Commission Acknowledges Great Risk to the Developer but “Little Risk” to the County
The Payette County Planning & Zoning Commission Thursday night recommended approval of a property rezone for a risky venture in which an unproven and unfunded nuclear reactor developer hopes to build a massive nuclear project in the heart of the county’s agricultural landscape. The Commission discussed, at length, the large obstacles the developer will have to overcome to build its project, including water rights transfers, transmission issues, and financing, but ultimately decided that the rezone itself was appropriate.
Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc. (AEHI), which failed in two attempts to build its reactor in Owyhee and Elmore Counties, will now take its case to the Payette County Commission next year. Even if the County Commission approves the scheme, AEHI faces an uphill and likely impossible effort to secure required approvals from the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
“Given the tenor of last week’s hearing, we fully expected the Planning and Zoning Commission to recommend approval of this rezone,” Snake River Alliance Energy Policy Analyst Liz Woodruff said after the vote. “We imagine the County Commission will realize that this rezoning application is seriously flawed, that inadequate notice of the P&Z hearing was given to local residents, that AEHI and its representatives intentionally or inadvertently gave materially incorrect testimony and information when they testified last week, and that the actual land use impacts that would come from the proposed nuclear reactor would be detrimental to the area’s water supply and quality of life. The County acknowledged this uphill battle for the developer, and hopefully the County Commission will see the futility of wasting any more time and resources on this ill-conceived project.”
Last week, the Alliance and its members joined several residents whose properties adjoin or are near the AEHI project site in presenting evidence that the project would dramatically impact nearby property owners and their livelihoods. They also showed that the project, with its massive water pipelines snaking up to 24 miles across the county from the Snake or Payette rivers and its gigantic transmission lines and towers, would forever change the character of Payette County.
AEHI wants to rezone about 500 acres of land east of Payette from Agricultural to Industrial to accommodate two nuclear reactors, the designs of which the company has yet to identify, and for a project that so far has no concrete financing. Payette is the third Idaho county to fall prey to AEHI’s vagabond reactor fiasco after plans to build a plant in Owyhee and Elmore counties collapsed amid overwhelming concerns by local residents and officials.
“This is not only an unfeasible project, it is also bad planning,” Woodruff said. She questioned how county officials could give preliminary approval to the reactor project without the developer disclosing what kind of reactors it plans to use, how much water they would consume, and exactly where that water would come from. “Any decisions made to advance this project until these and other substantive questions are answered are premature,” Woodruff said. While the P&Z recommendation now goes to the County Commission, it is expected Thursday’s decision will be challenged on procedural and substantive grounds, she said.
AEHI’s water engineers prepared a report showing the most likely water source to cool the reactors (using potentially 24 million gallons of water per day) would be the over-allocated Snake River, which means twin pipelines from four feet to six feet in diameter would run from 14 miles to 24 miles to the project site, including snaking across multiple private property parcels. Most agricultural water rights are for the irrigation season only, meaning other water would need to be found for the rest of the year.
“AEHI continues to divert questions about its reactor design, instead of choosing one of the many NRC certified models. They claim we are comparing “apples to oranges” whenever we raise points about water use impacts, but they refuse to name an NRC certified model for comparison,” Woodruff said. “The county must be able to establish water use impacts before approval. However, we expect that if this project reaches the water rights transfer stage with IDWR that the protests by potentially injured users will be many,” Woodruff explained.
The Alliance also questioned AEHI’s claims – repeated several times in its rezoning application and supporting materials – that an Idaho nuclear reactor is needed to meet Idaho’s energy shortage.
“There is no energy shortage in Idaho,” Woodruff said. “In fact, there are energy surpluses most of the year. Now, AEHI’s president is saying he may dump his electricity into California and elsewhere. Which is it? If there is no need for this plant and if its energy is prohibitively expensive, then whywould Payette County sacrifice its natural resources and those of the state of Idaho for a project that would send power out of state? Idahoans don’t want their water used to provide power to California”
Woodruff said the county should halt the process and send AEHI’s application back to the company to answer many of the questions it evaded during last week’s hearing.
“It’s not too late for Payette County to step back and gain a better understanding of what’s at stake here,” Woodruff said. “If this proposal is approved at the county level, Payette County will then cede any control over the project to the federal government.”
The application and supporting documents as well as written comments can be found at www.payettecounty.org/pnz/agenda.htm and then clicking the link in the AEHI agenda item.