Lehi City Council votes to back out of nuclear power project contract
The Lehi City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to withdraw the city from a multiagency nuclear power project that would provide nuclear power to cities across Utah, citing concerns over increasing costs.
The Carbon Free Power Project is an initiative by Oregon-based NuScale Power, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and the United States Department of Energy to build a small modular reactor power plant at the Idaho National Laboratory.
The power plant, which NuScale Power expects to be running by 2029 and fully operational by 2030, would provide clean energy to 34 municipalities in Utah, Idaho and New Mexico.
The project would use air, not water, to cool steam produced by the power plant and would cut water use by 90%, according to a blog post about the project.
“Water is an incredibly precious resource, especially in the West, so dry cooling is the best option for the Carbon Free Power Project,” Doug Hunter, CEO and general manager of UAMPS, said in the blog post. “For a nuclear power plant, this is a revolutionary feature. The project will be friendly to air quality and climate, with no carbon emissions; friendly to the land, with its very small footprint; and, now, friendly to water resources and local water interests.
“It will be the most environmentally friendly nuclear power plant in the world,” Hunter added.
Earlier this month, the Utah Taxpayer Association called on cities to withdraw from the project ahead of the Sept. 14 deadline after a closed-door virtual town hall meeting on July 21 where officials warned of project delays, increased costs to cities and towns involved, and “dependence on unpredictable federal subsidies.”
“The UAMPS project will lock in 27 municipalities in Utah and several in surrounding states for a share of billions of dollars in costs and unclear risk in the pursuit of a cluster of small modular reactors (SMRs) touted by Oregon-based NuScale Power, which repeatedly has delayed timelines and increased costs associated with its SMRs,” Utah Taxpayer Association Vice President Rusty Cannon said in an Aug. 4 news release. “The risky project with massive cost escalations is being conducted largely out of the public eye.”
Lehi has already spent $455,000 on the project, according to Joel Eves, city power director, who told the council that there hadn’t been “a lot of movement” in the two years since Lehi entered the contract in getting subscriptions for the power project, which he called “concerning.”
“A big piece of this is project subscription,” Eves said. “And that makes us nervous. It seems like we’re going at this alone with the UAMPS members.”
In November 2017, the total cost of the project was estimated at $3.6 billion. By November 2019, that number had increased to $4.2 billion. By July, the estimated cost had gone up to $6.1 billion.
That would cost Lehi $466 million at the city’s current subscription levels, Eves said. UAMPS would be responsible for paying $4.8 billion, while the DOE would pay $1.3 billion and NuScale Power would pay $5 million.
“It’s a shame to have to bring this information to you,” the power director said. “Because it is a project that is exciting and neat.”
Council member Katie Koivisto said she was “really, really excited about this project,” noting that she used to be opposed to nuclear energy but had a change of heart after visiting a nuclear power plant in Finland.
“I’m really disappointed in how much red tape is wrapped around this,” Koivisto said. “Because the risk that’s going to come is going to be on us, the cities. And I just feel really, really uncomfortable moving forward with how they have it structured out. It just seems scary, in my opinion.”
Council member Paul Hancock said that the city would be able to consider opting back in to the project at a later date, though Eves noted that it would likely be at an increased price.
Lehi is not the first city to opt out of the nuclear power project. On Aug. 18, the Logan City Council approved a resolution to withdraw the city from the Carbon Free Power Sales Contract that officials approved in April 2018.
“It’s disappointing,” Lehi Mayor Mark Johnson said. “A lot of people were pretty excited about this.”