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Carbon Free Power Project Advances To Next Phase

Los Alamos County’s Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) will advance into the next phase.

The motion to approve continuing the project passed 5-2 during Tuesday night’s County Council meeting. Councilors Randall Ryti and Antonio Maggiore opposed the motion.

With this approval, the project’s next phase includes a financial commitment from the County totaling $1,046,849 to prepare the Combined Operating License Application (COLA), according to a County press release. The COLA is planned to be submitted in May 2023.

The CFPP is being pursued by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), which Los Alamos DPU is a member. It entails constructing a nuclear generating station at Idaho National Laboratory. The nuclear station generation capacity is planned for 720 megawatts using 12 small modular reactors. The County has subscribed for 11.186 megawatts at a target price of $55 per megawatt hour.

This has been a project under serious consideration since the 2017 Integrated Resource Plan was adopted to explore how the County could meet its goal to be a carbon neutral electrical energy provider by 2040.

Even though the County is moving into the next phase, the project’s future is not a sure thing.

For the project to be successful, all parties involved need to financially contribute the agreed upon cost sharing, Department of Public Utilities Manager Philo Shelton said. This includes participating UAMPS members, DOE and NuScale, the developer of the small modular reactor technology.

To execute this project over the next three years Shelton added that there is approximately a $20 million commitment from UAMPS participants for the completion of the COLA. He said that the DOE Multi-Year Grant Award needs to be secured prior to spending any money on the completion of the COLA.

DOE is proposing it will contribute 80 percent of the funding for this next phase with 5 percent coming from NuScale and 15 percent from UAMPS’ members that are participating in the CFPP.

If this does not happen the County will have two more opportunities to leave the project. The objective is to construct the nuclear generating station starting in December 2025 and have it operational in 2030.

Although both Ryti and Maggiore supported the technology, utilizing nuclear power to meet electrical demands, they opposed moving forward with the project due to the belief that the County should not be investing in a first-of-a-kind technology.

Ryti said he wished the nuclear power station were built in New Mexico so that the state and the County’s regional partners could reap the benefits that the station would offer.

“I would like it, if we could have a project in New Mexico where we could generate this kind of revenue for our neighbors,” he said.

Maggiore said he was skeptical DOE would follow through on its commitment to fund the project.

“I think this is a wonderful project,” he said. “Is this a project I think Los Alamos County should be underwriting? Absolutely not … to underwrite this project requires a degree of faith in the (DOE) and that is a department that especially as of late has let us down; whether it be how well they clean up land or whether it be bold face, disingenuous offers of land. I am not willing to risk our rate payers’ money on the potential that (DOE) will do the right thing.”

Ryti and Maggiore were not the only skeptics. Los Alamos resident George Chandler also encouraged abandoning the project.

“We should take the off-ramp,” Chandler said. “I refer to the lagging subscription rate, the ever-sliding schedule, the failure of the plan for a factory-built module shipped to site, the absence of any prototype using nuclear fuel, and the changing design of the fuel … I am mostly concerned that we are not being fully informed by NuScale about the scale of the technical effort that is required. Our utilities department does not seem interested in challenging the assertions that are made by NuScale and has never engaged relevant technical expertise to get an independent evaluation of the project.”

The project does have supporters.

“Nuclear power needs to be the way to go,” council candidate Aaron Walker said. “It is really the only pathway forward for renewables until the technology for solar and wind catch up … the benefit outweighs the risk.”

Several councilors agreed.

Councilor David Izraelevitz said while the
project poses questions and risk, he felt an approximate $1 million investment from the County, which equals about $60-$70 per rate payer over the three year period, is a fairly minimal financial risk. Plus, it allows the County to stay in the game for new energy technology.

“It’s a prudent investment to stay in the game,” he said.

However, Izraelevitz said a competitive analysis is a good idea and the subscriptions to the project need to grow.

Councilor Katrina Martin said she felt it was important to act to achieve the County’s carbon neutral goal.

“I do agree in lieu of a better option … we have to do something,” she said.