SEQUIM — Commissioners from Clallam County Public Utility District No. 1 agreed they didn’t want to contribute funds to a feasibility study for the creation of a new nuclear reactor in central Washington, but they left the door open to future use of nuclear power.
The discussion came Monday as Energy Northwest is looking to construct up to 12 small modular reactors to supplement the state’s power supply, particularly as Washington moves to carbon-neutral sources.
In July, Energy Northwest — a public joint operating agency created by the state Legislature in 1957 — signed a joint development agreement with Maryland-based X-Energy Reactor Company, LLC to build the reactors, the first of which is expected to come online in 2030.
Following that agreement, Energy Northwest’s executive board adopted a resolution urging member utilities to contribute funds to a feasibility study of new nuclear generation sources.
Energy Northwest currently operates the state’s only nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station in Richland.
On Monday, District 1 Commissioner Ken Hays said Energy Northwest had not yet approached the PUD, but he felt a discussion among the commissioners was warranted.
“In general, I support the idea of continuing to look at advanced small energy reactors,” Hays said, “but being first is never a good idea.”
Hays said he attended Energy Northwest’s board meeting during which the resolution was discussed and spoke with several officials regarding the proposed project.
“The truth is they need $38 million to $50 million to get through the study phase,” Hays said. “I don’t think it’s wise to invest in that.”
The other commissioners agreed that nuclear power could play a role in the county’s power needs in the future but that investing in the project at this stage is not a good idea.
“I do not see any need of being an early investor in nuclear at this moment,” District 2 Commissioner John Purvis said.
Commissioners did not pass an official resolution against contributing funds to the feasibility study, but District 3 Commissioner Jim Waddell said the board would, “move forward with the general idea we’re not supporting this.”
Two letters were submitted to the commissioners regarding the proposal, both of them urging the PUD not to contribute.
Energy Northwest’s proposal comes as Washington tries to move toward reducing power generation from carbon-based sources. In 2019, the state passed the Clean Energy Transition Act, which aims to have the state’s energy 100 percent renewable or non-emitting by 2045. CETA also calls for all retail sales of electricity to be greenhouse gas neutral by 2030, the same year the first of the reactors is projected to come online.
Commissioners also noted that large projects are prone to cost overruns and delays.
In 1983, the Washington Public Power Supply System — the precursor to Energy Northwest — abandoned an $8.3 billion project to build two nuclear power plants in the state, defaulting on $2.2 billion in bonds.
Both Clallam County and Jefferson County PUD N0. 1 are part of Energy Northwest’s consortium.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at email@example.com.