DES MOINES, Iowa
As the Legislature enters the last month of the session a bill aimed at fostering construction of a nuclear power plant in Iowa is the subject of stepped up lobbying by opponents who want to kill the measure, while the utility company backing it has launched its own campaign.
Consumer advocacy groups, joined by nuclear power opponents and environmental groups, oppose the measure they believe shifts the risk of building a nuclear power plant to consumers from MidAmerican Energy Co. shareholders. The company says Iowa needs to look at nuclear power because some coal plants may close and there will be more demand for electricity in the future.
Citizens for a Healthy Iowa, which works on environmental and economic health issues, ran a full-page ad in The Des Moines Register on Tuesday headlined "No Nuclear Taxes" and encouraging residents to call lawmakers to defeat the proposal. The AARP told lawmakers Monday that it would make very clear how each lawmaker votes on the bill, and two Democratic senators opposed to it spoke at public meetings in Des Moines, Sioux City, Fort Dodge, Iowa City and Davenport on Tuesday.
Sen. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids said many Iowa residents don't know that the bill exposes MidAmerican customers to financial risk that Wall Street investors are unwilling to take on nuclear power plants. If the regulators approve the project, the bill would let MidAmerican start collecting the costs of planning, designing, licensing, permitting and building the plant from customers before construction starts.
"That's such a big deal because nuclear plants cost hundreds of millions of dollars to get licensed and permitted," Hogg said, adding that it would lead to significantly higher electricity rates.
Meanwhile, MidAmerican launched a new website and put out publicity material explaining why the state should change its regulatory policies to encourage nuclear power.
"Critics of HF 561 are implementing shock tactics and making dramatic comments to try and scare Iowans away from any type of nuclear policy in Iowa," MidAmerican spokeswoman Tina Potthoff said. "We simply believe it is important to educate our customers and legislators about the outlook of Iowa's energy future and keep nuclear as an option for consideration."
MidAmerican emphasized that the proposed bill does not allow the company to raise rates for a nuclear facility or allow for a nuclear facility to be built. Decisions about whether a project would go forward and how much customers would pay are left to the Iowa Utilities Board, which regulates utilities in the state.
The company also points out that it could not cancel the project without the approval of the utilities board.
The Iowa House passed the bill last year, and the Senate Commerce Committee approved it with a narrow 8-7 vote last week. It could be debated by the full Senate at any time. If passed there, it would go back to the House because of changes made since last year's passage.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal has not said if or when he'll put the bill on the schedule for debate.
Iowa has just one nuclear power plant, which went online in 1975.
MidAmerican Energy nuclear power site: www.midamericannuclear.com
Citizens for a Healthy Iowa: http://www.citizensforahealthyiowa.org/