Senate opponents thwart Prairie Island bill
The Associated Press
ST. PAUL - A nuclear waste bill fell victim to an implosion within the Senate's DFL caucus late Monday, as one group of Democrats expertly played parliamentary games to prevent a vote on the bill sponsored by another.
Although the House had approved the bill - which authorized more spent nuclear fuel to be stored outside the Prairie Island plant - it must now be reintroduced during a special session expected for Tuesday because it didn't get a vote before the regular session ended at midnight.
"This was about stopping an incredibly bad policy from becoming law," said Sen. Ellen Anderson, who joined Sen. Sandy Pappas in making motion after motion to run out the clock.
"Clearly we had the votes," said Sen. Mark Ourada, R-Buffalo, a key supporter of the bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Steve Murphy of Red Wing.
Murphy, his brows furrowed and his jaw set, cleaned out his desk following the adjournment, and he refused to talk to reporters.
Ourada warned that nuclear power opponents may be even unhappier with any version of the bill that comes out of a special session.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty said during a late night news conference the House bill was "minimally acceptable" to him, and he preferred to deal with the issue later this year.
Senate Minority Leader Dick Day of Owatonna said he was astonished at the obvious breaking within the DFL's ranks, calling the caucus "a ship without a rudder and totally out of control. If my caucus members did that, I'd jump in between them."
Day also said he invited Murphy, a moderate, to switch parties.
But Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger of St. Peter attributed the display to stress and "a difficult budget time."
The House's 81-51 vote erased an unexpected defeat for the bill last week. It would have allowed Xcel Energy to store enough waste in dry casks to keep operating the plant until its licenses expire in 2013 and 2014.
House sponsor Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, called the bill a balance that weighs the concerns of customers who would pay more if the nuclear plants were to close with those of environmentalists hoping to boost the state's use of renewable energies.
He said getting the bill to passage was like "hauling frogs in a wheelbarrow" and during debate urged his colleagues, "Stay in the wheelbarrow, be a green frog and be a green vote on this bill."
Nuclear power opponents weren't satisfied, saying the 1994 agreement first allowing waste to be stored outside the plant envisioned Prairie Island's eventual closure.
"In this bill we give Xcel everything," said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. "Greed prevails."
She and other opponents noted that the bill greatly expands the definition of "renewable" materials to include tires, garbage and, in the case of an energy plant that could be built on the Iron Range, coal.
The Senate's bill didn't include those definitions. Another key difference was on the Legislature's power to allow additional casks. The House only gave the Legislature to try to overturn Public Utilities Commission decisions. The Senate would have required the Legislature's approval.
The 1994 law limited Xcel to storing 17 casks of spent fuel outdoors. The company says it needs permission to store more or it will have to close the plant by 2007, when the casks will fill up.
Like the 1994 agreement, the bill would require that more of the state's energy come from wind, requiring Xcel to purchase another 300 megawatts from turbines, which would keep the state among the top wind-energy producing areas in the nation.
Xcel would have to spend $16 million - up from $8.5 million now - per year to subsidize renewable energy production, with $6 million reserved specifically for smaller wind energy projects.
"It really needs to get done this session," said Jake Reint, spokesman for the Prairie Island Indian Community. He said either bill would have been fine. "The bottom line is that we needed a bill."
Patrick Howe may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prairie Island tribe accepts nuclear storage pact
Tom Meersman, Star Tribune
The Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe will not stand in the way of additional nuclear waste storage near its reservation, according to referendum results.
By more than 2 to 1, tribal members ratified a financial agreement with Xcel Energy, which owns the nearby Prairie Island nuclear plant in Red Wing.
"The tribe considers this as probably the most significant decision in their community's modern history," tribal spokesman Jake Reint said Wednesday.
Under the agreement, announced two months ago, the tribe would receive $2.25 million each year for the next 10 years and lesser amounts after that. Among other things, the funds would be used for a tribal health study, an improved emergency evacuation route from the island and the purchase of land so that some members could move away from the nuclear plant.
Senate approves nuclear waste storage bill
Tom Meersman, Minneapolis
The Minnesota Senate approved additional radioactive waste storage for the Prairie Island nuclear plant in Red Wing on a 42-24 vote early Tuesday, setting the stage for final House action within a day or two.
The Senate bill, passed at 2 a.m., after 22 amendments and 3 1/2 hours of debate, would assure that Prairie Island's twin reactors could keep producing electricity at least until their licenses expire in 2013 and 2014.
Xcel Energy, the plant's owner, said that without permission to store waste in more outdoor casks, Prairie Island would need to shut down in 2007. The measure requires Xcel to purchase more electricity produced by wind and other renewable forms of energy. It also funds research on emerging technologies, including a University of Minnesota initiative on hydrogen and fuel cells.
The bill endorses a financial settlement between Xcel and the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe, whose members live near the plant.
The Senate vote came after the DFL authors of two rival bills agreed to a compromise after months of dispute. The biggest sticking point was not more nuclear waste storage at Prairie Island during the next decade, but what will occur after 2014 if Xcel succeeds in having Prairie Island's 40-year license renewed for another 20 years.
Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, wanted to retain a requirement that Xcel return to the Legislature if the company needs additional waste storage at Prairie Island or at its Monticello nuclear plant, whose license expires in 2010.
Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, an Xcel employee, proposed to leave future decisions about nuclear waste storage to the state Public Utilities Commission unless the Legislature intervened.
Murphy accepted Anderson's provisions about future legislative authority and more renewable energy. In exchange, his bill and many of its provisions went before the Senate for a vote.
Some senators were dissatisfied with the Murphy-Anderson compromise, and said that Minnesota should not use nuclear power much longer because there is no federal repository for the waste.
Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm, said that nuclear wastes remain toxic and lethal for more than 10,000 years, and that it is not good public policy to continue to generate the wastes without a permanent disposal.
"We may be leaving a legacy of having high-level radioactive wastes on two sites in near proximity to the Mississippi River for the unforeseen future," he said. "I think that's a risk too high to take."
Prairie Island, Xcel reach tentative pact on nuclear waste storage
Tom Meersman, Star Tribune
The Prairie Island Tribal Council announced Monday that it has reached a multimillion dollar settlement with Xcel Energy over its plans to expand nuclear waste storage for the next decade at its nuclear plant in Red Wing.
The deal must be approved by members of the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe. A referendum will be held by mail with results expected April 17.
Xcel officials said that they were pleased with the proposed deal and that it would benefit the tribe and the utility's customers.
The agreement is also likely to help Xcel at the state Capitol, where legislators make the ultimate decision about additional storage for nuclear wastes.
Environmental leaders said they supported the tribe but not the continuation of nuclear power.
The Indian community should have been compensated long ago for living next to the nuclear plant, but renewable energy sources such as wind-generated electricity should replace nuclear power, the environmental leaders said.
The proposed settlement came after months of discussions and negotiations. Tribal leaders claim that they have legal standing under a 1994 law to limit Xcel's storage of nuclear wastes to 17 casks. Xcel officials say that without additional storage, the plant will be forced to close in 2007 -- well ahead of when its federal licenses for Prairie Island's two units expire in 2013 and 2014.
The plant is only a few hundred yards from tribal residences. The Indian community has long expressed concerns about exposure to radiation and about the risks of emergencies and, more recently, terrorist acts.
Tribal Council President Audrey Bennett said that in a perfect world, the tribe would not need to be concerned about nuclear power and its waste. "But we need to be pragmatic," she said, "and this agreement helps make a bad situation better" by addressing tribal needs related to health, safety and relocation.
The terms include:
· $1 million per year as long as the plant continues to operate. If legislators approve a bill introduced last week, that time would be at least 10 years or as many as 30 years, depending on whether federal regulators relicense the plant to run for an extra 20 years past 2014.
· $450,000 per year for as long as wastes stored in outdoor casks remain on the island. That could be two or three decades or more, depending upon how long it takes for a national repository to be available. Some wastes would be exempted from the fee after the plant closes.
· $700,000 per year for 10 years to buy and to develop new land for tribal members who want to relocate and for the costs of putting that land into trust by the federal government.
· $100,000 per year for 10 years to pay for health studies and emergency management activities.
Xcel also promises not to store wastes from any other plant at Prairie Island and to remove the nuclear wastes as soon as an out-of-state site is available.
The utility pledges to help the tribe acquire funds to improve an evacuation route from the island and to move some transmission lines.
Scott Wilensky, Xcel executive director of government affairs, said that resolving the dispute with the tribe will allow legislators to focus solely on what is best for state energy policy. Nuclear power should remain as part of Xcel's mix of sources, he said, and Prairie Island provides 20 percent of the electricity used by the company's 1.5 million customers in the Upper Midwest.
Wilensky said the total costs -- about $2.25 million a year for 10 years and less after that -- would come from a renewable development fund that receives $8.5 million each year from Xcel customers. Because of that, he said, the costs of the settlement with the tribe, if approved, would not increase electric rates.
State Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing and an Xcel employee, said the proposed agreement is gratifying for the tribe and the more than 500 workers at the nuclear plant. He is the author of a bill that would authorize additional nuclear waste storage at Prairie Island until 2014.
"A lot of my colleagues have said from very get-go that if there's not a negotiated agreement [between Xcel and the tribe], they would probably not support the bill," he said. Now the chances of passage should be improved, he said, although many details of the bill still need to be worked out.
Diana McKeown, energy program coordinator for Clean Water Action, called it "unfortunate" that money and assistance deserved by the tribe for years is now tied to language committing Minnesota to 30 more years of nuclear power, at least potentially.
"Nuclear power is not the power of the future," she said. "We want our legacy to be one that leaves wind turbines and clean energy on the land, not a pile of radioactive wastes on an island in the Mississippi River."
McKeown said that environmentalists and others prefer a bill introduced Monday by Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul. It proposes to phase out nuclear power and to replace it with a combination of energy conservation, wind farms, other renewable forms of energy from plant and agricultural wastes, and natural gas-fired plants.
That bill would be a deal-breaker for the agreement between the tribe and Xcel, a tribal spokesman said.
Terms of the agreement
Here are the major points of the tentative agreement between Xcel Energy and and the Prairie Island Tribal Council:
· $1 million a year for as long as the plant in Red Wing operates (from 10 to 30 years)
$450,000 per year for as long as most wastes in outdoor casks remain on Prairie Island
· $7 million over 10 years to acquire and develop land for relocation
· $1 million over 10 years for health studies and emergency management costs
Expanded nuclear waste limit at Prairie Island proposed
Legislators introduced a bill Monday that would allow Xcel Energy to store more radioactive waste at the Prairie Island nuclear plant in Red Wing until 2014. The measure also would allow the utility to compensate the Indian community that lives near the plant with $2.5 million a year from a special renewable energy fund, and perhaps more compensation from other ratepayer charges.
The bill, which members of the House Regulated Industries Committee will begin discussing Wednesday, is opposed by a coalition of environmental groups. It does not specify exactly how much the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe would receive, because its council is still negotiating those details with the utility.
Xcel officials have said that without the additional storage capacity, the power plant would need to shut down in 2007.
The bill's author, Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said that Minnesota can ill afford to lose nuclear power, which provides 20 percent of the state's electricity.
"The bill deals with keeping the lights on in Minnesota, and with keeping a good, low-cost energy supply," he said.
Westrom said that the measure also would preserve well-paying jobs at the Prairie Island plant, and that nuclear power is a "no-emission" technology compared to most fuels.
But environmentalists said the bill is a major step backward. "This bill is everything that Xcel wants, and it does nothing for cleaner, renewable sources of power in Minnesota," said Michael Noble, executive director of Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
The bill's provisions:
" Allow enough outdoor storage casks for highly radioactive wastes so that the nuclear plant's two units can operate until the end of their federal licenses in 2013 and 2014.
" Reduce by $2.5 million a year the amount that Xcel Energy is required to contribute to a renewable energy development fund. The money can be used as part of a possible settlement with the tribe.
" Allow Xcel Energy to automatically charge customers the additional costs of a settlement with the tribal community.
" Transfer future decisions about nuclear waste from the Legislature to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Its five members are appointed by the governor and would assume additional authority over Xcel's Prairie Island plant and its Monticello nuclear plant 45 miles northwest of the Twin Cities.
The bill puts a major energy policy question on the table: Should Minnesota's largest utility and its 1.5 million electric customers in the region rely on nuclear power well into the future?
The 1994 Legislature faced a similar question, when Xcel -- then Northern States Power Co. -- said that it would be forced to shut down in 1996 unless it received permission to store wastes in outdoor casks on utility property.
The Legislature agreed to 17 casks, which would allow Xcel to operate for several more years, but it also directed the utility to develop renewable sources of electricity such as wind generation. At the time, legislators said that the intent of the law was to encourage Xcel to phase out nuclear power, and Xcel's former CEO Jim Howard promised never to return to the Legislature to ask for more nuclear waste storage.
Laura McCarten, Xcel's director of community services, said that times have changed, and that natural gas or coal-fired plants -- not wind or other sources -- would be the most likely replacements if nuclear power is phased out in Minnesota. "We felt the impacts of not having nuclear were just too large not to have the Legislature take another look at this," she said.
But environmentalists and some legislators have challenged those notions, saying that a combination of natural gas and renewable energy plants would be reliable, competitive and beneficial, especially for rural Minnesota.
Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said that she and others will propose a reasonable, "Minnesota-produced" alternative to nuclear power.
Noble said that other provisions of Westrom's bill "clear the path to enable nuclear power to continue for another 30 years" if Xcel follows through with its plan to ask federal regulators to relicense the plants.
"The latest bill doesn't solve anything," said Diana McKeown, energy program coordinator for Clean Water Action. "The question is whether Minnesotans really want to keep generating this waste when there's no guarantee that it'll ever leave Prairie Island."
Perhaps the greatest factor in the bill's success or failure will be the tribe. Its leaders have said that they have a legal right to be involved if the 1994 law is changed and more waste storage is authorized. The nuclear plant and its wastes are only a few hundred yards from many tribal residences.
Tribal spokesman Jake Reint said that Xcel and the tribal council have been negotiating a possible settlement for months but have not reached agreement. Reint declined to say whether the tribe and Xcel are discussing land as well as money. In early 1996, the utility and the tribe announced an agreement in which Northern States Power would have provided 1,750 acres of land to the tribe and as much as $30 million over 18 years in return for changes to the 1994 law. Many legislators objected, and the deal collapsed. Another plan proposed later in the year also failed.
Reint said the tribe seeks four things: financial compensation, health studies, improved evacuation routes from the island in case of emergencies and the opportunity for tribal members on the island to relocate. If land becomes part of the deal, he said, "the tribe has made it very clear that it would not be used for anything other than housing."
Bill would allow Xcel to store more spent fuel outside
Sen. Mark Ourada, R-Buffalo, and Rep. Bruce Anderson, R-Buffalo Township, on Wednesday outlined a bill to allow Xcel Energy to store more spent fuel in outdoor casks outside of the Prairie Island nuclear plant.
The bill also would allow the state's other nuclear plant, in Monticello, to store waste outside. In addition, it would try to have the state retain some of the money Xcel pays to the federal government to build a new permanent repository spent fuel until the site opens, possibly in Nevada.
A 1994 deal limited Prairie Island to 17 outdoor casks. Xcel expects to reach that limit in 2007.
Anderson said jobs and tax money in the two communities are at stake. Ourada emphasized that customers will pay higher bills if the plants close and Xcel has to build new coal or gas plants.
An underlying question is how much power the Prairie Island Indian Community has to stop any expansion. The 1994 deal appeared to give the tribe veto authority over any expansion, but Ourada said it's unclear what power they have.
Jake Reint, a spokesman for the tribe, said it opposes expanding storage at Prairie Island, but is willing to discuss the issue.
State's nuclear plants vulnerable
Posted on Thu, Jan.
Xcel Energy's two nuclear power plants have taken added precautions since the terrorist attacks of September 2001, but key areas of the facilities remain vulnerable to a resourceful attacker, a state Senate committee was told Tuesday.
And while the generating plants at Prairie Island and Monticello have emergency notification systems to warn nearby residents if there's an accident, those procedures might be too slow in the event of an attack, David Lochbaum, a nuclear expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, testified before the Senate's commerce and utilities committee.
"No plants were designed with a 9/11-type thing in mind," Lochbaum said. "There are some vulnerabilities to the plants to that type of threat."
But when the committee's chairwoman, Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, asked Lochbaum what might be a "worst-case scenario" if a plant was hit by terrorists, a couple of the panel's members warned her not to bring up the subject.
Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, IP-Rochester, and Sen. Linda Scheid, DFL-Brooklyn Park, criticized Anderson for asking the question, saying it raised security issues that shouldn't be discussed in public. At one point, Kiscaden told her committee chairwoman how she should word her questions.
"I think it's fascinating that many members of this committee don't want that question answered," Anderson said.
As it was, Lochbaum said the type of damage would depend on the type of attack.
The vulnerability of the country's 104 nuclear power plants has long been an issue, but it has taken on added significance since the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. A special study group of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in an October 2000 report that there was a 50 percent chance of "catastrophic" damage if a large plane were flown into the building housing the spent fuel pool at a plant like Monticello.
After the 9/11 attacks, the report was removed from the NRC's Web site.
Monticello and Prairie Island generate more than a third of the electricity produced by Northern States Power-Minnesota, the Xcel subsidiary that supplies power to 1.3 million customers in the state.
Two officials with Nuclear Management Co., the Xcel subsidiary that manages the plants, told the committee that the company had taken a number of steps to improve security since 9/11. And both said the plants had fared well in evaluations.
"I have no security guards. I have security officers," said Mark Findlay, head of security for NMC. He said after the hearing that the officers work for a private security firm hired by NMC, and that they have firearms training twice a year.
NMC senior vice president Mike Wadley said that over the past few months the company has implemented a number of changes in procedures, structures and other areas to make the plants more secure.
In the past, the NRC has faulted management at the two plants on a number of security-related lapses. Among them: In 2000, the commission said several security supervisors and other staff members at Monticello had computer access that would allow them to alter or even fabricate security badges without anyone knowing about it.
That same year, the NRC noted that Prairie Island had no way of knowing whether it had enough security personnel to respond adequately to an attack on the plant. It also noted guards hadn't completed their required firearms training.
David Hanners can be reached at email@example.com or (651) 228-5551.v
Nuclear power struggle looms
January 24, 2003
When the Prairie Island nuclear-waste compromise was fashioned in 1994, the Mdewakanton Dakota believed they were thrown a proverbial bone.
After all, Xcel Energy then Northern States Power Co. got some breathing room to operate its nuclear power plant near Red Wing, Minn. The state of Minnesota and environmentalists got commitments to develop such renewable energy options as wind power and a limit to the number of nuclear-waste casks that could be stored there. Ratepayers got another decade of comparatively cheap electricity.
The American Indian tribe, despite living adjacent to the plant, got only a piece of paper saying it could enforce the agreement. Now, though, that's looking an awful lot like the trump in a high-stakes card game.
Accordingly, any solution to the state's nuclear-waste dilemma should pass not only through the state Capitol and the power plant near the Mississippi River, but through the modest single-family homes owned by band members less than a half-mile away.
"Unless our needs and issues are addressed,'' said Audrey Bennett, president of the Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council, "I guess we will take every legal action we can.''
Nine years after Xcel Energy got permission to store high-level radioactive nuclear waste in 17 storage casks just outside its Prairie Island plant, the utility is back at the Legislature, asking lawmakers to decide what role nuclear power should play in the state's future. Hoping they support a continued presence, Xcel then wants more storage casks the large steel containers holding spent nuclear fuel rods.
Xcel said getting more storage capacity is the only way the plant, which supplies power to 20 percent of its 1.5 million electricity customers in the Upper Midwest, can operate beyond 2007, when it will run out of room to store the nuclear waste generated there. At least 11 more casks would be needed to get the plant to the end of its current license in 2013 and 2014.
When the deal was made, Xcel hoped to transfer that waste to a federal repository. But the approved Yucca Mountain site in Nevada likely won't open for at least seven to 12 more years. A stopgap measure, sending the waste to an Indian reservation in Utah, still awaits federal approval.
Saying its hands are tied, Xcel is counting on the Legislature to give it some flexibility.
"We would hope the state would want to address this head on, because if we let it linger, then we're sort of making some decisions by default,'' said Scott Wilensky, Xcel's executive director of state public affairs.
The tribe, however, is cautioning everyone not to rush blindly ahead.
Last month, it sent Gov. Tim Pawlenty and key legislators a letter reminding them of the contract giving the band authority to enforce the agreement.
In addition, the tribe hired prominent Indian rights attorney Marc Slonim. In the mid-1990s, Slonim successfully pressed the Mille Lacs treaty rights case, which affirmed hunting and fishing rights for Indians in east-central Minnesota.
Xcel, however, contends lawmakers are free to change the agreement, without toeing to any tribal demands. "We believe that one legislature can't bind a future legislature,'' Wilensky said.
Attorney General Mike Hatch is reviewing the matter.
While the tribe has supported the plant, it contends Xcel has failed to address longstanding concerns over health and safety issues. Not only do band members live in constant fear of nuclear radiation, but they wonder about the effects of high-power transmission lines through the community. And, it added, there is only one road out of the community during emergencies, and that can be blocked by trains.
"Xcel calls itself a good neighbor, but a good neighbor would want to cooperate,'' said Darelynn Lehto, a tribal council member.
Wilensky disputes that characterization.
"I feel like we have certainly made an effort to be good neighbors,'' he said. "Obviously people can have differences of opinion.''
Whatever the outcome of the dispute, there is no question about the language's intent nine years ago, according to environmental organizations uniting against Xcel.
"Clearly, the Indian community was given the power to enforce the limit, that was what was in it for them,'' said George Crocker, head of the North American Water Office.
Diana McKeown, energy program coordinator for Clean Water Action Alliance of Minnesota, agreed. "Clean Water Action believes the tribe has every reason to enforce the contract,'' she said.
All of them say Xcel is reneging on the deal and subsequent promises. Former CEO Jim Howard, for example, said as recently as 1997 that the company would not return for more storage capacity.
"I think it's egregious this company has repeatedly dragged its feet, that it has the arrogance to come back to the Legislature while the Legislature has a huge budget deficit and dump this problem in their lap,'' McKeown said.
But Wilensky countered that higher replacement energy costs and heightened attention to air-pollution problems require legislators to take another look at what has been a relatively cheap, low-emission power source.
So what happens if Xcel doesn't get additional storage casks? The company says it would have to shut down Prairie Island in 2007, several years before its licenses expire, and make up the difference with more expensive power purchased from other utilities and consumers would likely notice a bump in their utility bills.
A decision this year, Wilensky said, is critical.
For starters, the Prairie Island plant needs new steam generators, and there's no point in going ahead with that $132 million project without assurance the plant can operate beyond 2007, he said. Also, he said, the longer the wait, the more the company will spend on a contingency power plan.
"These are the planning decisions that are being forced by the inability to get a storage solution,'' he said.
Sen. Ellen Anderson, the St. Paul DFLer who chairs the Senate Commerce and Utilities Committee, wants more than a quick debate on nuclear energy; she wants a thorough look into Minnesota's energy needs.
"I think a legitimate approach would be 'we already decided this. Don't make us go through this bitter fight again when we're going through the worst budget situation in decades,' '' said Anderson, who believes nuclear power should be phased out. "But frankly, part of it is I want our committee to look at the long-term energy future in Minnesota.''
Members, she said, need to take time to understand fully all options and consequences.
"What is so compelling to me is the positive vision we could have,'' she said. "We could stimulate economic development in greater Minnesota with an energy policy that tries to move us toward more Minnesota-produced energy. It would be great for the economy and great for the environment and great for security. We export nine or 10 billion dollars in energy dollars, and we need to keep more in our state. ''
While she prefers not to deal with the issue this session, she said she recognizes that's all but a certainty. "If we do deal with it, it probably will be the last thing we do before the final gavel,'' Anderson said.
Dennis Lien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651) 228-5588.
MAP, PRAIRIE ISLAND SITE:
Prairie Island timeline
Tribe says it has say on Red Wing nuclear plant
Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota leaders have warned state legislators that a 1994 law allows the tribe to reject additional radioactive waste storage at the nuclear power plant in Red Wing.
The warning, issued in a recent letter to officials, sets the stage for a potential legal and political battle over the Prairie Island nuclear plant, which supplies power to about 20 percent of Xcel Energy's 1.5 million electricity customers in the Upper Midwest.
Xcel, the plant's owner, says it will need to shut the plant down in 2007 unless the Legislature gives permission to expand the radioactive waste storage beyond the 17 casks authorized in 1994. Xcel officials said the 1994 pact with the tribe does not prohibit the Legislature from doing so.
But tribal president Audrey Bennett said that unless the tribe and Xcel can negotiate a deal that meets the community's needs, changing the law would be one more broken promise to Indian people. "In 1994 everybody got what they wanted except the tribe," Bennett said in an interview.
Xcel, then Northern States Power Co., received permission to expand its nuclear waste storage and operate the plant for several more years. Environmentalists received a commitment from the utility that it would buy more electricity from wind farms and plant-fueled power plants. The tribe received assurances that parts of the law, including the 17-cask limit, could not be changed without tribal approval, Bennett said.
Spent nuclear fuel rods are stored on plant grounds in 18-foot-tall cylindrical steel casks because the utility ran out of space in a pool inside the plant. A permanent national repository for nuclear waste, perhaps in Nevada, is not expected to be available until 2015 or later. Without additional storage at Prairie Island, the plant could not refuel and continue to operate.
Technically, the tribe did not sign a contract over the casks. State and Xcel leaders signed a contract that made the tribe a "third-party beneficiary" with "legal standing to enforce" parts of the 1994 law.
Bennett said that the tribe has no intention to disrupt Xcel's business, and that it will drop its objections to additional nuclear waste storage if the utility meets some of the tribe's needs. Among other things, the community wants health studies of those who live near the plant and a secondary emergency evacuation route from the island. It also wants land elsewhere for tribal members who wish to move off the island or for the tribe to relocate its Treasure Island Casino in case of a nuclear accident.
"If we're willing to look at helping Xcel with the cask storage and extending the operations of the plant, then we're putting our [casino] business at risk through a terrorist attack or something else," said Alan Childs Sr., tribal treasurer. The tribe is seeking only to protect its people and its livelihood, he said, just as any other community would do.
Scott Wilensky, Xcel's executive director of government affairs, said the utility would like to resolve the issues and is "continuing to talk" with tribal officials to avoid a court showdown. But he said the utility has a "different view of the situation" regarding legislative authority. "While the tribe may still have some rights under some of the existing aspects of the contract, you couldn't interpret the contract as prohibiting future legislatures from changing the law," he said.
Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce and Utilities Committee and one of those who received the letter, said the 1994 contract that gave the tribe legal standing to enforce the law was intended to prevent the Legislature from "going back on the deal."
"The tribe does have to be a part of this, but obviously they don't have a vote, yet they do have legal standing," Anderson said. "I guess it's safe to say that most legislators are not aware of this, much less what it means for our decisionmaking process," she said.
Attorney General Mike Hatch also received the tribe's letter and legal analysis, spokeswoman Leslie Sandberg said. "We're reviewing the issue" and plan to meet with tribal leaders, key legislators and other state officials, she said.
Neither tribal nor utility officials would discuss the negotiations or what a possible settlement might cost.
In a proposed agreement in 1996, Xcel offered the tribe $2 million, 1,750 acres of land and additional yearly payments, but legislators opposed the measure for various reasons and rejected it after state money was added to the package.
Bennett said that the tribe hopes a long-term agreement can be reached in the coming weeks, but that she is unhappy about Xcel's interpretation of the law.
"We're fully prepared to enforce the 17-cask limitation should Xcel or the state ignore our health and safety needs," she said. "I've got to believe that some of those legislators who were there in 1994 had law degrees, so they must have known what they were doing. A contract's a contract."
-- Tom Meersman is at email@example.com.
Prairie Island Community Responds to Xcel Energy's Plans to Seek More Nuclear Waste Storage
Tribe has Legal and Moral Authority to Limit Nuclear Waste at Prairie Island
PRAIRIE ISLAND, Minn., -- The Prairie Island Indian Community today reaffirmed its opposition to expanding nuclear waste storage at Prairie Island. The tribe's announcement is in response to Xcel Energy's 2002 Resource Plan and disclosure that it plans to continue operating the Prairie Island nuclear power plant and will likely seek permission from the 2003 Minnesota Legislature to store additional nuclear waste at Prairie Island. Xcel Energy's Resource Plan was filed late Monday with the Public Utilities Commission.
As an involuntary neighbor of nuclear power for nearly 30 years and the closest community in the country to a nuclear power plant and nuclear waste site, the tribe is vital to whether Xcel Energy's Prairie Island nuclear power plant will be allowed to continue to operate.
In 1994, as part of the legislation that first allowed then-Northern States Power Company to store nuclear waste at Prairie Island, NSP and the state signed an agreement effectively limiting storage to 17 casks. The Prairie Island Indian Community was made an intended third-party beneficiary with standing to enforce the agreement. The agreement, including the storage limitation, cannot be changed without the tribe's permission.
Although the Prairie Island Indian Community is opposed to additional nuclear waste storage at Prairie Island, the tribe has been willing to sit down with Xcel and the state to discuss possible solutions that would address the tribe's health and safety needs, and allow the plant to continue operating.
The Prairie Island Indian Community's health and safety needs include a secondary evacuation route off Prairie Island, land for tribal members who don't want to live near the plant and compensation for emergency planning and preparedness. The Prairie Island Indian Community is located only 600 yards from the nuclear power plant and nuclear waste site.
The tribe's health and safety needs have intensified due to the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and the ongoing threat of terrorism against nuclear power plants in the United States. Adding to the tribe's concern, in the event of an accident, there is only one permanent evacuation route off Prairie Island, and it's frequently blocked by train activity and subject to seasonal flooding.
The Prairie Island Indian Community is a federally recognized Indian Nation, located 50 minutes southeast of the Twin Cities along the Mississippi River.
RED WING, MINN.: Xcel wants action on nuclear storage
Dec. 03, 2002
Xcel Energy threw the simmering issue of nuclear power on the Minnesota Legislature's doorstep Monday, saying crucial decisions must be made in the upcoming session or the Prairie Island power plant near Red Wing almost certainly will be shut down in 2007.
"If nuclear generation is to remain in the state's energy mix, we need to make many decisions soon to keep our two nuclear plants operating in the future,'' said Dave Sparby, Xcel's vice president of regulatory and government affairs. "If nuclear generation is not in the mix, action may well be needed during the 2003 session to ensure replacement power is on line, on time.''
Sparby said Xcel wants to meet with a host of interests, including the Prairie Island American Indian community, and then head to the Legislature for a decision.
Xcel officials support continued use of nuclear power, which makes up 30 percent of the utility's output. From a cost, reliability and emissions perspective, Sparby said, it's clearly the most effective power option.
Under an emotional legislative compromise in 1994, Xcel is forbidden from storing nuclear waste in more than 17 above-ground casks outside its Prairie Island plant. The company expects to reach that limit by 2007.
When the 1994 deal was made, the utility expected a federal repository to take its waste. But that facility, at Yucca Mountain, Nev., now isn't expected to accept waste until 2010 at the earliest. Xcel's other option, a private-storage site in Utah, won't be available until at least 2005.
And even then, state law requires that all the outside nuclear waste must be moved off-site by 2007 before it can be replaced with additional waste - that isn't considered enough time to move the material to Utah.
Xcel signaled its intent Monday in an energy outlook plan it submits every two years to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
Longtime critics of nuclear waste said they're skeptical but willing to talk with Xcel.
"Prairie Island has reaffirmed its opposition to additional storage, but, as always, the tribe is willing to sit down with Xcel and the state to talk about potential solutions that will address the tribe's health and safety needs and allow the plant to continue operating,'' said Jake Reint, a spokesman for the tribe. "They really need us to go forward.''
"We look forward to that discussion,'' said George Crocker, head of the North American Water Office, an environmental group that has been a persistent critic of the nuclear waste generated at Minnesota plants.
"But, as they put their case together, we hope to convince management that it's really time to put commercial nuclear power behind us in Minnesota.''
Crocker was skeptical of Xcel's assertion that nuclear power is reliable, especially considering that Xcel's plants at Red Wing and Monticello are three decades old. "Aging components are failing at more rapid rates,'' said Crocker, who also questioned the effectiveness of security at the plants.
Although legislation was introduced 18 months ago to allow more nuclear waste to be stored in casks outside Prairie Island, Sparby said the utility has no specific proposal and has not been working with legislators.
"We have laid before them several alternatives, we have provided the analyses that support them and we have provided our preference,'' Sparby said.
"We don't have any legislation drafted, and we hope that when it comes time, we can reflect in that legislation the dialogue we are having with our stakeholders,'' he added.
Nuclear plant near tribe seeks renewal
A nuclear power company in Minnesota whose plant is located next to the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe is questioning limits on on-site waste storage.
Under a state law passed in 1994, Xcel Energy promised to store up to 17 casks at the Prairie Island site. But it contends the limit will force the shutdown of the plant a second one not located near the reservation.
The tribe opposes the storage of waste at the site and supports a national repository. One proposal is located at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which is opposed by Western Shoshone tribes, the state and environmentalists. The other is on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation in Utah, which is opposed by the state of Utah.
Neither repository is scheduled to open for several more years.
Xcel presses Legislature over nuclear power
Susan E. Peterson
Minnesota legislators will have to make some key decisions next year about the future of nuclear power in the state, Xcel Energy officials said Monday.
In a report outlining its plans to meet electricity demand over the next several years, Xcel said the Legislature will have to decide whether to authorize more on-site storage of spent nuclear fuel at the Prairie Island nuclear plant, among other power-related issues.
In 1994, the Legislature limited on-site spent-fuel storage to 17 casks at the Prairie Island plant, and the company promised that it would not seek additional on-site storage. Maintaining that limit likely would mean the forced shutdown of the 1,100-megawatt Prairie Island plant in 2007 and the closure of Xcel's 600-megawatt Monticello nuclear plant in 2010, the Minneapolis-based company said.
Xcel, the state's largest utility, said it has determined that continuing to operate both nuclear plants is the most effective option for its customers in terms of cost, reliability and environmental emissions. However, as required by the 1994 law, it is considering replacement options, including new coal or natural gas plants.
Xcel has not drafted proposed legislation yet, said Dave Sparby, vice president of regulatory and governmental affairs. "We hope to have a dialogue with all the affected stakeholders," such as the neighboring Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota tribe, which has opposed the on-site storage; cities near the Prairie Island and Monticello plants; affected Xcel workers, and others, he said.
"If nuclear energy is to remain in the state's energy mix, we need to make many decisions soon to keep our two nuclear plants operating," he said. "If nuclear generation is not in the mix, action may well be needed during the 2003 session to ensure replacement power is on line on time."
Sparby said that finding appropriate sites for new coal-or gas-fired plants, obtaining required permits and building new transmission lines and other infrastructure require a significant amount of time. "That's why it's important to move ahead with deciding what options we're going to choose to meet these requirements," he said.
Xcel has been working for eight years to promote alternatives to on-site nuclear waste storage, including suing the federal government for failing to fulfill its obligation to take possession of spent fuel and leading efforts by a group of utilities to develop a privately owned repository on Goshute tribal land in Utah, Sparby said.
However, even in a best-case scenario, Xcel doesn't expect either the Utah site or the planned federal repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., to be able to accept spent fuel in time to prevent a Prairie Island shutdown if it doesn't get authority to expand on-site storage, he said.
Prairie Island Tribal Council President Meets
by Prairie Island Tribal Council
Senate Action On Nuclear Waste Threatens Minnesota Tribe; Tribe Says Leaving Nuclear Waste at Power Plants is Another Broken Promise
PRAIRIE ISLAND, Minn., June 17 /PRNewswire/ -- The Prairie Island Tribal Council today denounced a move by the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that would keep nuclear waste stored less than 600 yards from the tribe's reservation for at least 10 more years.
"The Senate proposal is a direct violation of the federal government's responsibility to protect the welfare and resources of Indian nations and Indian people," said Audrey Kohnen, Tribal Council President for the Prairie Island Indian Community. "Our health and safety concerns about living next to the nuclear power plant and nuclear waste storage site have never been addressed. This proposal could mean we will be forced to continuing living next to nuclear waste well into the next century."
The Senate committee abandoned efforts to create a temporary national nuclear waste storage site in Nevada and passed a compromise proposal to have the government take title to the toxic waste, but leave it at power plants until a permanent storage facility is ready at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Federal law required the government to take title to the nation's nuclear waste by January 1998.
"Once again, the Prairie Island Indian Community must pay the price for the government's broken promises and inability to deal with the nuclear waste issue," said Kohnen. "If the government and the power companies don't have an answer for how to deal with nuclear waste, maybe they should stop producing the waste."
In 1994, the Minnesota Legislature, despite opposition from the Tribal Council, authorized Northern States Power Company (NYSE: NSP) (NSP) to store up to 17 casks of nuclear waste next to the company's Prairie Island nuclear power plant. The power plant is adjacent to the reservation. NSP currently has nine nuclear waste casks stored outside the power plant.
"We are very concerned that Prairie Island will become a permanent storage site if this proposal is allowed to move forward," said Kohnen. "We must not allow that to happen. We will continue our fight to get the nuclear waste removed from Prairie Island as soon as possible."
The Prairie Island Indian Community is located 30 minutes southeast of the Twin Cities along the Mississippi River.
SOURCE Prairie Island Indian Community CO: Prairie Island Indian Community; Northern States Power Company; U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee ST: Minnesota IN: OIL UTI ENV SU: 06/17/99 12:49 EDT http://www.prnewswire.com