This week is another funnel week, so the list of bills eligible for debate this session will be set. Work continues on the state budget, and floor debate on these bills will begin the first part of April. We have a lot of work to do, and the House and Senate are split on some key issues. Things will get sorted out eventually, but one must always remember that the Governor has the final say. He can sign a bill into law or he can veto it if he sees fit. Also, the Governor in Iowa has line-item veto authority regarding budget bills. If the House, Senate and Governor cannot get things settled by May 1st, we may have to shut the place down and come back this summer. This is what I have heard some Senators say, but I truly hope they are wrong.
Besides what has been going on overseas in the Middle East and Africa regarding revolts and rebellions, Japan is still struggling to rebound from the massive earthquake of two weeks ago. You have seen the pictures of the nuclear energy plant that was damaged there, and I wanted to let you know what is happening here in Iowa with nuclear energy.
In the 2010 legislative session, the House voted 91-7 to direct Mid-American Energy to do a study of the feasibility of building a next-generation nuclear power plant in Iowa. House File 561 is the next step in the process to see if bringing new technology to Iowa is the right approach for meeting the state's need for electricity over the next 50 years.
House File 561 does not direct Mid-American Energy to build a nuclear power plant. The bill authorizes the Iowa Utilities Board to do an analysis of such a project to determine if it is in the best interest of Iowans today and in the future. The state's top officials governing our utilities will make the final decision, not the legislature.
Under House File 561, Mid-American Energy would have to submit their proposal to the Utilities Board to determine if the project is feasible. The Board would oversee the cost of the project and how customers would pay for it, if it were to be constructed.
House File 561 requires Mid-American Energy to implement a rate structure that would pay for a plant during the development and construction phase, and also during the life of the plant. This means that the cost to Mid-American ratepayers could be spread out over 50 years. The estimated time to construct and develop a facility is in 10 years.
Mid-American estimates that the potential cost impact to ratepayers over the next ten years would be approximately ten percent increase in rates. While that number is not significant, it may be less than other alternatives.
Because of new federal regulations going into effect, it is virtually impossible to build any new power plants that use coal as a fuel source. Switching Iowa's power plants to natural gas would cause major increases in the cost Iowans pay to heat their homes, since the state would have to import two times the current amount of gas we are using today.
If a utility were to build a next-generation nuclear plant in Iowa and they had other plants using coal or natural gas, the utility could retire those plants early and thus switch to a non-carbon fuel source for electrical power.
Safety is a concern whenever talking about nuclear power. The technology being talked about by Mid-American Energy represents a major advance in how nuclear power is generated and how the environment if protected.
The technology being considered -- small modular reactor system -- would be a significant change in how electricity is generated via nuclear power. Also, the safety systems are a major step forward and would address many of the issues currently being faced in Japan.
There are a couple of bills which are almost ready for debate. One has already cleared a House Committee, and was scheduled for floor debate, but was pulled from the debate calendar because there were still too many unanswered questions. A bill relating to the agencies that administer economic development programs was pulled Wednesday and is under further review by the floor manager. This is the new proposal from the Governor that seeks to create a public-private partnership to deal with the state's economic development goals. I am glad we deferred on the bill. I agree with the new concept, but want it to be done right, and I want to be able to explain it.
The other bill is the mental health re-design being proposed by both the House and Senate. The two chambers are close to agreeing on what needs to be done and how, but are pretty far apart on how to fund it. The House version would have the state pick up the cost of mental health services but keep the control of the system at the local level. The Senate plan is more complicated and would most likely result in a property tax hike. The whole redesign idea has a long way to go, but I like the House plan better.
Finally, the first redistricting maps will be released Thursday. This will be the second time I have experienced this process, and I know everyone is a little nervous. However, in order to maintain equitable representation for Iowans, this must take place every ten years. More on this topic next week.
You may reach me at the Capitol during the week by phoning me at 515-281-3221, or at home on weekends at 712-434-5880. You may write me at the State Capitol, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. My home address is P.O. Box 398, Aurelia, Iowa 51005. If you have email, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.