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House Committee Considers Removing Voter Approval Requirement For Proposed Nuclear Power Projects

A bill before the Montana legislature would repeal a law that requires a majority of voters to approve proposed nuclear power facilities.

Representative Derek Skees, a Republican from Kalispell, introduced House Bill 273 and told a House committee Monday that the Legislature should decide whether to grant a nuclear facility approval.

“You and I and everyone in this room, we all represent Montana. This is what the government is in Montana. A lot of times citizens will go to a referendum when they can’t get us to do their work. We are more than willing and more than able to do this work in this body,” Skees said during a hearing.

There are currently no nuclear power operations in the state.

The Montana Senate is considering a resolution that would explore the use of small nuclear reactors to replace coal at the Colstrip coal-fired power plant.

NorthWestern Energy’s David Hoffman spoke in support of that resolution last week and was a proponent of House Bill 273 Monday.

“The small nuclear reactor is clean, it’s carbon free, it’s reliable. New technology since the citizen initiative was brought in 1978. I think it’s time we move on,” Hoffman said.

The Montana Electric Cooperatives' Association and the Montana chapter of the conservative political group Americans for Prosperity also spoke in favor of House Bill 273.

Three environmental groups spoke against the bill. Each said they support the study of nuclear energy, but would keep project approval with Montanans.

“While MCV understands that nuclear power brings the economic benefits and diversified energy future to the state of Montana, we also believe that bringing nuclear power to the state is something that the voter should be able to approve as is currently the case,” said Whitner Chase with Montana Conservation Voters.

Environmental groups also expressed concern about nuclear waste.

The House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations took no action on House Bill 273 Monday.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.