The idea of Utah becoming home to a nuclear power plant has gotten a lot of press in recent months. Representatives Aaron Tilton, R-Provo, and Mike Noel, R-Kanab have been working together both inside and outside the Capitol to make all the necessary arrangements to build Utah's first nuclear power plant somewhere near Green River.
Experts have testified on Utah's Capitol Hill a nuclear power plant in Utah would likely run up to $3 billion to build. The history of nuclear power plant development is rife with examples of cost overruns, and the ratepayers always end up picking up the tab. In addition, nuclear power plants take ten or more years to build making them questionable alternatives to other emerging technologies that can provide energy far sooner.
While Rep. Tilton and other Utah legislators fiddle with nuclear power Arizona, Nevada and countries like Spain are rapidly developing solar thermal technology. Using concave mirrors to focus the rays of the sun on a tower containing oil superheated to over 700°F these plants can retain enough heat to continue producing electricity for up to six hours after the sun sets. They are also far cheaper and easier to build than a nuclear power plant.
According to a recent New York Times article the Spanish company Abengoa and Pinnacle West recently committed to building a 280 megawatt solar thermal plant in Arizona. That is about as much electricity as any nuclear power plant Rep. Tilton's company probably has in mind would produce. Their 280 megawatt solar plant should be completed by 2011, long before licensing for the nuclear power plant of Tilton and Noel's dreams is over let alone built.
Another Spanish company, Acciona, just opened its 64 megawatt plant about 20 miles south of Las Vegas. Construction on that project began in early 2006 and it started generating electricity early this year. The cost for that project was originally projected to be between $225 and $250 million. Its construction and plans for similar projects elsewhere in the southwest are spawning new industries producing mirrors, specially designed pipes to carry the superheated oil, and other components.
The nuclear plant proposed for Utah lies just south of Utah's coal country. Recent reports indicate estimates of earth's coal reserves may be greatly exaggerated. Regardless, Utah's coal country could use an economic boost. Using some state and private lands to build a thermal solar plant makes more sense than using that land to build a giant, expensive nuclear power plant that generates waste Utah has, until now, tried to avoid storing.
Governor Huntsman and other lawmakers should work with other western states to turn our region into an alternative energy hotspot rather than wasting valuable time and resources pursuing the nuclear option. With a little leadership from the governor and Utah lawmakers I think we would find there are a few investors out there ready to offer Utah a cheaper, cleaner alternative than the one Representative Tilton's company is offering.