Elmore Nuke Developer Takes Liberties with Rezone Request
Snake River Alliance News Release
Sept. 2, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Andrea Shipley, Executive Director
Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc., has filed its request to Elmore County to rezone more than 1,300 acres of prime agricultural land above Idaho’s precious Snake River into a heavy industrial zone for its nuclear reactor – setting the stage for hearings over whether the county wants to swap its rich agricultural heritage for a toxic legacy and an unnecessary power plant that so far has no Idaho market.
AEHI’s 50-page application, submitted to Elmore County’s Planning and Zoning Department on Aug. 13, is aimed at convincing county residents and their elected officials that a 1,600MW nuclear reactor will help transform the county into an industrial powerhouse. In fact, the application raises new questions about AEHI’s ability to submit a meaningful conditional use permit application for the plant itself, which will be needed for the project to proceed.
The Elmore County Planning and Zoning Commission has scheduled an Oct. 1 public hearing on AEHI’s request to rezone the proposed nuke plant site from its current AG-A (agricultural) designation to M2 (heavy industrial). While the media reported extensively on AEHI’s filing of the application, there has been scant reporting on the application itself. Given the lack of publicity about what’s actually in the application, the Snake River Alliance has reviewed the document and found it wanting on myriad issues of critical importance to residents of Elmore County and all of Idaho.
“The people of Elmore County expect a clean and factually accurate application to rezone this property, and what we see instead is an application that attempts to shoehorn a nuclear reactor onto some of Idaho’s precious agricultural lands,” Snake River Alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley said. “It’s an unsuitable use and it should be quickly dismissed by county officials as such.”
In the “Project Narrative” of its rezoning application, AEHI describes its proposal with considerable license. It begins with a one-page cover letter from AEHI CEO Don Gillispie, who tells Elmore County:
“One solution too (sic) many of these problems exist (sic) in the development of commercial nuclear power. Commercial nuclear power is the largest, most reliable, clean base-load power source available, as it emits zero greenhouse gasses. Nuclear power is not dependent upon weather conditions, as it produces power independently of all external forces. Byproducts are stored safely on-site in concrete-and-steel containers and emit no measureable radiation above background level. Nuclear power is one of the most reliable power sources known to man.”
Commercial nuclear power is not the largest, not the most reliable, and not the cleanest form of power available. The nuclear cycle is incredibly dirty and toxic, beginning with uranium mining, milling and enrichment and then to the unsolved waste challenges. While it is true that what AEHI calls the “byproducts” – highly contaminated nuclear waste – are stored on site, AEHI does not mention that it would remain at its Idaho site indefinitely. There are no plans to remove it from Idaho, because there is nowhere to put it.
How close is the site to surrounding cities, towns, and other important facilities? On page 4 of the application, AEHI tells Elmore County where its plant would be relative to various towns and, of course, the nearby Mountain Home Air Force Base.
“Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc. (AEHI) is requesting a Zoning Ordinance Map Amendment (rezone) of approximately 1,345 acres of Ag A zone property to Heavy Industrial M2 zoning to construct an Industrial-Nuclear Power Facility (sic)… Hammett is 5 miles to the east of the site and Glenns Ferry is about 10 miles to the east of the site. The Mountain Home Air Force Base (AFB) is located about 15 miles from the site, and the Saylor Creek Air Force Bombing Range is located about 7 miles from the site.”
While the prospects of an Air Force bombing range just 7 miles from a nuclear reactor site should give the county and the United States Air Force pause, it’s also curious that AEHI does not say how close Bruneau Dunes State Park and the state’s most valuable observatory are. It’s about 7 miles away, and the light pollution from such a massive industrial facility will certainly harm the observatory, which is probably why it wasn’t mentioned. When asked about Bruneau Dunes at his Mountain Home open house, AEHI’s Gillispie said he’d never been there and had no idea how close his site was.
In its application, AEHI tries to claim that plopping a nuclear reactor in the middle of Idaho farm country doesn’t constitute “spot zoning.”
“The proposed rezone is compatible with the surrounding area and should not be considered spot zoning. Spot zoning is generally an arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable rezone of a limited parcel of land by a local zoning ordinance that benefits one individual.”
AEHI’s rezoning application is textbook spot zoning. It injects the heaviest kind of industrial land use in the middle of prime Idaho farmland. AEHI continues:
“The following text will demonstrate that the Zoning Ordinance Map Amendment (rezone) request by AEHI is not spot zoning, but compatible with the surrounding area and will benefit the entire region and state. We believe the requested rezone in (sic) not only compatible with the current areas, but also needed for the sustainability of both Hammett and Glens (sic) Ferry.”
Based on Elmore County’s current Comprehensive Plan, there is no demonstrated need for Hammett and Glenns Ferry to have a project of this magnitude to be “sustainable.” Furthermore, the project is as incompatible with existing land uses as any that could be imagined. One of the definitions of spot zoning is if the ‘permitted use is very different from the surrounding area,’ which this of course is. Or ‘it can be shown that the municipality has favored one landowner to the unreasonable detriment of the surrounding area, or so as to prejudice the intention of a comprehensive plan.’
“The proposed Industrial-Nuclear Power Facility would create 1,000 jobs paying above-average wages with most of them staying in Elmore County, according to an economic study and that’s just for one reactor. Depending on market demand, additional reactors could be built. Each reactor could employ up to 500 directly and create hundreds of well-paying spin-off jobs, which would make the Nuclear Power Facility one of the largest private employers in Idaho.”
“Additional reactors”? If AEHI has any plans to add additional reactors beyond the one identified in its proposed site plan, the county should require it to show where those reactors would be located on what is already a too-small parcel of land. The current application is for one nuclear reactor; it is outrageous to imply others might be added without first identifying their location and how they would fit onto the site or identifying the source of the massive amounts of water to cool the reactors.
“The proposed Industrial-Nuclear Power Facility would help Idaho supply future energy demand. According to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, demand for electricity in the West is projected to increase 20 percent over the next decade. At the same time, Idaho is ill-prepared to face its future energy needs, according to a study of proposed power plants compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Agency. Between 2007 and 2011, Idaho is scheduled to bring on line 337 megawatts of energy, mostly from wind and geothermal projects, putting it dead last among the 11 Western states.”
AEHI conveniently uses the 2007-2011 timeframe when mentioning the 337MW of new generation; yet Idaho Power has a request for proposals for 300-500MW of firm power to come online in 2012. So that argument goes away. The reason Idaho ranks low on the amount of new generation is because its overall need for new generation pales compared to states with far greater populations. And Idaho is not ill-prepared to meet its energy needs. Its regulated utilities have on file with the Public Utilities Commission their biannual Integrated Resource Plans, which spell out how they will meet their future load growth. It is the PUC’s job to ensure Idaho utilities have adequate resources to meet projected needs.
“Additionally, for communities to grow they need industrial development, and employment opportunities. The Elmore County Comprehensive Plan recognizes this fact and has several policies to support the proposed Zoning Ordinance Map Amendment (rezone) request in terms of Economic Development, Land Use, Natural Resources, Public Services and Utilities, and Community Design specific to Hammett.”
There is nothing in the Comprehensive Plan to support this statement. Anyone who has been to Hammett knows it is nonsense to suggest that this rezone application and the development of a nuclear reactor five miles from town (and closer than that to many residences) complement Hammett’s lifestyle or its planned development.
“ As previously documented, approval of the Zoning Ordinance Map Amendment (rezone) request would have a positive net fiscal impact on the County that would improve the economy in ways that are consistent with community values. Elmore County has already and consistently demonstrated energy production is compatible with community values as they (sic) have approved two gas fired energy production facilities, a hydrogen production facility, and one wind generation facility.”
Idaho Power’s natural gas peaking plants are located adjacent to Interstate 84, including one site also adjacent to a truck stop and other commercial developments. There is no comparison between a commercial nuclear reactor, which will displace more than 1,400 acres of agricultural land and disrupt surrounding agricultural uses, and a wind farm, which allows existing agricultural operations to continue.
“Approval of the rezone would enhance existing public safety and public services, facilities, and utilities by providing a reliable electric base load in Idaho in addition to meeting the County objective of promoting and developing new services (power generation) where needed, to encourage compatible growth and development. These services are needed in Idaho and Elmore County.”
Until any Idaho utility expresses an interest in buying power from AEHI’s project, there is no reason to believe the nuclear reactor will provide a kilowatt of power to Idaho. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe the project would provide “new services (power generation)” for “compatible” growth and development.
The Snake River Alliance has a long history of advocating for the cleanup of the radioactive legacy from the Cold War at the Idaho National Laboratory and protecting the Snake River Aquifer that lies underneath the contamination. It also advocates clean energy alternatives to nuclear and fossil fuel power generation.