Nuclear Energy Trending in the West

  • Oct 07, 2021
  • NEI

With significant focus on how to achieve climate goals and protect the environment, states in the West have picked up on an important trend continuing to gain momentum—the essential role of nuclear energy.

Nuclear hasn’t always been present in this part of the nation, but that’s changing. New customer interest and state policymaker actions are positioning carbon-free nuclear energy as a key player alongside wind and solar.

Carbon reduction goals are driving states in the West to rethink how their powering the grid. Climate experts agree that to truly reduce our carbon emissions, nuclear energy must be included.

It’s not surprising Governor Inslee, a leader in the climate movement, led the effort in 2019 with a Clean Energy Standard (CES) for setting Washington state on a path to 100-percent clean electricity by 2045. Washington’s CES intentionally made room for nuclear, alongside wind and solar, to power its energy transition. Similar policy approaches have been replicated in New Mexico, California and Oregon—all with technology neutral language that treats carbon-free generation sources, like nuclear, equally.

As new nuclear technology projects advance, the potential to build more nuclear reactors is spurring interest even further. And state legislatures are encouraging the exploration of new nuclear builds.

Just this year, Montana ended a long-standing restriction of new nuclear construction, while calling for a feasibility study on the potential to replace coal plants with small modular reactors. Nebraska also extended its existing clean energy credit to include nuclear—seeing opportunities for business development across the state.

In 2018, Idaho policymakers took notice of this trend and passed tax incentives to build new nuclear, while the Governor’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission continues to provide the state with strategic counsel on nuclear-specific issues. These actions mirror Idaho’s long history with nuclear, as it is home to Idaho National Lab, the nation’s leader in nuclear energy research.

This resurging appreciation is stretching far beyond the walls of state capitols as new and exciting partnerships and commitments continue to grow. Energy Northwest is working with X-energy on the development and deployment of an advanced nuclear reactor, exploring the possibility of new nuclear technologies in Washington. This project is viable for Washington because of the 2019 clean energy legislation passed.

Oregon-based developer NuScale has partnered with the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems to bring reliable, carbon-free power to member communities that span Utah, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming. The utility consortium is increasingly relying on wind and solar and sees new nuclear as a partner to balance their supply of carbon-free electricity generation.

PacifiCorp added nuclear energy for the first time in its 2021 integrated resource planning. This means that advanced nuclear may power the homes and businesses of customers across California, Wyoming, Utah, Washington, Idaho and Oregon. PacifiCorp also announced intentions to build Bill Gate’s Natrium reactor on a retired Wyoming coal site. A coal to nuclear transition has been widely supported by Wyoming—with policymakers and communities seeing the transferable skills and expertise that exist, along with the tax dollars that nuclear can bring to communities impacted by coal retirements. In 2020, the legislature passed a measure calling for a coal to small modular reactor transition.

And finally, California, home to Silicon Valley startups and notorious for leading innovation, is contributing to this new nuclear era in the West. Developers of next generation nuclear technologies, along with nuclear fusion developers, are well represented in the Golden State. California-based developers like Oklo with its Aurora micro-reactor and Kairos with its Hermes pebble-bed reactor are just a few companies leading the reimagined future of nuclear technologies.

As recognition for clean energy grows, these developments offer tremendous potential to bring even more carbon-free power to our electricity grid. Whether it’s for nuclear’s ability to offer 24/7 reliable carbon-free power, the promise of new nuclear technologies that will pair well with wind and solar, or the well-paying jobs and economic stability nuclear provides—it’s clear nuclear energy is trending upward in the West.