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AARP, MidAmerican spar over nuclear bill

Rod Boshart, CR Gazette –

AARP Iowa leaders on Monday accused MidAmerican Energy of engaging in a campaign of misinformation aimed at confusing Iowans about legislation they claim attempts to have company ratepayers – rather than shareholders — bear the unknown cost and risks associated with building a proposed nuclear power plant somewhere in Iowa.

Anthony Carroll, AARP Iowa associate state director for advocacy, told a Statehouse news conference that MidAmerican’s paid newspaper advertisement last week misrepresented and “lied about our position” on House File 561 – a bill that would allow MidAmerican Energy to seek permission from state regulators to move forward with a proposed nuclear power plant estimated to cost up to $2 billion to build.

Under the House-passed measure currently eligible for Senate debate, the Iowa Utilities Board would not be required to follow traditional rate rules or the usual cost recovery methods in deciding issues pertaining to the permitting, licensing, and building of MidAmerican’s proposal to construct a nuclear-powered facility using new modular technology.

“The (MidAmerican) ads stated that AARP is an opponent of nuclear power. That is an outright lie, just the beginning of a new campaign by MidAmerican to fool Iowans into favoring H.F. 561. Iowans deserve better than to be fooled,” he said. Carroll contended the MidAmerican ad offered a “false portrayal” of AARP’s position in an attempt to hide the truth and shift the focus away from what the proposed legislation actually does.

“AARP is fighting for a better deal for ratepayers and customers who bear all the costs and risks. MidAmerican is fighting for their shareholders,” he added. “Our focus is about getting this bill defeated. If it has to move forward, putting in some common sense consumer protections.”

Carroll pointed to an analysis by the Iowa Utilities Board’s staff that concluded H.F. 561 shifted the risk from MidAmerican to its ratepayers and created “undesirable incentives” to keep costs low and minimize risk. He noted that AARP did not oppose 2010 legislation that earmarked $15 million in ratepayer money to study the feasibility of a nuclear option, but now customers deserve to know the results of that study and how the money was spent.

“The question of whether to build a new nuclear power plant is in Mid-American’s hands. It’s critical to know that they can build a new plant without House File 561,” Carroll said. “The question for Iowa lawmakers is whether to shift the nearly $1 billion to multi-billions in costs and risks associated with building new plants from the company to its customers. That is what AARP opposes.”

Ann Thelen, MidAmerican Energy’s director of communications and media relations, said her company felt compelled to place the ad to clarify for Iowans what the proposed legislation will and will not do.

“The bill does not allow MidAmerican Energy to raise customers’ rates,” she said in a statement, “and, if passed by the Iowa Legislature, the bill does not make MidAmerican Energy customers prepay for a nuclear power plant.

“This bill has the strongest consumer protections of any enacted nuclear legislation and imposes caps on spending,” Thelen added. “AARP says they don’t oppose nuclear power; however, by opposing all of the tools to keep nuclear as an option for Iowans, that are essentially opposing nuclear power generation.”

The MidAmerican spokeswoman also noted that the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Friday approved the next round of reactors in South Carolina, a state which has similar legislation in place.

“Despite what the AARP said this morning, as the current law stands, small modular nuclear reactors are not included in Iowa’s ratemaking principles. It would not be prudent for MidAmerican Energy to pursue this type of technology or even consider it without revisions to the current law,” Thelen added.

Last month, AARP leaders said they plan to inform their 378,000 Iowa members on how state legislators vote on the nuclear energy bill, because they worry the bill will put consumers on the hook for MidAmerican Energy’s planned nuclear power plant even if the facility never gets built.

Because of the importance the issue carries for Iowa seniors, AARP leaders designated the issue a “key vote,” meaning they plan to inform members of the influential voting bloc how state senators and House members vote this session heading into the 2012 election season, when all 100 House seats and 26 Senate seats will be contested in the post-reapportionment election.

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