Payette nuke proposal wins with county planners

Zach Hagadone//January 15, 2010

Payette nuke proposal wins with county planners

Zach Hagadone//January 15, 2010

A years-long effort by Alternate Energy Holdings Inc. to build a commercial nuclear power plant in Idaho took a small but significant step forward on Jan. 14, when planning and zoning commissioners voted to amend Payette County’s comprehensive plan to allow for the rezone of more than 5,000 acres to accommodate the facility.

The site, situated in the hills northeast of the city of Payette, is a swath of agricultural land near Big Willow and Stone Quarry roads. Billionaire investor and energy magnate Warren Buffet considered building a nuclear plant at a site a few miles west of AEHI’s proposed location, but abandoned the project because it didn’t make economic sense.

Don Dressen, administrator of the Payette County Planning and Zoning Department, said planners didn’t take into consideration whether a nuclear or coal or solar plant was to be built at the site – just whether an industrial use would be appropriate.

“One of the goals of the comprehensive plan is to promote diverse economic growth, and an industrial use like that would probably work there and wouldn’t radically impact the surrounding uses, which are hardly any,” he said.

AEHI, based in Eagle, has been trying to secure a site for its multi-billion dollar Idaho Energy Complex for about three years. An initial location in Owyhee County was abandoned in mid-2008 and the project moved to nearby Elmore County, where an application to rezone several thousand acres has since been under consideration. The company proposed to build its nuclear plant in Payette County in October.

Opponents have dogged the proposal – and the company – since its plans were first announced. A small firm with relatively little resources, critics have fought AEHI’s project based on both environmental and economic grounds, contending it doesn’t have the funding to back it up.

So far, AEHI has yet to file for licensing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – something it has announced it will do in the next year. The company also said it’s in talks with the South Korean government on a potential deal to import advanced nuclear reactors, though the technology has not yet been certified for use in the United States.

Proponents maintain funding will come along once the project is seen as moving forward at the local level; and, when completed, it will provide low-cost energy, well-paying jobs and contribute billions to the state’s economy.

“This is a major hurdle for AEHI, one which sets us on a path to building Idaho’s first commercial nuclear power plant in Payette County,” stated Don Gillispie, AEHI chairman and CEO. “It’s been a major goal for us as a company, and one that is supported by an overwhelming majority of people living in Idaho and Payette County.”

Dressen said the recommendation to revise the comp plan will now go before county commissioners, most likely sometime in February. If the commissioners approve, it would open the way for AEHI to request the rezone.

“Then we’d be talking about some technicality,” Dressen said. “That’s not going to happen overnight. That can run to months, maybe a year. It would surprise me if it was all completed in a six-month period.”

Shares in the company (AEHI:OB) were valued at tiny_mce_marker.17 following the news, down tiny_mce_marker.02, or 10.53 percent, from the start of trading.