By Neila Seaman
Contrary to MidAmerican Energy’s full-page “Straight Talk” ad in The Des Moines Register, customers’ bills will indeed increase if HF561 is passed. The public is not getting straight answers.
HF561 doesn’t increase rates, but it dictates to the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) how rates must be determined, which would result in increased rates if the Iowa Utilities Board approves MidAmerican’s plans. The bill’s “customer-friendly” amendments still allow MidAmerican Energy to keep any rates collected if the plant is never constructed or completed.
MidAmerican executives told legislators in 2011 that consumers’ electricity bills would rise by a minimum of 10 percent for each $1 billion MidAmerican spent. Now, they claim they will spend only $1 billion to $1.5 billion. Those same executives said they were planning a 1,000 to 1,600 megawatt (MW) plant. Now we’re hearing 540 MW. New small module reactor (SMR) technology being explored would produce approximately 45 MW each. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) won’t even approve the technology until at least 2013. HF561 does not confine MidAmerican to SMRs, so it could choose to construct a conventional plant.
According to Jack Bailey, vice president for nuclear generation at the Tennessee Valley Authority, the total escalated cost per SMR unit runs $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion. If 540 MW requires 12 units, the cost could be as much as $14.4 billion to $21.6 billion.
A $5 billion estimate for a Florida project escalated into a $22 billion, unfinished debacle with no electricity being generated and no refund to ratepayers in sight. Iowa utility consumers cannot afford such exorbitant electric bills.
Nuclear energy should not be an option for Iowa. MidAmerican maintains it needs the nuclear power plant to provide “baseload” to its customers. But renewable sources can generate the energy and the capacity needed. Sierra Club applauds MidAmerican Energy for its investment in wind power, and the company is making some good choices for the future; however, nuclear power is not one of them.
Utilities have consistently resisted legislation that would allow homeowners, farmers and businesses to install their own renewable-energy sources and be paid for excess electricity produced. Any increased opportunities to produce renewable energy disappear into thin air if Iowans must pay for a nuclear power plant for the next 40-60 years.
MidAmerican Energy’s contention that nuclear power is reliable and safe is a myth. Risks from natural disasters and long-term storage of spent fuel are unpredictable.
After decades of trying to find an appropriate strategy for the highly radioactive spent fuel, a site has yet to be found. The Energy department has abandoned consideration of Yucca Mountain in Nevada as well as sites in Texas and Washington state. There is no recognition that an appropriate depository site will ever be developed. However, the NRC is considering allowing nuclear power plants to store spent fuel on site for 300 years until a permanent depository can be found.
Iowans don’t need or want a new nuclear power plant. Poll IOWA’s survey of 600 Iowans in April 2011 found that 74 percent opposed paying higher electric rates for a new nuclear power plant while 17 percent favored it. In addition, responses indicated that 70 percent preferred investing in renewable sources while 22 percent preferred nuclear reactors.
MidAmerican Energy received legislative approval in 2010 to charge ratepayers $15 million for a feasibility study. A report has yet to be presented to legislators. The company’s executives consistently shy away from even hinting about where a plant might be sited, exactly how much it might cost and how many SMRs it may finally need or even if SMRs will be used.
Iowans deserve honest answers from MidAmerican Energy.
Neila Seaman is director, Sierra Club Iowa Chapter. Comments firstname.lastname@example.org