A push to scrap a Minnesota law barring new nuclear power plants gained a pair of influential supporters Tuesday, adding intensity to a debate before a state Legislature that has narrowly resisted the change.
Two congressmen _ Democratic Rep. Tim Walz and Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen _ joined leaders of labor unions and the state Chamber of Commerce in seeking the repeal of Minnesota's nuclear moratorium.
Their public backing could put pressure on legislators from their areas considered swing votes in the debate. In April, a bid to lift the ban fell eight votes short in the House after convincingly winning approval in the Senate.
"Trying to meet our energy needs without using nuclear energy is a little bit like trying to row a boat with one oar," said Paulsen, who represents a suburban district. "It's going to be difficult to make any progress and we'll keep going in circles."
Walz, who represents much of southern Minnesota, said he doesn't discount concerns over long-term waste storage. But he said there are environmental consequences to keeping the nuclear ban in place, too.
"Without a baseload of other alternatives here in Minnesota, quite honestly we've encouraged people and forced them into the coal business," he said. "We want to give them other options."
At issue is a 1994 statute that prevents the Public Utilities Commission from authorizing construction of new nuclear facilities. Xcel Energy Co. operates two plants in Minnesota, near Monticello and Red Wing.
Neither congressman has a nuclear plant in his district but said they would be open to having one built in their areas.
State Rep. Bill Hilty, who voted against changing the law, said no utilities have discussed plans to build a new plant and doesn't think any will until the moratorium is removed. The moratorium, he said, prevents utilities from charging ratepayers for planning costs they incur.
Hilty, chairman of House Energy Policy and Finance Committee, said he wants to see how the nuclear expansion goes elsewhere before changing course.
"As soon as someone anywhere on the planet demonstrates that it's possible to build one of these new-generation reactors on time, on budget and at a reasonable cost to ratepayers that's the time we should be considering it in Minnesota," said Hilty, DFL-Finlayson. "But Minnesota does not need to be the nuclear guinea pig."
Even if Minnesota were to repeal the moratorium, advocates acknowledged it would take at least a decade to construct a new plant.
Minnesota aims to get a quarter of its energy from renewable sources by 2025 or sooner.