Pawlenty proposes lifting moratorium on new nuke plants

Monticello nuclear power plant
The Monticello nuclear power plant, which is owned by Xcel Energy.
Photo courtesy of the Virtual Nuclear Tourist

The report is required by the law that set up the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group. That stakeholder group has been meeting for nearly a year.

Some of Pawlenty's proposals follow the advisory group's recommendations; others deviate.

Edward Garvey, Director of the new Office of Energy Security and MPCA assistant commissioner David Thornton participated in the advisory group's deliberations, and they presented the governor's plan.

They stressed that it's only a partial plan, saying they want to study some of the issues further.

But Garvey says the time has come to remove the legal barrier to nuclear plants in the state.

"Building any large electrical generation facility is a lengthy process, measured in years. All this proposal (does)is remove the moratorium. If someone wants to make a proposal to build a nuke, you can have discussion and we can consider whether that's a wise and appropriate way to proceed."

Garvey says the governor is also considering legislation to eliminate the Certificate of Need requirement for renewable energy projects.

"We have a law that says these companies have to go out and build or purchase renewable energy, that's the Renewable Energy Standard. So then the question is, why do you need a certificate of need if they're saying we need to build these 300 megawatts of windmills to meet the law that you're requiring."

Garvey says it's a regulatory hoop that gets in the way of reducing carbon emissions.

Both those proposals are likely to raise the hackles of some environmentalists. The climate change advisory group group took a much more cautious stance on nuclear power, says Chuck Dayton with Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and he served on the advisory panel.

"We said if the problem of nuclear waste can be adequately addressed, and the other environmental impacts of nuclear generation can be addressed, then it should be studied as one of the options, but certainly the MCCAG did not come anywhere near to saying we should repeal the moratorium on nuclear plants."

As for eliminating red tape, Dayton says it would be okay if it applies strictly to renewable energy projects, and not to projects that are a mix of renewable and non-renewable.

"Right now, we're engaged in an administrative process about the powerline for the Big Stone II plant in North Dakota, and the claim is that's going to carry some wind power. So would that be exempt for the certificate of need? I would hope not."

There were other ideas the advisory group approved that haven't made it into the governor's recommended list -- at least not yet.

One is adopting California's clean car standards. So far the federal Environmental Protection Agency is blocking the standards, but Minnesota has joined several other states in a court battle on the issue.

Chuck Dayton says another thing the governor left out is using zoning rules to encourage denser land use, so-called infill development.

"We (should) stop pushing people farther and farther out so they have to drive father to work, and we start to fill in those areas closer to workplace so people will reduce their vehicle miles traveled, and I don't find that in here in any substantive way."

The group also recommended consideration of lower speed limits, which the governor has not taken up.

Both the advisory group and the governor are calling for a cap and trade program in which companies can buy and sell carbon emission allowances. But how it would be designed is still up in the air.

David Thornton of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says it's all part of a process.

"It's 17 years between now and 2025. We've got time to work on it, we've got some things that we can see that need to be done now, and we've got some things that are going to need some more work and more thought before we know how to implement them properly."

The public will be invited to weigh in on the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group's work and the governor's proposals. Some legislators are already writing bills on some of the same issues.

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