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BPA Backs Down on Composite Power Nuclear Site

by Chris Mulick, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, October 17, 2003

SEATAC -- The Bonneville Power Administration backed down Wednesday from an earlier stand that boosted a tiny Nevada firm's questioned development plans at an unfinished nuclear site in southern Hanford.

"We were never fans of Composite Power," Paul Norman, Bonneville's vice president for generation supply, told a committee of Energy Northwest executive board members exploring future uses at the site.

It was the first meeting between the federal power marketer and Energy Northwest since the Herald published a series of articles in September chronicling Composite Power Corp.'s spotty history and questionable business plans.

The company has failed to deliver on its announcements to build billion-dollar power parks in three other states. At Hanford, the company plans a digital data storage facility, a giant power complex, a massive energy storage facility, a huge biogas digester and manufacturing plants to assemble high tech power delivery systems and wind turbines.

But a series of experts in the industries the company seeks to bring indicated those plans may be far-fetched, ranging from economically unworkable to physically impossible. The company's credibility has been further damaged by its participation in a plan to try to recoup hundreds of millions in investments lost when a former Chinese government was ousted and defaulted on its outstanding bonds more than half a century ago.

"The articles in the Tri-City Herald carried me beyond any points the Composite Power Corporation had ever taken me before," said Sid Morrison, a board member and former U.S. congressman. "It took me and the people I work with in the Tri-Cities almost to the point of laughing at the Composite Power Corporation."

The company has been given standing mostly through a contingency lease for the site it signed with the Department of Energy, which currently leases the site to Energy Northwest, but also by interest from Bonneville.

The BPA, Energy Northwest and DOE all would have to agree to transfer the land to Composite Power. But the BPA has considerable influence over Energy Northwest and was attracted by the $25 million Composite Power has proposed to put up to help cover site restoration costs as soon as DOE grants it site control.

Otherwise, Bonneville and its ratepayers are on the hook for $45 million in costs associated with tearing down the two unfinished nuclear plants.

John Cockburn, chairman of the Energy Northwest committee exploring the issue, said its formation was prompted by "BPA's headlong rush into the arms of Composite Power."

"I'm not here to sell anyone on Composite Power," Norman responded. "I'm not a fan of theirs. I just thought if we had an opportunity to save ratepayers $25 million we would. It kind of looks like we don't."

Ed Brost, a Bonneville liaison to Energy Northwest, said he also was skeptical earlier but no agreed-upon criteria ever was developed to judge the merits of Composite Power's plans.

The firm has not put up the $25 million because DOE has not activated the company's lease. To date, Composite Power has indicated reluctance to pursue the matter in court. When asked about the possibility Wednesday, Ray Robinson, the company president, declined comment.

"We're being very quiet right now," he said.

Energy Northwest and Bonneville are moving ahead with efforts to align their visions for the future of the site with little expectation Composite Power will be in the picture. That still could change if the company produces more concrete plans, Brost said.

Otherwise, Energy Northwest and Bonneville agree the continued safe operation of the nearby Columbia Generation Station will be the top priority as they consider alternate uses for the unfinished nuclear site nearby. Both see opportunities to save money for Northwest ratepayers and create jobs at the site that -- with its roads, utilities, warehouses and other support facilities -- is a ready-made industrial park.

But Composite Power's contingency lease could hamper redevelopment efforts.

"How now are we going to dispose of the interest the Composite Power Corporation has in there?" Cockburn asked.

Chris Mulick, Herald staff writer
BPA Backs Down on Composite Power Nuclear Site
Tri-City Herald, October 17, 2003

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