MidAmerican reviewing options after nuclear energy bill stalls in Iowa Senate

Company may consider new technology using smaller nuclear units

Rod Boshart
Published: May 15 2012 | 7:00 am - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 7:06 pm in
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Officials at MidAmerican Energy Co. are studying potential options now that the Iowa Legislature adjourned without taking action on a bill the utility sought to lay the groundwork for a state regulatory structure as a step toward its planned construction of a nuclear power plant in Iowa.

“We are evaluating future options, and at this time it’s premature to speak in detail about those plans,” said Tina Potthoff, media relations manager for MidAmerican Energy. She said the company likely will hold internal meetings to decide how to proceed.

MidAmerican has been exploring a new technology using small modular units, which officials said are cheaper than larger reactors but produce less energy. The utility has projected the cost of building the proposed nuclear facility at between $1 billion and $2 billion.

The Republican-led Iowa House approved a measure during the 2011 session that would create a regulatory framework for a small-scale nuclear energy project by MidAmerican Energy. However, the issue stalled in the Iowa Senate after opponents argued the proposed financing arrangement would place costs on ratepayers -- even if a nuclear power plant is never built -- rather than investors. Other concerns that were raised included the safety of nuclear power and the disposal of nuclear waste.

The 84th Iowa General Assembly adjourned its 2012 session last week with the nuclear energy bill still sitting on the Senate debate calendar after Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, chose not to bring the measure before the full Senate for consideration.

The outcome was hailed as a victory by opponents of nuclear energy.

“Despite moneyed interests pushing for a bill to fund new nuclear plants in the state on the backs of ratepayers in Iowa, the Legislature did the right thing and turned a blind eye to the legislation while wrapping up this session,” said Sonia Ashe, an advocate with the Iowa Public Interest Research Group (Iowa PIRG).

Gaining legislative support and Gov. Terry Branstad’s signature would be one step in a process that would require approval a proposed rate structure by the Iowa Utilities Board. MidAmerican also would be required to apply for federal and state permits for a new plant. Getting a federal license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission likely would cost millions of dollars and take at least four years.

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