City opts to withdraw from nuclear power project, keep options open

St. George City Council discussing agenda items during a work meeting, April 24, 2014 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – City officials discussed the city’s future power generations needs during a City Council meeting Thursday. The city wants to keep its options open as far as those needs are concerned, and for the time being, is backing away from an experimental nuclear power option.

City staff recommended that the City Council hold off on committing to a project by NuScale Power. Based out of Oregon, NuScale proposes to build compact nuclear reactors that would be housed in a power plant built near Idaho Falls, Idaho. The compact reactors are designed to produce 40-50 megawatts of power.

A permit application for the proposed project is slated to be sent into the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for review, and could take until 2018 or longer to be approved. If approved, the power plant could be built and operational by 2024.

St. George and other municipalities have shown interest in the NuScale Project as they look to add new sources of power generation to their existing catalog. Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and Washington state-based Energy Northwest, both conglomerations of municipal utilities, have shown considerable interest in the project, seeing it as a viable alternative to coal.

Though St. George is one of UAMPS biggest utilities, city staff have recommended against committing to any binding agreements, saying they want the city to maintain flexibility over where it gets its power. The cost of being involved could run into the millions of dollars, said Laurie Mangum, the city’s energy services director.

“Not knowing what’s going to happen in the next nine years, do we want to tie ourselves down to that particular resource right now?” City Manager Gary Esplin said. “I guess we’re just having second thoughts about getting involved with the costs …. Do we want to limit our flexibility by committing early?

Other sources of potential energy the city could tap into in the future include solar power or hydroelectric power generated along the Lake Powell Pipeline. Also, through its existing contracts and city-owned power-generation facilities, the city has 70 percent of its base load power needs covered up to around 2024-25, Esplin said.

“We’re in pretty good shape for the next eight-nine years,” Esplin said.

Mangum said UAMPS and other parties are looking to sign a record of intent that, if the city participates, would require it to put in $200,000. Future costs would likely run into the millions of dollars, she said.

“It’ll be millions,” Mangum said. “It’s a $3 billion project.”

Even though the city is looking to step back from a nuclear power option for now, it may get involved down the road as the project develops.

The city will continue to look at the probability of the NuScale Power project, possibly “up to the last minute,” Mangum said. If it looks like a viable option, the city may buy into it.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

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2 Comments

  • sagemoon March 27, 2015 at 8:23 am

    Yay! Good decision, city council.

  • Bender March 28, 2015 at 1:44 am

    Too much risk exposure for a small city to take. Don’t pat the city’s back for dropping out… Ask them why they ever though it wise in the first place.

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