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Omnibus earmarks $40M for Prairie Island renewable energy programs

Rows of spent nuclear fuel storage casks sit outside Prairie Island nuclear plant. Proposed legislation would allocate $1 million to Xcel Energy to study the best way to relocate the waste out of the state if an interim repository is opened. File photo

A proposed bill that cleared a state legislative committee Friday, April 20, would give a $40 million boost to Prairie Island Indian Community for renewable energy programs, as well as provide funds to Xcel Energy for planning related to relocation of spent nuclear fuel stored at the Prairie Island and Monticello nuclear plants.

The provisions in the omnibus employment, economic development and energy bill authored by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, were part of a three-day discussion in the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee, including public testimony from Xcel Energy and Prairie Island Indian Community representatives.

The bill calls for Prairie Island Indian Community to receive $20 million this year and $5 million each of the next four years for the tribe's efforts to become one of the country's first net-zero energy communities — completely offsetting energy consumption with an equal amount of renewable energy generation.

"Proper stewardship of the land, waters and air is a fundamental belief for our people, and we are excited about the potential to reduce our environmental impact through the bold, nation-leading proposal before you today," Tribal Council President Shelley Buck said at a committee hearing April 18 in St. Paul.

Prairie Island Indian Community is exploring solar energy and energy conservation programs.

Funding would come from Xcel Energy's Renewable Development Account set up by the state in the 1990s as a condition for allowing temporary onsite storage of spent nuclear fuel. The utility company pays into the account annually for storing spent fuel in dry storage casks at its Prairie Island and Monticello nuclear plants.

Prairie Island Indian Community, which opposes the storage of waste at Prairie Island nuclear plant, says it has never received funds from the account.

"We are the closest community to a nuclear plant anywhere in the country," Buck said at the committee hearing, noting the plant sits 600 yards from Prairie Island Indian Community. "Every day we live with the consequences of our country's failed nuclear waste disposal policy."

Nuclear waste storage

The debate over nuclear waste storage has persisted for decades, including ongoing attempts by the federal government to establish a repository at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert.

Meanwhile, Xcel Energy says progress on interim storage facilities proposed by private companies in New Mexico and Texas could present new opportunities to move radioactive waste out of Minnesota.

The proposed bill includes appropriating $1 million from the Renewable Development Account for Xcel Energy to study the quickest and safest means to transport spent nuclear fuel should an interim storage solution become available. It also provides for an additional $1 million for Xcel Energy to work with the companies to ensure spent nuclear fuel would qualify for an interim storage facility.

"Xcel Energy has long supported efforts to move spent nuclear fuel to a permanent or interim location outside of Minnesota, and we're encouraged by progress in both permanent and temporary storage," according to a company statement Monday. "We're beginning to study the technical issues surrounding moving fuel and are encouraged by state and federal efforts to develop solutions for nuclear plants around the country."

The bill's next stop is the House Ways and Means Committee.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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