MidAmerican Energy Power Plant Deal Reached In Iowa

03/06/2012 04:08 pm ET | Updated May 07, 2012

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A legislator said Tuesday that he had struck a deal on a plan that would give MidAmerican Energy new incentives to build a nuclear power plant in Iowa.

Sen. Matt McCoy, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said his panel will approve the compromise Thursday.

"We have the votes," McCoy, D-Des Moines, told The Associated Press. "We have a consumer-friendly amendment."

The compromise would require that MidAmerican, Iowa's largest utility, have financing in place before beginning construction of a nuclear power plant. Once state regulators approve a new plant, the utility would have to carry out construction.

Some legislators had worried earlier versions of the measure would allow the utility to raise rates to pay for the plant, without being committed to actually building the facility. They said consumers could end up with higher rates, and no new power plant to show for it.

Lawmakers reached the agreement even as opponents held a Statehouse news conference, where they argued that nuclear plants are inherently dangerous.

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, was among the speakers at the event, timed to mark the upcoming anniversary of the March 11 meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. The accident occurred after a massive earthquake caused a tsunami that knocked out power to the plant.

Hogg said he didn't share McCoy's confidence that the Iowa measure would be debated on the Senate floor.

"I would be surprised if it moved, but it's obviously still a live round," Hogg said.

Francis Thicke, a farmer and environmental activist from Fairfield, said the compromise backed by McCoy only dealt with the potential financial risks of the proposed nuclear plant.

"My concern is the whole environmental issue and they are not addressing the environment," Thicke said.

The incentives for developing another nuclear power plant cleared the House last year, but the proposal has been stalled in the Senate and backers had feared it wouldn't be approved as the Legislature moved toward adjournment next month.

MidAmerican spokeswoman Ann Thelen was cautious about the agreement, saying the deal was just struck Tuesday and officials have not had a chance to review it.

As head of the Commerce Committee, McCoy controls which issues are debated, and he's scheduled his panel to take up the nuclear plant bill Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said no decision had been made about the measure if it wins committee approval.

"It's available for the rest of the session," Gronstal said. "We may or may not debate it."