Man wants nuclear plant near Bruneau
Idaho-based organizations are skeptical about idea
Idhao Statesman
December 8, 2006
By Ken Dey

Don Gillispie believes he has just the place to start the rebirth of the country’s nuclear energy industry: Bruneau, Idaho.
Gillispie, president and chief executive officer of Alternate Energy Holdings, a small energy start-up company in Roanoke, Va., caused a stir this week among environmentalists and government officials. They learned he had signed a “letter of intent” to build, own and operate the first new nuclear power plant in more than 30 years.

His site? Rural Owyhee County near Bruneau.

Consider this Gillispie’s field of nuclear dreams. Some critics say it’s not much more than that.

“I’m completely flabbergasted,” Dick Reynolds, a Bruneau resident and an Owyhee County commissioner, said Thursday “I think if someone was thinking about this they should have contacted the county before they did a press release.”

Reached at his office this week, the 63-year-old Gillispie said the county commissioners and other state leaders are on his list of people to talk to about his plans.

Gillispie said the plant would be twice the size of the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania that short-circuited the nuclear power industry with its 1979 accident. “It would be the single biggest unit in the United States,” he said.

He has never built a power plant before. He still needs to buy the land and obtain water rights. There’s also the matter of the many permits he would need. If that weren’t enough, Gillispie would have to raise the $1.5 billion to $2 billion he estimates he would need to build the 1,500-megawatt plant, which would provide enough power for 1.5 million homes — or nearly three Idahos.

That’s a tall order for a company that’s been in business only since September and trades its shares on the over-the-counter market — on “pink sheets,” as that market is often called. On Thursday the company’s shares — trading under the symbol AEHI.PK — were selling for 88 cents.

Gillispie’s letter of intent is only an agreement with Robert Sparrow, a retired farmer and inventor in Salt Lake City, to find the land — at least 1,000 acres — that Gillispie’s company would need to build the plant.

Gillispie, who met Sparrow on a trout fishing trip to Boise, said Sparrow shares his desire to rebuild the nuclear power industry as a way to safely meet the nation’s demand for more energy.

“My involvement is to locate the property for him and obtain the water rights,” Sparrow said Thursday. Sparrow declined to disclose the precise location of the land.

“I’ll work with him as long as we can get it done,” Sparrow said. “I think it’s a super idea.”

And Gillispie does havenuclear-power experience. He consulted in the industry and has worked for companies like Duke Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority. He was a former senior vice president of nuclear assessment programs with the Nuclear Management Co. in Hudson, Wis., which operates seven nuclear power plants.

He counts on his company’s board of directors and others related to the nuclear industry, including James Taylor, the former chief operating officer of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Still, there is no shortage of skeptics.

Reynolds said he hasn’t seen Gillispie’s proposal, but it seems like “daydreaming.”

Jeremy Maxand, executive director of the Snake River Alliance, a Boise-based organization that calls itself “Idaho’s nuclear watchdog,” doubts the proposal is serious, but says his organization must remain alert.

“Until they have a conversation with someone from Idaho or the county of Owyhee, I don’t think it’s appropriate for them to be announcing that they are two years away from putting a plant in our backyard,” Maxand said.

The proposal highlights the need for Idaho to have siting authority over power plants, Maxand said.

Gillispie is undeterred.

“I have the people and the capabilities to do it,” he said.

He attended a conference on nuclear power in 2001 where everyone was talking about rebuilding the industry but no one was willing to take a chance. “Everyone who talked about it wanted to be second,” he said. Gillispie said he’s willing to be first.

Gillispie said his plant would be a huge boon to Bruneau, creating about 500 jobs. He said he would like to break ground in 2008 and finish building the plant in three years.

“Small towns love these things,” Gillispie said.

Commissioner Reynolds begs to differ.

“I don’t know this for a fact, but most people are not enthused about being in an area where there’s a nuclear plant,” he said.

To offer story ideas or comments, contact reporter Ken Deyat [email protected] 672-6757.