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U.S. Draft Climate Bill May Push New Nuclear Plants: MI on Waiting List

April 26, 2010

LANSING, Mich. - Today's unveiling of a draft U.S. climate bill, which is said to include incentives to build up to a dozen new nuclear power plants, is being postponed in lieu of a heated debate over immigration reform. But supporters say they want the legislation passed before the end of the year.

A recent Gallup poll found 65 percent of Americans in favor of nuclear energy. Michigan-based DTE Energy could capitalize on the increased interest as it awaits license approval for a second facility at its Fermi plant in Monroe.

DTE spokesman Guy Cerullo says the company has yet to commit to a second plant but filing the paperwork is a first step.

"It's a recognition that nuclear energy plays a vital role in meeting the nation's, and southeastern Michigan's, electricity needs - protecting the environment, preserving the fuel diversity that is the strength of our electric supply system."

Fifteen percent of DTE's power comes from its nuclear plant. It's estimated that building a new facility would cost upwards of $10 billion.

Michigan Environment Council policy director James Clift says the priority should be investing in energy efficiency, which he says saves rate payers money, versus building new plants where the cost is passed on to the consumer.

"For two to three cents per kilowatt hour we can reduce demand. For building new coal or nuclear, we're talking 12 to 15 cents per kilowatt hour. That's a huge cost."

Cerullo disagrees and portrays the cost structure in a different light.

"The truest measure is not merely the cost of construction but the levelized dollars per megawatt hour cost of generating electricity over the entire life of the plant. By that measure, nuclear power plants are among the most economical electricity generation alternatives."

Clift contends that demand in Michigan does not warrant additional power generation facilities and that the state cannot 'power' its way out of climate change.

"We're going to first have to conserve, get much more efficient in the way we use electricity and energy, and then figure out what's the most cost-effective, cheapest way to build it. The last thing: If you look at where manufacturing is happening in Michigan, it's in the clean energy field."

It has been three decades since a new nuclear facility was built in the U.S. Four of the 104 nuclear plants currently operating across the country are located in Michigan. The draft U.S. climate bill would offer loan guarantees and incentives for up to 12 new plants.

Amy Miller/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MI