It still could take years for construction to get rolling if state lawmakers manage to lift Wisconsin’s moratorium on nuclear development.
“Frankly, I don’t see it happening anytime soon,” said Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group. “The utilities here are pretty small in comparison to some of the national ones, and it will probably take an outside investor to build a new one.”
Outside investors are not clamoring to get into Wisconsin, either. With the costs of nuclear plant construction so high and the permit process so lengthy in several states, most utilities focus on one project for several years, said Judy Rader, spokeswoman for Chicago-based Exelon Corp.
Exelon is exploring the possibility of building a nuclear plant in Victoria, Texas, but Rader said the company is still in early stages and not considering other projects.
“We’re not looking at building a plant in Wisconsin,” she said.
Nevertheless, lawmakers will take another crack at lifting the moratorium this fall.
State Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, said if other lawmakers do not draft a bill, he will do it himself.
“If you want to talk about a benefit to the construction industry and not putting a big burden on ratepayers, then it’s time to talk about returning to nuclear energy,” he said.
But Ott might not need to write the bill. A proposal to repeal the moratorium might end up in a bill based on recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming. Although the task force did not recommend immediate construction of new power plants, members of the group said the state’s position against nuclear development needs reconsideration.
State Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, is one of the lawmakers working on the task force recommendations bill. He said nothing in the bill is locked, but the authors are discussing nuclear power in Wisconsin.
“It doesn’t serve anyone well to cover their eyes and say they’re invisible,” Plale said. “The technology has drastically improved from where it was 10 years ago, and there’s a lot less discussion about negative impacts.”
The real downside for most opponents is a nuclear plant’s price tag, which can range from $5 billion to $8 billion.
Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin, said cost is the chief reason his group opposes nuclear power.
However, CUB finds itself in an interesting position because Higley was a member of the global warming task force. If a bill is put forward that mirrors the task force’s recommendations — including a modification of the state’s limits on nuclear development — he said CUB would support the bill.
But if the nuclear moratorium is handled in a standalone bill, he said, CUB would oppose.
“We’d be agreeing to a lot of other things in a bill that mirrors the recommendations,” Higley said. “But as always, the devil’s in the details.”
Although Ott said new plants could provide many new jobs for Wisconsin workers, he also conceded the state’s approvals process could separate a repeal of the moratorium and construction by 10 years.
Plale agreed, but said all options need to be on the table.
“The dominating concern with a lot of these recommendations is cost,” he said. “Great ideas are great ideas, but we need to be able to make them work.
“But if we’re talking about reducing emissions, nuclear needs to at least be part of the discussion.”