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Bountiful, Beaver opt out of nuclear power project planned in Idaho

6 cities have opted out, but more than two dozen remain

A rendering of a cost-competitive NuScale plant design.
A rendering of a cost-competitive NuScale plant design.
NuScale

SALT LAKE CITY — Bountiful and Beaver now bring the count to six Utah cities that have declined further investment in the Carbon Free Power Project, which involves multiple partners in pursuit of building a small modular reactor nuclear power plant outside of Idaho Falls.

The $6 billion project has built in “off-ramps” for members of the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems to bow out of participation at this stage, with a deadline for this exit set for Saturday.

The 720-megawatt NuScale Power project is planned for construction at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, about 180 miles north of Salt Lake City.

Earlier this month, the federal agency announced it will provide nearly $1.4 billion for the project to pay for one-time costs for a plant that is being billed as a first-of-its-kind, next-generation nuclear power technology. The infusion of money would be subject to yearly appropriations by Congress, but project backers say it has had bipartisan support under both the Trump and Obama administrations.

The power association is made up of 47 members in Utah and throughout the Intermountain West that are independent utilities.

Bountiful and Beaver are the latest to leave the Carbon Free Power Project, citing concerns over rising costs, but UAMPS spokesman LaVarr Webb said even as six members are opting out, more than two dozen remain committed and there are others looking to come on board. Another member, Heber Power, is slated to vote Wednesday on whether to remain. Other cities that have left the project are Lehi, Logan, Kaysville and Murray.

Concerns over costs and utilities acting as “seed investors” have been raised by the Utah Taxpayers Association, which warns project delays and mounting costs may make members vulnerable.

The project passed one regulatory hurdle in a design certification process before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and is moving onto the next phase of licensing.

Cities and special service districts are looking to amplify their energy portfolio amid a volatile natural gas market and retiring coal plants.

While they have invested in renewables such as wind and solar, Webb said members are looking to fold in a supply of carbon-free energy.

“Utilities are really looking for base load supply to complement their renewables because they realize they can’t do it on intermittent resources alone,” he said.

If successful, the Carbon Free Power Project would be the first globally to deploy the modular technology.

Construction of the 12-modular unit is expected to start in 2025, with the first unit coming online in 2029.