County board approves nuclear plant letter of support

By John Holler Correspondent

For the last several years, the Xcel Nuclear Power Plant in Monticello has been funded largely with the outlay of capital for maintenance and site improvements, and then later submitting invoices to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for reimbursement. In many ways, it is backwards of the standard way of doing business – paying out money first with the expectation of reimbursement, but not the guarantee of it.

At the April 10 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, Scott Johnson of Xcel Energy asked for a resolution of support for House File 3708 sponsored by Rep. Marion O’Neill (R, Maple Lake) and Senate file 3504 sponsored Sen. Andrew Matthews (R, Milaca). Johnson explained the purpose of the bill and why the State Legislature is sponsoring bills to change how business is conducted.

“This bill would provide a new tool for the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) to review and approve nuclear costs and investments that we are making or are going to make before they’re incurred,” Johnson said. “This is sometimes referred to as ‘advanced determination of prudency.’ This allows the company to pursue those investments with confidence that we’re proceeding with the agreement with our regulators about the costs before we spend the money.”

Typically, Xcel and other nuclear plant operators would expend money first and then seek reimbursement, effectively seeking to have the investments made justified and reimbursed by the MPUC. In 2015, one of those investments ($600 million) wasn’t fully reimbursed and some was disallowed by the MPUC, leaving Xcel on the hook for those costs. Johnson pointed out that the bill wouldn’t be going around the MPUC. If anything, it would be bringing the MPUC more closely into the investment process.

Commissioner Darek Vetsch, who is the commissioner in the district where the nuclear plant is located, said that not only is he on board, but so is the City of Monticello and the Monticello Chamber of Commerce. He stated that the proposed process makes sense given the amount of investments and the need for assurance that the facility and the MPUC are on the same page for the validity of the costs and the assurance of reimbursement.

“I’ve gone through this and I support this resolution,” Vetsch said. “The City of Monticello passed this resolution and, as recently as this morning, the Chamber of Monticello has passed a resolution supporting this bill. This is showing our support for what needs to be done to help accomplish the funding mechanisms that they need to be able to operate these nuclear plants in our area.”

Commissioner Charlie Borrell expressed surprise that such practices are not already in place.

“I just can’t imagine that this wasn’t already out there,” Borrell said. “It’s almost a deterrent the way things are now to do investment in the (power) generation facility because we might be able to get our money back for this or not.”

The board unanimously approved signatures on a letter of support from the county board to be included in the document packages for both the House and Senate bills.

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