ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- A move to undo Minnesota's 17-year-old ban on new nuclear power plants easily cleared its first committee Tuesday as Republicans who run the Legislature make the proposal a priority.
Rep. Joyce Peppin's bill passed the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a 10-6 vote, with backing from groups including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council. The 14-line bill would erase a single sentence of state law prohibiting the Public Utilities Commission from allowing construction of new nuclear plants.
"It's just striking one line," said Peppin, R-Rogers. "We're not starting the construction of a plant tomorrow."
Minnesota has two existing nuclear power plants near Red Wing and Monticello.
Peppin and other supporters of the bill said the change would allow utilities to consider nuclear power as they make long-term plans. Peppin said renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power aren't reliable enough to fulfill all the state's long-term needs.
"Renewables alone cannot get us to where we need to be," she said.
Even if the proposal sails through the Legislature, the 1994 moratorium on new nuclear power has support from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who pledged to back the current law as a candidate.
Spokeswoman Katie Tinucci said Dayton hasn't said whether he would veto the bill.
During the hearing, opposition came from environmental groups and Democrats on the panel who said they're concerned ratepayers will end up covering the cost of developing a new nuclear power facility.
A firsthand perspective came from Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council president Victoria Winfrey, whose community lives about 600 yards from Xcel Energy's nuclear plant near Red Wing. Winfrey said her community opposes any moves to undo the current moratorium and still is waiting for the federal government to find a place to store spent nuclear fuel, including thousands of tons near their homes.
"The amount of hazardous waste that must be stored in our local community will only grow," Winfrey said.
Peppin's bill now heads to the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee.
A Senate version sponsored by Majority Leader Amy Koch awaits its first hearing before an energy, utilities and telecommunications panel.
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