Brown’s nuclear SMR, hydropower bills passed by Senate

Today the Senate advanced two measures sponsored by Sen. Sharon Brown aimed at encouraging and expanding the use of carbon-free power and emerging energy technologies – including incremental hydropower, nuclear power and small modular reactors.

“We all support clean energy, but the key is doing so in a way that works for employers, energy consumers and families, as well as the environment,” said Brown, R-Kennewick.

“Hydropower and emerging technologies such as small modular reactors provide clean, carbon-free power, and they provide reliable baseload power that make wind and solar energy more feasible. I’m glad my colleagues in the Senate agree that we should be embracing these sources and encouraging their use in our state.”

Senate Bill 5475 , which passed the Senate 27-22, would provide a business-and-occupation tax incentive for the production of small nuclear reactors.

Sen. Sharon Brown touring a small modular reactor plant simulator in Corvallis, Oregon, in 2014.

Brown, whose 8th Legislative District includes the Columbia Generating Station, the Pacific Northwest’s only commercial nuclear-energy facility, has been instrumental in promoting nuclear energy in the Legislature, including securing a $500,000 state Department of Commerce grant to study the issue. The grant, awarded to the Tri-City Development Council, funded a site analysis of Hanford as a possible location for a new federal SMR.

The study found that siting an SMR at the Washington Nuclear Power Plant Unit No. 1 site at Hanford would benefit from existing infrastructure and licensing documentation, including a previously issued Nuclear Regulatory Commission construction license. The study also highlighted that an “SMR would offer a carbon-free base load alternative to offset generation fluctuations associated with wind energy and future solar plants.” The region’s nuclear-trained workforce would also be a plus.

“This is an opportunity for Washington to be a true world leader in an emerging sector,” said Brown, citing the 2014 Tri-City Development Council study.

“The real benefit would be the assembly or manufacturing of SMRs and shipping the module parts to many parts of the world. Licensing the technology is only a few years away, but passing this bill would indicate that Washington is ready today.”

According to one leading developer of SMR technology, establishing Washington as a key partner in SMR deployment would:

  • Make Washington a potential “desired location” for supply chain members;
  • Create approximately 1,000 construction jobs at peak, for a duration of 2-3 years;
  • Produce 360 full-time plant-operation jobs at average annual salaries of $85,000; and
  • Result in indirect economic benefits and associated job multipliers.

Brown believes becoming a leader in clean-energy technology offers tremendous economic-development gains for Washington. “If we don’t act now, other states and countries are poised to take the lead in SMR development, and Washington will lose out on all of those good paying jobs,” she said.

In addition to Brown’s bill dealing with small modular reactors, the Senate also passed Senate Bill 5232 – her legislation to allow incremental electricity produced as a result of efficiency improvements to hydropower to qualify as “renewable” under the state’s 2006 energy-independence act. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by three Republicans and four Democrats, passed the Senate 32-17.

“This is an issue of fairness,” said Brown. “All of our utilities should be treated equally.

“By allowing this incremental electricity produced by efficiency improvements to hydro projects to qualify as an eligible renewable resource, we not only save consumers money, but we also help our employers free up the resources they need to hire more employees and give raises and better benefits to those already employed.”

Washington has always been in the forefront on clean energy with its abundance of hydropower, which accounts for 74 percent of the state’s electric generation. Initiative 937, which since its 2006 approval has required large utilities to obtain 15 percent of their electricity through renewable resources, recognizes power generated through solar and wind as renewable but excludes hydropower.

Efficiency changes made to hydro projects allow more electricity to be produced from the same amount of water without any new diversions or impoundments. However, the I-937 law only recognizes hydro-efficiency improvements associated with projects owned by a qualified utility. Under Brown’s bill this recognition would be extended to incremental electricity marketed by the federal Bonneville Power Administration.

Both SB 5232 and SB 5475 now move to the House of Representatives.