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Hands off Muscatine County: A ‘no’ of hands at a meeting Tuesday gave a resounding thumbs-down to a nuclear plant

Hands off Muscatine County: A ‘no’ of hands at a meeting Tuesday gave a resounding thumbs-down to a nuclear plant

MUSCATINE, Iowa — Virtually everyone in the standing-room-only crowd of about 75 people who turned out to talk about Iowa’s energy future wanted the same thing — to stop MidAmerican Energy Company from building a nuclear plant near Wilton.

A nearly unanimous show of hands about halfway through Tuesday evening’s meeting in Muscatine made the crowd’s opposition clear.

The utility is studying plant siting options for Fremont as well as Wilton, examining both nuclear and natural gas possibilities. It’s scheduled to report its findings to the Iowa Legislature next year.

The Des Moines-based Iowa Public Interest Research Group organized the “Mapping Iowa’s Energy Future” workshop, held at the McAvoy Center on the campus of Muscatine Community College.

The speakers were Sonia Ashe, the organization’s consumer advocate, and Paul Deaton of Iowa City, an expert in renewable energy.  

Deaton said it can take years — more than a decade, even — to build a nuclear power plant, and that gives people plenty of time to let their legislators know how they feel.

“Your most effective voice is with your state legislators when they convene the 85th General Assembly” in January, he said. “We need a state energy policy with some teeth. Let your legislator know you’re opposed to it.”

Depending how next month’s election goes, Deaton may have a definite “in” into the Legislature. His boss, Dick Schwab, is running for a seat in the Iowa House of Representatives against Bobby Kaufmann of Wilton. Deaton is Schwab’s campaign manager, though there’s been no word yet on what Schwab’s opinion is about a nuclear plant in the area.

Ashe said her group wants to see a cap on what ratepayers will be charged should the plant be approved and designed, but never built. That’s historically been the case in almost half the nation’s planned nuclear plants, she said.

“In Florida, they got about $1 billion into the planning process and decided it wasn’t going to be feasible,” she said. “A consumer organization like mine, we don’t like to see that.”

Wind and solar energy may be slightly more expensive per kilowatt hour than coal and nuclear energy, “but you are guaranteed they will produce power in the short term. It’s a far shorter timeframe than nuclear power.”

She called the air quality impacts of nuclear power “not all that bad, but waste is a sticky issue.”

And while a new nuclear plant will bring an estimated 1,600 construction jobs into the county — “that’s nothing to sneeze at,” she said — most of them will come from out of state or even from abroad, since the U.S. has built so few nuclear plants in recent years.

Iowa’s unique system of community colleges hosting training programs in renewable energy — coupled with all the wind, solar and geothermal equipment manufactured in the state — makes Iowa renewables “a wonderfully closed loop that you rarely see with any other energy,” she said.

Still, Iowa — the nation’s second-largest wind energy state — uses just .08 percent of its wind potential.

“We can’t capture it all,” she said, “but a lot of that energy can be captured by local people putting up their own turbines.”

She urged those in attendance to speak to local and statehouse candidates and the winners of the Nov. 6 election about their concerns.

“I’ve heard that if a legislator hears from more than seven constituents, it is really a big deal,” she said.

It can help to write a letter to the editor of local and area newspapers — and maybe to dash one off to MidAmerican Energy Company’s largest shareholder, Warren Buffet.

“Did you know he owns MidAmerican Energy?” she asked. “If he gets hundreds of letters from the community, he might start paying attention.”

After the meeting, Dave Reed, who lives in rural Muscatine County, said he believed the meeting was “informative, but they didn’t have a lot of positive answers.”

“Most people,” he added, “would probably be all right with this if it weren’t in their back yard.”

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