Bill Fehrman stood before a skeptical crowd in Payette of more than 400 people patiently answering every question and listening to every comment about the nuclear plant he wants to built near their town.
The residents of Payette, New Plymouth, Fruitland and Ontario who filled the Payette High School auditorium had only learned two weeks before that MidAmerican Nuclear Energy Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of MidAmerican Energy Holding Co., controlled by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, wanted to build a nuclear power plant next door. The company itself had only been formed just before the rumors were confirmed by the Idaho Statesman’s Ken Dey Dec. 4.
Suddenly, the future of their mostly agricultural community, already changing into bedroom communities for Boise, had a new direction. Naturally, people expressed their worries about how the plant would change the quality of life that kept them in the lower Treasure Valley.
The change came so quick for Phil and Nicole Hyatt that the people who offered to buy their home decided they didn’t want to live next to a nuclear power plant and backed out. That ominous vision scared many residents but not Duane Youngberg, the heating and cooling shop owner who noted that millions of people back east live next to one.
I grew up in Illinois and lived 30 miles away from several nuclear reactors. Some of my high school friends worked on their construction. Later, as a reporter I covered he nuclear industry and got a chance to tour the ones near my house.
I could relate when Kurt Key a Payette carpenter described his feelings as “not in my backyard.”
The anti-Boise attitude, so prevalent outside of Ada County came through in several comments. When someone asked Fehrman where he was going to put the waste, Tim Kennedy of New Plymouth yelled, “in the Boise foothills,” to the laughter of the crowd.
Charles Kauffman, a Weiser farmer said he wanted to see the plant built in Boise where there is better access.
“Why not build it out in the desert next to Micron?” Kauffman said.
Fehrman said the Willow Creek area met the company’s and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s strict criteria. And Idaho is a net importer of electricity.
In 2006, residents in Idaho used 22.8 million megawatt-hours of electricity but only produced 13.4 million megawatt-hours within its borders.
But anti-nuclear activist Peter Rickards of Twin Falls said Idahoans would have to compete with California for the power and suggested they would pay a higher price.
Fehrman said MidAmerican would go to Idaho utilities and electrical cooperatives first with offers of the power.
Considering the shock residents faced, Fehrman should consider the meeting a success. But it’s clear he and his company have a long way to go to convince Payette and Idaho MidAmerican’s nuclear plant is a neighbor they want.
But that’s an easier job than the small start-up company, Alternative Energy Holdings, run by a former nuclear industry executive, Don Gillispie has with his proposal to build a nuclear plant near Bruneau. He still has to convince people his project is real and he’s going to have the billions of dollars he’ll need to complete it.