OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Some Oklahoma lawmakers are exploring the possibility of developing nuclear power in the state to create an alternative source of energy for its residents and encourage power producers to make the state a center for the distribution of energy throughout the region.
But Oklahoma power generators say they are more focused on wind power and other renewable energy sources as well as conservation efforts to meet the growing demand for power. They believe that a nuclear power plant is too expensive and would take too long to build to be a viable energy alternative for the state.
“It is much too expensive and much too great an undertaking for any one utility in the state,” Brian Alford, spokesman for Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., the state’s largest utility, said Tuesday.
“We have to continue to look at all options. Our goal today, though, is to forego any new power plant construction until roughly 2020,” Alford said.
In the past week, Oklahoma House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, has toured a nuclear power plant in Arkansas to develop information on alternative energy options in which Oklahoma might play a national role.
Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, has also announced plans for legislation he said will streamline the state permitting process for a nuclear power plant, which would also be subject to stringent federal regulations and inspections.
“The main goal in all of this is to lessen our demand on foreign energy sources,” Benge said following his visit to Russellville, Ark., to tour the Arkansas Nuclear One plant operated by Entergy Arkansas, Inc.
“We cannot continue to go down the path we have for the last several decades where we are increasing our reliance on foreign energy.”
Benge said that as Oklahoma-produced natural gas is increasingly used for transportation needs, the nation will look to diversify its energy portfolio to meet growing power generation demands. Coal, wind and solar technologies, geothermal heat pumps and nuclear energy could all play a role.
But OG&E, which produces 6,800 megawatts of electrical power and has 760,000 customers in Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas, is not big enough to afford the cost of a nuclear power plant, estimated by industry officials at between $5 billion and $6 billion, company officials have said.
In addition, licensing and construction of a nuclear power plant would take up to 10 years, too long to meet the demand producers will face in the next five years.
“There is a long lead time on these facilities. To begin the process, you really need to start today,” Alford said.
There are currently 104 nuclear plants in the United States in 34 states, with none in Oklahoma. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, there are 17 applications for 26 nuclear plants under consideration.
Benge said that in spite of the high cost of applying for and building a nuclear power plant, the long-term benefits of inexpensive energy could outweigh initial cost concerns.
“We have to come up with an energy plan that can secure our energy future in Oklahoma and in the nation,” he said. “The states, and especially Oklahoma, have a chance to contribute to this national debate and add to the momentum that I think is there right now for a national energy plan.”
“It is time for us to forcefully move this issue forward and do what we can to help the companies that are capable of doing it,” Reynolds said. “And if we don’t have any, then find some who can.”