Hot potatoes for Idaho

Plans for nuclear plant move forward
No permits yet, but company says proposal still a go
By Matt Christensen
Times-News writer
BRUNEAU - A Virginia-based company is going ahead with plans to build Idaho's first commercial nuclear power plant, even as state and regional environmental and watchdog groups oppose the project.

Alternate Energy Holdings Inc. has purchased land near Bruneau, where it intends to open the Idaho Energy Complex, a compound the company says will house a 1,600-megawatt nuclear reactor and ethanol plant. According to the company, that's enough energy to power three times the number of homes in Idaho. But so far, the company is receiving little support from Idaho energy and green groups.

Last week, Alternate Energy sent letters to a dozen of the state and region's most prominent environmental groups - including Snake River Alliance, the Idaho Conservation League and the Northern Rockies chapter of the Sierra Club - asking the organizations to support the project.

Most of the groups that received letters, however, say they oppose the company's plans.

"It's hogwash," said Katie Fite, a spokeswoman for Western Watersheds Project, a Hailey-based green group. "I mean, they're incredibly dangerous, and the last thing we need is a nuclear power plant."

Other groups echoed those sentiments. Of the 12 letters Alternate Energy says it sent out, seven were met with disapproval. Two groups could not be reached for this story. Two organizations said they did not receive the letter and another group said it had no position on the proposal.

"These guys (at Alternate Energy) are making irresponsible and forward-thinking statements that should raise some serious concerns," said Jeremy Maxand, executive director of Snake River Alliance. He said Idaho has no need for nuclear power because other forms of power production, namely wind and geothermal, have yet to be fully tapped.

Another concern the groups share involves siting regulations. This spring, the Legislature reaffirmed Idaho's general policy of local control by giving county commissioners final say to grant permission for power-plant construction.

But officials in Owyhee County said they've yet to receive permit applications from Alternate Energy.

Company Spokesman Martin Johncox said the company will submit applications with the county and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission - a $78 million process, he said - within a few months. He also said he's disappointed by the reaction to the Alternate Energy letters.

"We think that's unfortunate for (the groups) and for the state of Idaho," he said. "Idaho needs more power, and not all power is equal. We need more base-core power."

Johncox said wind and geothermal power are unreliable, and Alternate Energy's plant will provide emission-free energy and stability to a fluctuating Western market.

Alternate Energy bought in February about 4,000 acres near Bruneau from farmer Jim Hilliard, who has since become a partner in the project. Two months earlier, Alternate Energy President and Chief Executive Officer Don Gillispie announced his company's plans to build the power plant, saying construction could begin in 2008.

The company has since reassessed its timetable, saying the plant could be operational by 2025. The NRC said the permitting process for nuclear facilities usually takes at least five years.

Alternate Energy Holdings Inc. was formed last year, and its board of directors includes several energy kingpins, including James Taylor, former head of the NRC. To find out more about the company and its Idaho proposals, visit http://www.alternateenergyholdings.com.

Times-News staff writer Matt Christensen covers the environment. He welcomes comments at 735-3243 and at matt.christensen@lee.net.