Energy Committee approves bills to lift nuclear power moratorium, remove hydropower limits

This week, the Republican-led Energy and Utilities Committee considered and approved measures to remove the state’s decades-old nuclear moratorium and eliminate the 100-megawatt size limitation on hydropower sources that can satisfy the state’s Renewable Energy Standard.

The first bill removes the state’s longstanding prohibition on issuing a certificate of need for the construction of a new nuclear power generating plant. The bill’s author says the option of nuclear power is needed if Xcel Energy is to be carbon-free by 2050, since technological advances to make this happen may not be available quickly. 

DFLers on the committee strenuously disagreed, saying the current moratorium in no way prevents legislators and others from talking about nuclear power. They argued that nuclear power continues to pose grave risks, is costly to taxpayers, impacts communities already disproportionately affected by environmental problems, and leaves an enormous burden of toxic pollution for future generations.  They offered several amendments, including prohibiting the approval of a new nuclear plant unless a permanent solution exists for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel, and prohibiting customers from being charged for the costs of a new nuclear plant before it becomes fully operational. The amendments were solidly rejected by the Republican-led committee.

The second bill removes the state’s 100-megawatt size limitation on hydropower sources that can satisfy the state’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES). The bill’s author argues that because hydropower is renewable energy it should count toward the state’s RES.  More than 30 states have renewable energy standards, requiring utilities to generate a percentage of power from renewable sources. Every state counts some hydropower, but in varying ways.  When Minnesota’s RES passed in 2007, it reflected a decision to count electricity from small hydropower facilities only, with an upper limit of 100 megawatts. 

One rationale for counting only small hydropower is that most hydroelectric facilities were already built when renewable energy standards were being discussed, and the point was to encourage development of new sources of renewable energy. DFLers on the committee who opposed the bill believe the original rationale for limiting hydropower to 100 megawatts remains valid.

Both bills were approved by the committee on divided voice votes and will be brought up next on the Senate floor. (SF 633)(SF 1372)