislators are more familiar than their counterparts in other states with the nuclear fuel cycle.

The Wyoming House approved HB 79 Feb 26. A seven person panel will take up the issue covering issues such as incentives, regulatory issues, and boosting training and education for jobs in the nuclear field.

Iowa sees nuclear as opportunity to reduce carbon emissions

A bipartisan group of legislators have reached agreement on a bill that would encourage development of nuclear energy in Iowa. Utilities would be able to add a surcharge to electric bills to pay for location and feasibility studies over the next three years.

Rep. Chuck Soderberg, R-LeMars, said increasing coal and natural gas use will limit the ability of the state to meet carbon emission reduction goals. He added that with regard to the rate increase, the state’ PUC ‘Consumer Advocate’ had signed off on the legislation.

Environmental groups were muted in their opposition partially because another portion of the bill provides incentives for coal-fired plants to swap out coal for biomass fuels.

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