Wisconsin’s ban on nuclear power plants would be relaxed, in conjunction with plans to dramatically boost the state’s reliance on wind turbines and other forms of renewable power between now and 2025, under a proposal unveiled Tuesday to members of the state’s global warming task force.
A proposal by the two task force leaders – Tia Nelson, executive secretary of the state Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, and Roy Thilly, president and chief executive of Wisconsin Public Power Inc. – calls for the state to generate 25% of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind turbines by 2025. State law now requires that 10% of the electricity from state utilities must come from these sources by 2015, but the proposal would accelerate that mandate by two years.
On one of the most controversial matters before the panel, Nelson and Thilly suggested a compromise that would not overturn the nuclear reactor ban but would modify it to allow utilities to start planning for eventual construction of new reactors.
Wisconsin has two nuclear power plants, in Kewaunee and in Two Rivers, near Manitowoc.
Gone would be the provision that a federal storage site at Yucca Mountain, Nev., must be open before the state’s utilities can start the planning process toward building a nuclear plant. The proposal opens the door for reprocessing of nuclear fuel or long-term storage of nuclear waste at nuclear reactors, where the spent nuclear fuel is stored today, Thilly said.
But the changes that would relax the ban would take effect only if the state agrees to the 25% renewable energy proposal and a massive investment in energy efficiency and conservation, which most experts agree is the least expensive way to curb emissions in the near term.
“We want to be clear that efficiency is the first priority,” Thilly said.
Tuesday’s proposal is designed to help the task force come to a consensus on a set of recommendations that would be forwarded to Gov. Jim Doyle in July, Nelson said.
The proposal “is intended to be compromise, and, as such, it is likely to have something for everyone to like and not to like,” Thilly said.
Other proposals include:
• Task force support for a “state and local action plan” to encourage General Motors Corp. to consider building smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles at its Janesville factory rather than close the plant entirely.
• An energy-efficiency retrofit program that would focus on lower-income neighborhoods, as a way to create jobs in the energy-efficiency field and help lower-income residents save on utility bills.
• Endorsement of a national, or Midwest regional cap-and-trade system that would set a firm cap on emissions by power plants, industry and other sectors, and require annual reductions in emissions.
• Support for national vehicle emission standards that would be as stringent as those enacted by the state of California. The California standards were opposed by the Bush administration, and that matter is in litigation.
Under the renewable-energy proposal, the co-chairs also agreed to allow utilities to tap large hydroelectric projects, such as those on the drawing board in Manitoba, to help power companies meet the aggressive 25% goal for 2025.
At the same time, to boost jobs in the renewable energy sector in Wisconsin, the proposal calls for 10% of the state’s electricity to come from Wisconsin-based sources – including wind power in the Great Lakes – by 2025.
“This is a very serious and long-term challenge,” said Nelson, who said she worked with Thilly to try to come up with recommendations that addressed concerns of different stakeholder groups – including industry, utilities and environmental groups.
“We each made compromises,” Nelson said. “If we had done it alone, we might have done it slightly differently.”
Groups weigh in
Scott Manley, director of environmental policy for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, said the business group supports construction of new nuclear plants but is concerned that other policies proposed Tuesday would drive up costs for paper companies and other industries.
It would be more appropriate for the federal government, rather than the state, to enact policies aimed at reducing global warming, he said.
Representatives of several environmental groups and the Forest County Potawatomi raised concerns about the proposal during the task force meeting.
Of particular concern to the Potawatomi, tribal attorney Jeff Crawford said, is the proposal allowing construction of hydroelectric dams in Manitoba, citing opposition of Indian nations in the Canadian province to the big dams.
Bruce Nilles of the Sierra Club said the task force should consider adding a provision that would bar construction of new coal-fired power plants in light of their heavy contribution of emissions of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas.
Thilly said there is no explicit ban on coal plants, but that is addressed because each utility operating in the state would be required to file plans with state regulators demonstrating how it plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
A host of other recommendations weren’t discussed Tuesday because the task force has already reached agreement on them.
Those include proposals to boost funding for mass transit, including endorsement of the KRM commuter rail extension from Kenosha to Milwaukee, and extension of Amtrak service from Milwaukee to Madison.
By Thomas Content
11 June 2008