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Nuclear Task Force Dissolved

by Chris Mulick
Tri-City Herald, July 28, 2008

Energy Northwest has ended the work of a committee studying new nuclear power technologies and cut off its funding at the request of the Bonneville Power Administration.

The consortium of Washington public utilities that operates the state's only operating nuclear plant north of Richland formed the task force last year to keep up on developments in the reviving nuclear industry.

It was later expanded to consider other new generating resources as well. And in the fiscal year that ended June 30, the Joint Advisory Committee on New Generation Projects spent about $35,000 on things such as travel, per diem and guest speakers and held three meetings using unspent money from other portions of the Energy Northwest budget.

"They were really quite informative," said Sid Morrison, chairman of Energy Northwest's executive board.

A total of $295,000 was budgeted for the fiscal year that began July 1, which included about $250,000 for consultant support. That was to be paid for as part of the operations of the 1,157-megawatt Columbia Generating Station, which are covered by the BPA and charged to Northwest consumers on their electric bills.

But Bonneville wouldn't have it, believing Energy Northwest should find other ways to pay for the committee because it didn't have anything to do with generating power at the nuclear plant.

"I think this one's pretty clear cut," BPA spokesman Scott Simms said. "While we respect Energy Northwest's interests in pursuing that action we believed it would be appropriately considered an Energy Northwest and not a (Columbia Generating Station) expense."

"This one just didn't quite fit in with that larger mission," he said.

So Energy Northwest pulled the plug on it.

"They said no, so we pulled back," Energy Northwest spokesman Brad Peck said.

Unlike its wind project south of the Tri-Cities and other projects it has pursued on behalf of its member utilities, a new nuclear plant would be too large for Energy Northwest members to take on. It's likely any new project would have to be rolled into the federal-based Columbia River power system just like the Columbia Generating Station is and its power sold to utilities by Bonneville, Peck said.

But Bonneville has been under pressure from customer utilities for more than a decade to get out of the business of acquiring new power supplies. The agency was a major driver behind Energy Northwest's failed nuclear construction campaign of the late 1970s and 1980s when it was known as the Washington Public Power Supply System.

And the BPA later was ridiculed for having to pay about $340 million to get out of a bum gas-fired power plant deal near Tacoma in the 1990s.

Still, someone needs to be talking about how the Northwest is going to meet new energy demands, Morrison said. And the BPA, which already provides a third of the power consumed in the Northwest and operates most of its transmission grid, could have chipped in by funding the task force.

"I'm disappointed because Bonneville clearly needs to be a part of this picture," he said.

Peck said Energy Northwest will try and roll some of the committee's activities into its annual strategic planning process.

"It obviously can't be as detailed or focused or as comprehensive," he said.

"I'm disappointed," said committee co-chair Lori Sanders, a Benton PUD commissioner. "I do personally feel it's temporary until they work the finances out."

"Somebody has to take some leadership," she said.

Chris Mulick
Nuclear Task Force Dissolved
Tri-City Herald, July 28, 2008

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