• That’s why people are invited to share feelings and feedback on the idea of a nearby nuclear power plant or gas facility

MUSCATINE, Iowa — Sonia Ashe thinks the discussion about whether to consider building a nuclear power plant or natural gas facility in Muscatine County should take place in public.

That’s why the Iowa Public Interest Research Group, for which Ashe, 27, of Des Moines, works as a public service advocate, has scheduled an informational public meeting on Muscatine County’s energy future for 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the McAvoy Center at Muscatine Community College, 152 Colorado St.

MidAmerican Energy Company is exploring the feasibility of building a nuclear or natural gas facility in two Iowa communities — Fremont and a spot south of Wilton. The company’s informational meeting held last month for Wilton-area residents and public officials was closed to the media and open only to invited guests.

Ashe makes no bones about the fact that her organization opposes constructing new nuclear plants and has environmental concerns about the hydraulic fracturing techniques used in many natural gas drilling operations.

“Our concern about nuclear power in Iowa is largely related to the cost,” she said. “[Iowans] can choose nuclear, but it has to be funded on the backs of ratepayers.”

“We also have some concerns related to safety and the environment that we’re sure community members are going to want to know more about.”

There’s a common misconception among many Iowans, she said, that nuclear and natural gas are “the only [financially viable] alternatives to coal in the future. We strongly disagree with that.”

Instead, she said, Iowans can determine to drive down their own demand for energy through more efficient use of appliances, expanded uses of wind and solar energy — even biomass options.

“As a farm state, we’ve got a lot of potential for biomass,” she said.

Ashe said she plans to speak during Tuesday evening’s meeting. Paul Deaton of Iowa City, who was formerly with Physicians for Social Responsibility, also plans to speak. Ashe described Deaton as a “longtime expert in renewable energy.”

The communication won’t be exclusively one-way, she said.

“We want to really encourage discussion,” she said. “We’ll be asking community members to weigh in and share their view on the topic. We’re going to be presenting some ways that people can move forward, what they can do whether they support [alternative energy] or not.”