A bipartisan group of legislators has reached tentative agreement on a bill that would encourage the production of nuclear energy in Iowa. Under the bill, utilities would be allowed to levy a surcharge on its customers’ electric bills for three years to pay for a study that would determine whether it’s possible to build a new nuclear power plant in Iowa.
Representative Nathan Reichert, a Democrat from Muscatine, has been working behind the scenes, leading discussions on the bill. “We’ve had a conversation that’s been going on between the Office of the Consumer Advocate, the Iowa Utilities Board and primarily MidAmerican Energy,” Reichert says.
If the bill becomes law, MidAmerican could use those new customer dollars to conduct the extensive seismic, weather, and population studies that are needed before a nuclear power plant can be built. Representative Chuck Soderberg, a Republican from Le Mars, says coal and natural gas won’t meet the carbon-reduction needs of the future and nuclear is a good alternative.
“If we expect this state to grow, it’s going to be additional businesses, additional energy use,” Soderberg says. “And we do need more baseload generation in this state.” John Perkins, the state’s Consumer Advocate, says his office has “signed off” on the bill.
“Given what we need to do to start looking at nuclear energy in Iowa…this is an adequate and fair way to pay for it,” Perkins says.
The “working group” of three Democrats and two Republicans are hoping their bill gets broader support from other legislators. Environmental groups, so far, haven’t tried to stop the bill. Nathaniel Baer of the Iowa Environmental Council says his group does have serious economic and environmental concerns about nuclear power.
“We think that if the legislature is going to more forward on energy policy this legislative session nuclear power shouldn’t be a priority,” Baer says. “It should be low on the list.”
But Baer’s group is registered as “undecided” on the bill, in part because they like another portion of the bill that gives utilities incentives to turn their existing coal-powered plants into cleaner-burning facilities using natural gas or biomass. Iowa has one nuclear power plant today, the Duane Arnold Energy Center near Palo.