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Pacificorp, TerraPower Ask For Favorable State Law Changes, Tax Cut

Naughton Power Plant - one of Rocky Mountain Power's plants that's scheduled to close earlier than anticipated

The Legislature's Joint Minerals Committee heard an update on the proposed Natrium nuclear reactor project slated for Wyoming. The demonstration plant will replace one of four coal-fired facilities in Wyoming.

Representatives from TerraPower and Pacificorp — the companies behind the project — told the joint minerals committee they have visited all four communities and will make a decision on where to locate it by the end of the year.

Jon Cox is the vice president of government affairs for Rocky Mountain Power, a Pacificorp subsidiary. He asked the committee to consider altering state law in ways that would favor the Natrium project.

"I have come prepared with a few specifics on some potential changes that may be needed," he said.

Those included changing the definition of a "small modular reactor," which currently would exclude plants like the Natrium project that plan to produce more than 300 Megawatts. Cox also called for clarifying language in the state statutes to explicitly allow state and federal permitting processes to happen concurrently.

But another request involved lowering taxes on electricity produced by nuclear plants, which kicked off a debate between lawmakers. Casper Senator Jim Anderson suggested eliminating the tax altogether and moved to have a bill drafted that would do just that.

Laramie Senator Chris Rothfuss took issue with that idea.

"If we wanted to match it to wind, I think that’s at least a reasonable policy start — so down to $1 (per megawatt)," he said. "But I wouldn’t support wiping it out. The last thing we need to do is find new ways to eliminate our revenue right now."

Ultimately the committee voted against drafting Anderson’s bill to eliminate the tax. The committee will consider a separate draft bill — one with the changes requested by Pacificorp — later this year.

TerraPower Executive Director of External Affairs Jeff Navin shared another big development to occur since the announcement of the Natrium project in June — that the infrastructure bill currently before Congress would fund four years of the six-year project. The project was already funded in part by a 50/50 cost share with the federal government, meaning that if the infrastructure bill passes, the first five years will be fully funded.

That prompted Casper Representative Chuck Gray to question why Wyoming should change any laws to help the Natrium project — especially as it plans to replace a coal-fired facility, which is a point of interest for Gray. (During a separate discussion earlier in the day, for example, Gray had called the carbon credit market a "radical left" "attack on our way of life.")

"I’m wondering what Rocky Mountain Power’s position is on the appropriateness of having provisions in statute that are basically incentives, basically payouts, for this reactor that is competing with a coal-fired power plant," Gray said. "Just from a policy perspective, I think that’s really problematic."

Cox defended capitalizing on the current interests of Washington.

"The federal government has a host of federal tax incentives and in full disclosure, we take advantage of those and to the benefit of our customers," he said. "There is an interest among members of Congress to assert the country’s role as it relates to energy and not leave that to other countries as they export this around the globe."

The Joint Minerals Committee will next meet in November in Rock Springs.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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