Saturday, April 25, 2015

New Nuclear Projects: “Affordable” for whom?

What do we see coming from the State House committee that has the name “Affordability” in its title and from its omnibus energy bill that is marketed by its supporters as “Cleaner and cheaper?” Apparently “Cleaner”, “Cheaper” and “Affordability” includes leaving utility customers on the hook to pay the stranded costs of non-operational nuclear plants!

The overall omnibus bill that passed the State House on Earth Day and is headed to conference committee repeals the moratorium on new nuclear power plant construction in Minnesota even though the per-KWH cost of nuclear energy is more expensive than energy efficiency, wind and utility solar! 

At the end of the April 22nd session shortly before the Energy Omnibus bill was voted on, I heard majority leader Joyce Peppin state “Nuclear energy is a clean, affordable energy source” in favor of the nuclear moratorium repeal. 

My first question I thought of was, "Do the hundreds of millions of dollars cost overruns which more than doubled the budget for Xcel’s Monticello nuclear plant upgrade somehow qualify as 'affordable' just because the money will be paid by utility customers rather than taken away from corporate profits?"

Earlier on the same evening I heard Representative Frank Hornstein say “Nuclear is bar none the most effective way to generate energy.” So according to logic, one of them has to be wrong.

The big story here is Representative Phyllis Kahn brought up an amendment that addressed a big issue related to the repeal of the state new nuclear moratorium. She pointed out some southern states that are actually constructing new nuclear Power Plants. Kahn mentioned that Duke Energy in Georgia has a non-operational nuclear plant that has added 9% to each utility bill and maybe 15% soon. Her amendment was to shift the costs of nuclear plants before they are operational onto the power utilities instead of the utility customers. She also remarked “Of course those who profit from it don’t care as long as they have access to the people’s pocket.”

First of all it is unclear of anyone who has plans for a new nuclear plant in MN. I have read into Xcel Energy’s 15 year business plan and found no plans for then building any new nuclear. However Kahn’s amendment would at least force the utilities to stop and think if they did chose to launch a nuclear renaissance.

I did not hear the bill’s author Pat Garofalo make any make any comprehensive argument whatsoever against this Kahn Amendment except for a tense-sounding and cursory remark about encouraging new technologies. 

Melissa Hortman brought up how Xcel’s “mismanagement” led to their Monticello Nuclear Plant cost overruns which in turn provoked back-to-back rate hikes from Xcel. Maybe the cost-overruns were slightly different than the Kahn Amendment at hand, but Hortman presented it as a case in point to how nuclear is actually expensive and hard on affordability and rather than cheap and easy. There were staffers who passed out printed out articles about the Monticello Cost overruns at Hortman’s request, but to no avail. Rep Anzelc from Itasca also brought up how the cost of storing the waste was not accounted for, that there is no such thing as the company paying the costs, the ratepayer pays everything and there is no place to store the nuclear waste.

From what I saw, the GOP caucus was very silent in voicing any critique of this Amendment but nevertheless voted it down 52-77.  So those who use the term “affordable energy” as a club to marginalize the young solar industry were apparently not moved by over $400 million in cost overruns at Monticello Nuclear, probably because the expense is not taken out of corporate profits but from ratepayers. 

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