Minnesota Legislature Retains State’s Nuclear Moratorium

Published July 13, 2010

Minnesota’s moratorium on new nuclear power plant construction remains in place despite growing efforts to remove it.

In May the state House of Representatives voted 73 to 59 to approve a bill allowing new nuclear power plant construction, with the caveat that utilities cannot charge higher rates to cover construction costs until the plants begin to operate. The Minnesota Senate failed to pass similar legislation, however, effectively affirming the existing moratorium on new nuclear power plants.

The bill received mixed support from proponents of nuclear power. Many warned that forcing power providers to fully absorb the up-front costs of nuclear power plant construction would effectively deter any efforts to build new plants. Others said even a qualified endorsement of building new nuclear power plants was better than the existing moratorium.

Tilting the Playing Field
“We do support lifting the moratorium on nuclear power plants in Minnesota. A healthy, dynamic economy requires reliable and affordable energy,” said Kim Crockett, president of the Minnesota Free Market Institute.

However, she noted, “We are concerned that regulations have made the initial investment and ongoing costs of operating a plant prohibitive, so that even if the moratorium is lifted, a plant will never be built. But we are encouraged by the recent interest in lifting Minnesota’s moratorium and the national discussion about nuclear power as a viable source of energy.”

Crockett emphasized her preference that government not tilt the playing field either way.

“We are also concerned about federal subsidies. President Obama, for example, offered federal loan guarantees that will continue to distort the pricing of nuclear energy. But those are all problems that will never get resolved so long as there is a moratorium here in Minnesota,” said Crockett.

Senate Flip-Flopped
Minnesota State Senator Mike Jungbauer explained why Senators did not support the change this year.

“Last year the Senate did pass a bill to repeal the moratorium,” said Jungbauer. “This year is an election year, however, so DFL senators played political games with the repeal in order to satisfy radical environmental groups.

“Radical environmental groups are very influential in Minnesota, and quite frankly they have been successful at shutting down almost all new baseload [electricity-generation] proposals and preventing new transmission lines from being approved. They are claiming that we have enough power for decades to come, and yet even their alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and biomass can’t get to end users due to lack of transmission,” Jungbauer added.

Sarah McIntosh ([email protected]) teaches constitutional law and American politics at Wichita State University in Kansas.