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Wis. governor lifts state moratorium on new nuclear plants

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Essential Energy Insights - February 2021

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Wis. governor lifts state moratorium on new nuclear plants

WisconsinGov. Scott Walker has signed into law legislationlifting a 33-year-old moratorium on building new nuclear plants in the Midweststate.

The Republicangovernor approved Assembly Bill 384 on April 1 to repeal a moratorium thatprevented state regulators from approving a nuclear plant if the project wasnot economically advantageous to ratepayers and until a facility to store allthe spent fuel from reactors in the state had been built. The new law also addsnuclear power to the list of priority sources the state must consider whenadding new power plants, but currently no known plans are in the works to buildnew reactors within the state.

AlexFlint, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the Nuclear EnergyInstitute, welcomed the lifting of the moratorium in a statement. He said thebill "brought together Wisconsin's skilled building and constructiontrades, the business and manufacturing community, and longtime environmentalactivists, who recognize the important role played by the existing nuclearcapacity in serving the state's economic, electricity reliability, and cleanair priorities. They were united in urging that nuclear energy should be anavailable option in meeting future energy demand growth."

Severalunion chapters, Madison, Wis.-based utility Alliant Energy Corp., the Wisconsin Industrial EnergyGroup and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce all supported the move to liftthe moratorium. But the ratepayer advocacy group the Citizens Utility Board andenvironmental groups such as Clean Wisconsin and the Sierra Club opposed it.

BillDavis, director of the Wisconsin-chapter of the Sierra Club, said in aninterview the so-called moratorium's requirements that a nuclear plant be inthe financial interests of ratepayers and the existence of a permanent storagefacility for waste are reasonable ways to protect both the environment and ratepayers.Repealing those protections makes no economic or environmental sense, saidDavis, especially when Wisconsin has a lot of untapped wind and solar energyand when there is a lot of work that still needs to be done for conservingenergy in buildings and homes. "All of those things would create a lot ofjobs …, are way cheaper than building a nuclear plant and they will happen awhole lot faster than trying to build a nuclear power plant," Davisinsisted.

Theonly operating commercial nuclear plant in the state is 's plant on LakeMichigan following the 2013 retirement of Dominion Resources Inc.'s Kewaunee plant for economic reasons. Manyanalysts and utilities contend that in today's economic environment building anuclear plant in a nonregulated, merchant market is impossible because the highcapital costs for nuclear projects and the low price of natural gas makecompeting energy sources much more appealing.