By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Former state Rep. Dave Miller, R-Riverton, was surprised no one from Gov. Mark Gordon’s office called him this week to give him the news.
As someone who has been pushing for nuclear energy in Wyoming for 20 years, he figured someone would give him a heads up when, if ever, there was an announcement that Wyoming could be the home to a nuclear power plant.
Miller has been passionate about nuclear energy for decades and even caused a stir 10 years ago when he managed to amend a bill saying that nuclear energy was technically a renewable resource. More recently, he was the chief sponsor for legislation that would allow the construction of small, modular nuclear power plants at coal-fired power plants.
“I mentioned many times over the years, ‘Why doesn’t Wyoming have a nuclear power plant?'” Miller told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “I’ve been the guy shaking the trees on this.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Mark Gordon, joined by officials with TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power, announced they are working to build the reactor at one of Rocky Mountain Power’s four retiring coal-fired power plants by 2027 or 2028. The reactor will generate 345 megawatts of power using Wyoming uranium.
Miller believes it was a bill he co-sponsored in 2020 with former Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton — House Bill 74 — that helped bring the “Natrium” nuclear reactor to Wyoming. The bill allowed power plants in Wyoming to replace their natural gas and coal-fired generators with small nuclear reactors that have similar output.
The Natrium technology has been developed by TerraPower, a nuclear power innovation company founded by software developer Bill Gates, and GE Hitachi. The technology results in a smaller nuclear power plant than has previously been built, along with improved safety measures and a power storage system.
While Miller’s and Bebout’s bill is perfectly aligned to allow construction of the new power plant, Miller was quick to point out that he was never lobbied by TerraPower, or any power company, to create the bill. It’s just a passion of his. However, he said he had great supporters for the idea in the Wyoming Legislature, including Bebout.
“I’ve been getting emails from my friends in the legislature who are telling me that bill is now starting to pay dividends in Wyoming,” Miller said.
Before beginning operation, the plant will have to be approved by several regulatory agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. However, Miller tried to write HB 74 in a way to reduce the regulatory burden on the project as possible, because he he feels overregulation has caused issues in basically every industry in the state.
Bebout and Miller both told Cowboy State Daily the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be very important in getting the project approved, as well as up and running.
The bill also would assess a $5 per megawatt hour tax on the plant.
Although Miller said he was hesitant to add any tax, he thought $5 was an appropriate number.
“I was trying to figure out the amount of coal that a plant could burn and that tax rate for Wyoming on that coal, and I came up with $5,” he said. “I tried to amend it to $1, but it didn’t happen. However, since 93% of our power is exported out-of-state, 93% of the cost will be borne by out-of-state consumers.”