Idaho should bolster its ties to the nuclear power industry to underpin economic growth and curb greenhouse gas emissions because alternative energy sources like solar or wind are too costly to meet the state’s future needs, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said Tuesday.
Otter spoke to the University Presidents Council, which includes Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas, College of Southern Idaho President Gerald Beck and representatives of other state schools.
The nuclear industry could eventually be worth as much as $7 billion annually to the state, Otter said, including the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, which is helping develop a new generation of nuclear reactors as well as a proposed international nuclear fuel recycling program.
Nuclear power foes say Otter is ignoring the millions in public subsidies the industry receives – and the clean-energy benefits of solar and wind power.
The governor contends investments in those would likely take too long to pay off and looked to his own household for an example: Solar panels to warm his ranch in Star, Idaho, would cost $60,000, while a natural-gas furnace is $6,000, he said.
He said Idaho should instead turn its attention to the nuclear energy industry.
Just last month, New Jersey-based utility NRG Energy Inc. submitted to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission what the utility’s chief executive called the first application in nearly three decades to build a new U.S. nuclear reactor. A small Virginia company has also proposed a plant near Idaho’s Snake River.
“Alternative energy, clean energy – those are all great ideas,” Otter said. “But when you take a look at the impact they have and the subsidy they need, solar and wind both are tremendously subsidized. I think there are other clean energy alternatives. I think nuclear is one of them. I’m behind nuclear.”
His comments came in response to a proposal outlined by Vailas at Tuesday’s meeting in Boise, in which ISU, Boise State University and the University of Idaho plan to ask the 2008 Legislature for more energy research funding.
Vailas didn’t specify a dollar amount but said the schools want to work with the Idaho National Laboratory “to go out and bring in the necessary intellectual capital that will drive our leadership” in the area of new energy sources.
“We’re very blessed in Idaho, because we have all of the resources in our state to deal with alternative energy strategies that will yield very significant economic benefit,” Vailas said.
Otter also has been focusing on Idaho’s energy needs lately.
He created an office of energy policy in September.
In addition, he ordered state Department of Environmental Quality Director Toni Hardesty in May to catalog greenhouse gas emissions and told state agencies to figure out ways to cut them.
And on Monday, he told an audience at a University of Idaho-sponsored sustainability conference in Moscow that government had a duty to react to the public perception that the earth’s atmosphere is warming – “no matter what theory you accept or what evidence you recognize.”
“We as policy makers also must think about adapting to a changing climate in ways that the public and the marketplace accept,” he told the symposium, according to a text of his speech obtained by The Associated Press.
Still, not everybody is pleased that Otter favors nuclear power over wind, solar or geothermal.
Idaho is ranked 13th in the nation for wind-power suitability, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, U.S. Geothermal Inc. last Thursday signed a new pact to provide Idaho Power Co. with 13 megawatts of power from a geothermal turbine it is building south of Malta, Idaho.
Ken Miller, a spokesman for the Snake River Alliance nuclear watchdog group, said nuclear plants, by contrast, create dangerous waste and are beneficiaries of lavish taxpayer subsidies – including more than $40 million the Idaho National Laboratory received starting in 2005 to develop an experimental nuclear reactor that produces electricity and hydrogen.
“Were Idaho to develop these renewable resources and get serious about energy efficiency, we wouldn’t need to be talking about a nuclear power plant,” Miller said. “Nuclear energy is hugely expensive and it creates an entire suite of environmental problems, from mining the uranium to dealing with the waste and ultimately decommissioning the power plant.”
By John Miller
Associated Press Writer
2 October 2007
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