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Utility calls meetings to talk about nuclear study

Associated Press Modified: September 21, 2012 at 12:45 pm •  Published: September 21, 2012
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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — MidAmerican Energy Co. is holding meetings with landowners and residents in two Iowa locations as part of a nuclear energy assessment study.

About 40 residents in Fremont County in western Iowa and a similar number in Muscatine County in eastern Iowa received invitations. The Fremont County meeting was scheduled for Friday and Muscatine's is next week, said MidAmerican spokeswoman Tina Potthoff.

MidAmerican will discuss the purpose of soil samples the company is gathering for the study to assess the viability of nuclear generation in Iowa. Potthoff said the company is taking five soil borings of nearly 100 feet deep in both locations.

"Sites under study may also be good locations for other generating facilities such as a natural gas plant if a nuclear plant is not pursued in the state of Iowa," she said, adding that no decisions have been made about building a nuclear plant in Iowa.

In 2010, the Legislature passed a bill allowing MidAmerican to recover up to $15 million in study costs from Iowa electric customers. MidAmerican — owned by Warren Buffett's Omaha, Neb.,-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. conglomerate — will report its results to lawmakers next year.

MidAmerican sought legislation earlier this year that would allow the company to ask the Iowa Utilities Board for a rate increase from customers to fund the cost of permitting, licensing and building a nuclear power plant. Costs for such a project have been estimated at $2 billion. The bill did not make it to the Senate floor for debate.

MidAmerican said construction could take up to 10 years, so the state should begin adopting regulations now that encourage development of nuclear generation.

Sen. Matt McCoy, a Des Moines Democrat who supported the bill, said Iowa now gets more than 70 percent of its electricity from coal-burning power plants. Many are decades old and must be upgraded or closed due to regulations that limit pollution. Iowa could lose as much as 40 percent of its coal-generated power in the coming years, McCoy said.

Environmental groups lobbied against the bill. Washington-based Friends of the Earth spent more than $8,000 for television ad that ran in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Sioux City.

MidAmerica has advocated the use of small modular reactors, a new type of power plant that CEO Bill Fehrman says is safer and less expensive than plants designed in the older style. The advantages to the new technology include reliability, low cost and the ability to ramp the plant up or down to meet customer demand, he said.

Such a plant also would limit the over-dependency on natural gas and limit carbon emissions, he said.


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