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Utah Senate spikes hot-button nuclear power bill

Published March 1, 2013 8:35 pm

Utility bills • The proposal would use a rate hike to help fund Blue Castle plant.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Senators killed a controversial bill Friday to give a boost, with help from electric ratepayers, to Utah's first proposed nuclear power plant.

Sponsoring Sen. Curt Bramble told colleagues he was asking to bury SB199 because it wasn't needed, and he pointed to a letter from the Public Service Commission saying its current regulations already account for nuclear power. But, by singling out the bill and guaranteeing it won't rise again before the session ends March 14, the Provo Republican also signaled strong feelings behind the scenes for a measure proposed by advocates for the proposed Blue Castle nuclear plant.

"It appears that what was originally requested" by the proponents, said Bramble in an interview, "was not what was reflected in the draft of the bill" submitted to the Legislature's attorneys.

The measure was to have allowed the Utah Public Service Commission to free a utility like Rocky Mountain Power to charge ratepayers for higher-cost energy — like nuclear power — instead of cheaper options. It also would have allowed the utility to pass on project costs to ratepayers before delivering power.

Blue Castle President and CEO Aaron Tilton said SB199 treated his multibillion-dollar, 3,000-megawatt nuclear plant just like any other renewable energy project. He said he welcomed the Senate vote.

"We were trying to get clarity on the process," said the former legislator. "That [PSC letter] clarifies it for us."

Consumer advocates including Utah AARP and the state's consumer office had worried important ratepayer protections were being sacrificed.

The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, which is suing to block the nuclear plant, applauded Bramble's move.

"Utah customers don't want to be on the hook for a costly and risky nuclear power plant," said Executive Director Christopher Thomas. "Blue Castle made a desperate attempt to force us to pay for their nuclear gamble, but state leaders saw through it."

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfahys