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Murray Journal

Murray ups its nuclear stakes

Aug 29, 2019 10:34AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

An artistic rendering of how a nuclear plant based on NuScale’s SMR design might look. (Photo courtesy of NuScale Power)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Murray City Council gave its blessing to Murray Power’s request to increase the City’s interest—from 1,000 kilowatt to 10,250—and participation in the Joint Use Module Plant (JUMP) agreement. The approval, granted during the Aug. 6 City Council meeting, did not come without objection, as the proposed Small Nuclear Reactor technology is not yet proven.

Murray Power entered into a contract with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) to develop and construct, and eventually purchase power from, a first-of-its-kind commercial nuclear power plant based on the NuScale small modular reactor design. Currently, Murray does not have any nuclear power in its energy portfolio.

NuScale Power, based in Portland, Oregon, proposes an SMR (small modular reactor) that would take up 1% of the space of a conventional reactor. Whereas a typical commercial reactor cranks out a gigawatt of power, each NuScale SMR would generate 60 megawatts. For about $3 billion, NuScale would place up to 12 SMRs side by side in Idaho.

Before Murray can get even one watt from the SMR, it first must be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC has not indicated its decision yet, and it could require NuScale to build a miniature version of the reactor, which could push the project back further.

“The NuScale SMR project, with its ability to easily dispatch with volatile renewable, may be a godsend for the decades to come. We can’t be certain of that yet, but it isn’t like other nuclear plants, and it isn’t like any technology yet attempted. I think it would be unwise to abandon project development and Murray’s support at this time,” Murray Power General Manager Blaine Haacke said. “If adopted, we will continue to aggressively pursue the CFPP/SMR option on behalf of the city.”

With the increase in kilowatts comes a more significant price tag of $7.3 million. These funds will go toward bonds for construction of the SMR and will be paid out of Murray’s enterprise funds (funds collected for services, i.e., power payments) and not the general fund (tax collections).

“I believe we have other options—more investments in renewable energy, further developing the assets we already have,” said City Councilwoman Diane Turner. “We have smart, creative people running our power department. They had direction and options before this came along. This, to me, makes no sense. I realize that we have ‘off-ramps,’ but 51% of the cities (in UAMPS) have to vote in favor of getting out.”

Over 30 Western municipalities approved an “option” contract with UAMPS, which eventually converts to a “hell-or-high-water” contract (once construction is authorized) to build and ultimately purchase electricity based on a “targeted” cost of $65 per megawatt-hour. Murray can back out and receive its investment in the SMR back at any point until construction begins on the plant; at that point, Murray would lose its $7.3 million.

“I appreciate Diane’s concerns, but the experts I have the most faith in are our power company. We need to think about the lights being on today and tomorrow, but [also] in 2040. We all know coal is going away…. I don’t think we should put our eggs all in one basket,” City Councilman Dale Cox said.

Murray is also considering an agreement with a large-scale solar project called the Red Mesa Tapaha Solar Project. The project would require the city to enter into a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement with the Navajo Nation for a 5 megawatt interest in its large-scale solar project at $23.15 per megawatt hour.

“Give me an alternative that you can schedule 24/7 to fill the gaps in my load on my solar that doesn’t emit carbon; I will be behind it 100%. Until then, this is an option (nuclear) I feel we owe our citizens and the environment to at least take a look at,” City Councilman Jim Brass said.