Expected end to Wisconsin ban on new nuclear plants may not reap much

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The expected demise of a decades-old restriction on new nuclear power plant construction in Wisconsin doesn’t necessarily mean an immediate turnaround of current events, Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group (WIEG), said.

“New nuclear plants are currently so capital-intensive that we don’t foresee any new construction applications on the horizon in Wisconsin,” Stuart told Power News Wire.

Assembly Bill 384, introduced last October by Republican State Rep. Kevin Petersen and numerous co-sponsors, would amend approval requirements for constructing nuclear power plants in Wisconsin and change the state’s energy priorities. Petersen, who represents Waupaca, said he initiated the bill as a way to start a statewide conversation about whether Wisconsin should harness nuclear energy over fossil fuels.

A.B. 384 would end the state's current nuclear moratorium, which prohibits building new nuclear reactors unless a federal site exists where spent nuclear fuel could be stored. The moratorium originally was enacted in response to the Three Mile Island meltdown in Pennsylvania in 1979 and has been in place since 1983.

Though opposed by environmental groups such as Clean Wisconsin, the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, A.B. 384 received unanimous support in January from the state Assembly and last week was approved 23-9 by the state Senate. The bill now heads to the desk of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is expected to sign it.

A.B. 384 also would prioritize nuclear power on Wisconsin’s list of energy sources above natural gas, oil and coal – an official list that guides the state Public Service Commission’s proposals from utility companies.

Specifically, Wisconsin has a “priorities statute” for energy sources (Wis. Stat 1.12) that lists priority/preference for energy conservation and efficiency efforts first, followed by renewable generation, combustible renewable generation and fossil fuel-fired generation. A.B. 384 would place nuclear generation as priority No. 4, which would be after combustible renewable generation and placed ahead of fossil fuels.

For these reasons, Stuart said the nonprofit WIEG, which represents more than 30 of the state’s largest companies employing more than 50,000 residents, has supported the bill in the trade association’s recent advocacy work.

“We believe the state’s 1983 nuclear moratorium law has become outdated. If nuclear technology becomes more cost competitive, then every energy option should be on the table in Wisconsin,” Stuart said.

However, the bill’s passage likely won’t translate into the quick construction of new nuclear power plants, Stuart said.

"Most of Wisconsin’s largest utilities are expected to be long on baseload generation resources for years to come. In fact, we prematurely retired a licensed reactor in Kewaunee a couple years ago due to lower natural gas costs driving down the price of electricity,” Stuart said.

At one time, Wisconsin had three nuclear power plants in operation, but the La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor was shut down in 1987, and the Kewaunee Power Station was shut down in May 2014. The state’s only remaining nuclear power facility is the Point Beach Nuclear Plant in Two Rivers.

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Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group

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