A commission bill that would create an advisory board to help guide the development of nuclear power in Montana implode Wednesday, with critics adding partisanship and hastily skipping rate-setting clauses to protect the public. It was superseded by the proposal that
Supporters of the new bill, which needs to be approved by Congress in 2023, said the failed proposal was a “nuclear program killer” that would hamper efforts to bring clean, efficient nuclear power to Montana.
Nuclear research was the result of Senate Joint Resolution 3 passed by Congress in 2021. Sen. Terry Gautier, Republican Helena, SJ-3, says coal plant closures will hurt Colstrip communities, allowing coal-fired boilers to be replaced with small nuclear reactors. I’m here. well paid job. He said existing infrastructure could be used to produce and distribute clean, affordable electricity safely and without carbon emissions.
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The Energy and Communications Interim Commission met at what was to be its final interim meeting to put out a proposal to be considered by the 2023 Congress of the Nuclear Advisory Committee to support nuclear development in Montana. .
The Council is attached to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for administrative purposes.
But a new proposal, known as PD0008, was put forward Wednesday and approved by five Republicans and one Democrat, so the committee will meet again on Sept. 16 for public comment and panel voting. Now possible.
The proposal first considered by the Interim Commission was known as PD0007. Under this proposal, the Advisory Committee would have a total of four members, an equal number from each party and at least one member from each parliament, elected by party leadership. Other members of the Commission are elected by the Council and include experts in the fields of nuclear science, public health and power.
In PD0008, the leadership elects two representatives from different parties, and the Governor appoints four representatives from the majority party and three representatives from the minority party. Some are experts. Both committees are recruiting her nine members.
In either case, the committee will not form until there is a company willing to invest in a project with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality A. The company pays the full cost of the commission. Gauthier said he didn’t expect any action for at least three to four years.
PD0007 had a section on nuclear power and pricing standards that Gauthier said was a “nuclear program killer” and not needed. Mr Gautier said there were major problems with the draft bill that he could not support, such as giving the Commission a task that the Public Service Commission already does.
R-Great Falls Rep. Steve Galloway said the state regulation is just a redundancy of legislation already under the jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency.
“Most states won’t override them anyway, so I’ve found that it’s best to avoid many things.”
Gautier asked that the caucus take a few minutes. Upon returning to the meeting, Galloway asked for alternative proposals.
The proposed one is now known as PD0008.
Senator Speaker Mary McNally of D-Billings said the idea for the committee bill was tentatively delayed at the committee’s last meeting.
“It was just an idea,” she said, adding that it has two parts: an advisory board and toll payer protection. She said the first draft didn’t reach everyone and the committee doesn’t usually draft legislation.
“At the last minute, we’re trying something that I think is pretty complicated here,” McNally said.
“This is the eleventh hour, and there’s nothing we’re all comfortable with,” she said.
McNally said work to get it right could be done in the next Congress.
She says that if the advisory board’s proposal is to move forward, it needs a good framework, it needs consumer protection, and she wants her thoughts to be part of the record.
According to Galloway, PD0008 was a simpler, weed-free version.
Senator Janet Ellis, Democrat Helena, said PD0008 wasn’t getting enough recognition.
“I don’t think this is prime time ready,” she said.
The Commission has decided to post the new bill online for public comment collection and meeting via Zoom on September 16th.
Missoula Democrat Rep. Andrea Olsen said PD0008 sidestepped the cost issue.
She asked who would keep Montana toll payers from being held hostage.
Responding to comments that Montana rate payers would stick to the bill, Gautier said it was too early to know how much a small reactor facility would cost.
But he said taxpayers wouldn’t cover the full cost of the reactor, adding that there would be investors. He also said the Public Service Commission will monitor charges like any other utility. He commissioned an artist rendering of a small nuclear reactor facility to be included in his SJ-3. He said after the meeting that the facility would probably be on about 35 acres, no bigger than Home Depot.
Missoula Democrat Rep. Katie Sullivan was the only Democrat to support PD0008, but added she would have voted for PD0007 as well.
She says both plans are backup plans to help the country, and she hopes the toll payer protection portion will return on September 16, as nuclear power may develop.
If approved by the state legislature, the bill must pass through committees at its next session and be approved by the state House, Senate, and governor.
Assistant Editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.