AUGUSTA, Maine - Maine Gov. Paul LePage has submitted legislation that would make it easier to site a small nuclear plant in Maine. The administration says it's time to update the law that governs siting of nuclear plants in the state.
The proposal is drawing sharp opposition from environmentalists and other nuclear opponents.
The governor's bill comes in two sections. One removes language saying that "investments in nuclear power plants have caused severe financial strain on consumers." Energy Office Director Pat Woodcock says that’s not true, and that nuclear power plays an important role in Maine’s mix of energy sources.
"Nuclear power has been a cornerstone of this winter, in just keeping the lights on," Woodcock says, "and, it was a little shortsighted."
Woodcock says the language was added to the law in the wake of the closing of Maine’s only nuclear power plant, Maine Yankee in Wiscasset. He says that, given the demise of another major energy source in the region, Maine should consider the installation of small nuclear facilities in the state, often called modular plants, which are a fraction of the size of former Maine Yankee and other older plants.
"With the retirement of Vermont Yankee, the whole region is kind of scrambling to come up with, how do you replace a clean and stable power generating facility that is 650 megawatts?" Woodcock says.
But Woodcock’s assertion that nuclear power is clean is sharply disputed by Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Voorhees points out that spent fuel from the long closed Maine Yankee is still stored on the site, and that waste from any new plant would also have to have a safe place to be warehoused long after the plant stops operating.
"Anyone who is talking about, you know, mini-nuclear power, or was this backyard nuclear power, it just doesn’t connect to reality," Voorhees says.
Voorhees says there are no private investors who are interested in nuclear power, that most are focused on natural gas-fired plants, as well as wind and solar, to meet New England’s needs.
"I wish we wouldn’t be wasting time on a frivolous governor’s bill about mini-nuclear power plants, and instead the governor would withdraw his veto threat to restore a word missing from statue and allow energy efficiency to go forward," Voorhees says.
Voorhees is referring to a word that was inadvertently left out of a major omnibus bill passed last year, which resulted in a loss of funding for Efficiency Maine, the agency that oversees programs aimed at helping Mainers save energy in their homes.
Gov. LePage has threatened to veto legislation that would simply insert the missing word because he wants to pursue other, unrelated changes to energy policy.
As for the governor's own bill aimed at reopening the door to nuclear power, the second section would undo the requirement of a statewide vote on any proposed nuclear power plant, except for projects larger than 500 megawatts.
Opposition to Maine Yankee led to three unsuccessful statewide votes to close that aging plant. This bill has yet to be scheduled for a public hearing.