The headline of Kurt Hamman’s Jan. 4 column in the Post Register asked this question: “Who is protecting the interests of ratepayers?”
The answer: Idaho Falls Power, and the mayor and city council, by investing in a project that allows us to continue to produce as much of our own power as possible.
That project is the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems’ (UAMPS) Carbon Free Power Project. The centerpiece of this effort is NuScale Power’s small modular nuclear reactor, which would be built and operated at the Idaho National Laboratory site.
The plan is for this plant – consisting of 12 60 megawatt modules – to begin producing emissions-free electricity for Idaho Falls and other UAMPS customers in 2026.
I’m proud to be part of a community that is investing in the world’s first small modular reactor. Our involvement in this project aligns perfectly with Idaho Falls’ history, which has resulted in some of the lowest electrical rates in the world. Idaho Falls Power is a publicly owned utility, and one of the largest UAMPS members. We have earned our low power rates by looking forward and finding solutions that moderate our risks.
We have built turbines, purchased dams and put up windmills – often in partnership with other communities and federal agencies – because those who have governed our city over the years realized this: The biggest risk to Idaho Falls ratepayers is inaction. Doing nothing.
Relying on contract power purchases puts our destiny in the hands of decision makers who don’t live here, and aren’t accountable to our residents on Election Day.
We have no control over energy markets. But we can control our production. That was the vision that created Idaho Falls Power and which continues to drive it today.
Back to Hamman’s column, which argued that a nuclear plant project is too risky for Idaho Falls ratepayers.
Hamman outlines financial problems faced by the nuclear industry as it attempts to build large-scale power plants, including cost overruns and expensive delays. Hamman’s mistake is that he sees the NuScale project as a continuation of that trend. As part of the problem. It’s not. It’s the solution.
The NuScale plant will cost far less to build than a traditional plant and leave a much smaller footprint. As to Hamman’s claim that Idaho Falls ratepayers will be “on the hook for at least $80 million.” That’s simply not true. The agreement Idaho Falls Power signed with UAMPS is complex and has numerous “off ramps” – all designed to protect the utility. They are designed to limit development and cost overrun risks and to require NuScale to stay on its not-to-exceed price targets.
Today, the project is in the design certification process – if it doesn’t come out of this first step at or below the $65 dollar/MWH price target, Idaho Falls can exit the project without any cost and be eligible for reimbursement of any costs spent to date. UAMPS has deliberately put the development risks, appropriately, on the developers – not the future customers. This nontraditional approach is naturally appealing to Idaho Falls Power and part of why the Mayor and Council agreed to support this type of project.
It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of a first-of-its-kind project that holds so much promise and aligns perfectly with our region’s history, culture and economy. Our community embraces nuclear energy because we have lived with it our entire lives. Where better to build and operate the world’s first SMR than the place that hosts the nation’s lead nuclear energy research and development laboratory, drives the local economy, and is celebrating 70 years of helping deliver safe, reliable and clean energy to our nation?
“Who is protecting the interests of ratepayers?” Clearly, we are. And by doing so, we also are helping advance a project that will be good not just for eastern Idaho, but the world.
Failure to accomplish the NuScale plant limits the future of nuclear energy. That’s bad for our economy, environment and national security.
Nuclear energy production, like everything else, requires innovation. The NuScale SMR is an amazing example of innovation.
Let’s embrace the possibilities and set an example for the world. We are uniquely qualified to lead in this area, and by doing so our ratepayers can look forward to enjoying low-cost electricity for generations to come.
John Radford is an Idaho Falls city councilman.