A La Crosse-based energy company plans to reintegrate nuclear energy into its energy mix to supply electricity to its customers.
Dairyland Power Cooperative has entered into an agreement with Portland, Oregon-based NuScale Power to explore the use of its smaller-scale nuclear generation technology to provide electricity to more than half a million Wisconsin residents, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.
“We would describe our involvement at this stage as exploratory,” said John Carr, Dairyland’s vice president of strategic growth. “(We) certainly owe it to our members to explore all available alternatives.”
Dairyland is the second utility in Wisconsin to partner with NuScale in the past year. Xcel Energy – with customers in northern and western Wisconsin – struck a similar deal with NuScale last summer.
There is no timeline among the companies to develop a nuclear power source in Wisconsin.
Dairyland officials see the potential development of a new nuclear power source as a way to provide a reliable, carbon-free alternative to energy sources like wind and solar, in which Dairyland has invested in recent years.
Carr said that despite this investment, there are winter days when Dairyland gets 50-75% of its energy from carbon fuel sources like coal or natural gas to ensure a reliable power source.
“Wind and solar have made great strides in the grid in this region. But as we look to achieve higher levels of intermittent renewable energy, there must be a way to bridge this intermittency,” said he declared.
Dairyland is also exploring other alternatives, including battery storage for the wind and solar power it already generates.
There is currently only one active nuclear power plant in the state – Point Beach in Two Rivers near Lake Michigan in far southeastern Wisconsin.
Two other nuclear power plants, Kewaunee Power Station on Lake Michigan in northeastern Wisconsin owned by Dominion Energy and one owned by Dairyland in Genoa about a half hour south of La Crosse on the Mississippi River did not hasn’t worked for years.
Dairyland’s Genoa plant produced nuclear power for 18 years and stopped producing nuclear power in 1987. The company produced coal-fired power there until last year, date on which the plant was closed. Spent nuclear fuel is still stored in dry drums at the Genoa site pending a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel in the United States.
But this story does not mean that Dairyland will put new nuclear technology in Genoa.
“At this time, we have not identified any particular site,” Carr said. “There are a lot of things that go into siting and permits that will be part of the conversation for years to come.”
Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation in 2016 ending a moratorium on building new nuclear power plants in the state that had existed since 1983.
NuScale Power has developed what it describes as a revolutionary small modular reactor, or SMR, a technology it sees as safer, creating a smaller footprint for energy companies to build new nuclear power plants.
“Climate targets, both in the United States and around the world, are really driving interest in our cutting-edge technology,” said Tom Mundy, chief commercial officer of NuScale. “Being able to reduce the carbon footprint of their generation portfolios and ensure they have a secure supply of the fuel needed to operate their generation resources.”
The construction of new nuclear power plants in the United States is banned in 13 states, including neighboring Illinois and Minnesota.
Mundy and Carr agree that finding a federal repository for existing and future spent nuclear waste is one of the keys to building new nuclear power plants. Wisconsin law, for example, only allows new construction if a storage location for used nuclear fuel is federally approved. While it has been debated for decades, there has been no resolution.
NuScale has about 20 agreements with utilities or governments in the United States and Europe, but has not yet built a nuclear power plant.
According to Mundy, it would take at least six to seven years to build a new nuclear power plant anywhere in the United States.