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GUEST COLUMN: Nuclear Power Must Be Considered As Part of Iowa's Economic Future

Guest column:

Guest column published in the Des Moines Register April 19, 2011:

Nuclear power must be considered as part of Iowa's economic future

 

Written by:

DEBI DURHAM is director of the Iowa

Department of Economic Development.

Contact: communications@ iowa.gov.

 

For decades, Iowa's low and stable electricity prices have been an economic development advantage for the state. Iowa's average electricity prices are about half of what consumers on both coasts pay, a key reason why Iowa has been so successful in attracting and keeping its manufacturing base and associated jobs.

 

A key reason Iowa has been able to keep electricity prices low is the state's proximity to abundant coal supplies and the available rail infrastructure to transport this low-cost fuel. Due to numerous federal environmental regulations that impact coal-fueled electric generation plants, this traditional advantage is at risk for Iowa unless we embrace new and forward-thinking policies.

 

Iowa has done an excellent job of integrating renewable energy, specifically wind, into the state's generation portfolio. We're proud that Iowa and our utilities are leaders in energy efficiency. In fact, from 2001 through 2013, it is estimated that Iowa's investor-owned utilities will spend approximately $1.4 billion on gas and electric energy efficiency programs. We must continue to develop sensible renewable sources and stay focused on energy efficiency.

 

But Iowa can do more to further diversify our supply, balancing renewable resources, such as wind, solar, biomass and other forms of renewable energy, with low-carbon or zero-carbon base-load generation.

 

In order to sustain and grow our economy, we will need new base-load generation to prepare for the reduced use of older coal-fueled units that will be impacted by federal environmental regulations. Currently, there are only three fuel sources for base-load power - coal, natural gas and nuclear. I think we would all agree that coal is not a viable option at this time due to pending environmental regulations and the fact that the state rejected the most recent coal plant proposed for the Marshalltown area. That leaves natural gas and nuclear as the only base-load options for powering Iowa's future economy.

 

The easy thing for utilities and policymakers to do right now is to transition to natural gas for future electricity generation. Natural gas prices are currently very low and the plant design is established; we can construct these facilities rather inexpensively. However, we must remember that natural gas costs have fluctuated dramatically over the past 20 years, ranging from $2 per million British thermal units to $15 and back to current levels of $4 to $5. Environmental concerns have been raised about the methods used to extract shale gas, leading to even more uncertainty and price volatility.

 

Another concern with transitioning to natural gas for electricity generation is pipeline capacity. Natural gas is currently used to power Iowa's ethanol industry, manufacture fertilizer and heat most homes and businesses in the state. There are already pipeline capacity challenges in certain parts of Iowa, and significant pipeline infrastructure would need to be added if we transition electricity generation to natural gas. Several recent meetings were held in northwest Iowa, seeking solutions to ensure supply is available to meet desired growth in the region.

 

I'm concerned that a significant increase in demand for natural gas in order to generate electricity will substantially drive up prices. Therefore, if a shortsighted policy decision to take the easy path is made now, Iowans could be left - for decades to come - paying much higher prices to heat and power our homes and businesses and to power a vital segment of our economy.

 

After careful consideration of all the facts as they relate to economic development, I'm convinced Iowa needs to continue to evaluate nuclear generation as a base-load option for electricity generation and support such legislation. Without new policy, we have no chance of continuing to control our energy future and maintain one of our biggest advantages, which is relatively low and stable energy prices.

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Iowa Economic Development Authority
200 East Grand Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa 50309
Phone: 1.515.348.6200
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