The move was made for a number of reasons, including the discovery of a fault line on the Bruneau property as part of the company's evaluation of the site.
The area is known to have a number of fault lines, but most are over 500,000 years old, CEO Don Gillespie of AEHI said. The fault line they discovered "is a little younger than that, although not much, but we thought it would be a big hurdle," and would drive up the analytical costs for future filings before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The company already has filed a Notice of Intent with the NRC, the first formal step toward building a nuclear power plant.
"Last July, when we decided to do this in Owyhee County, I always thought we ought to have a back-up plan," he said, and briefed the Elmore County Commissioners at that time about the possibility of locating the plant in Elmore County if the Owyhee County site proved problematical. He said he received some "positive signs," from the commissioners at that time.
The property in Elmore County is located near the Snake River on land owned by DeRuyter Properties, LP, a company owned by a dairy farmer in Owyhee County who has been using the 1,400 acres of land to grow hay. Gillespie said AEHI has signed a six-month contract for rights to the land, and if purchased would include the water rights. He said the water rights would cover all the water needs of the proposed 1,500 -megawatt power plant.
Gillespie said the company is still looking at a design for the power plant, and is considering utilizing a third-generation "light water" design by General Electric that already has been pre-approved by the NRC. That design requires very little water for cooling and does not need the tall cooling towers that were common with plants built prior to 1990. In fact, Gillespie said, a hybrid variant of the design that AEHI is looking at "could run almost dry, which could be important in a dry year in Idaho."
Using a pre-approved "standardized" design would significantly reduce the amount of time needed for federal approval. Under changes made in federal law recently, designed to encourage development of nuclear power, some portions of the federal permitting process, which can take years, have been combined to run in parallel, allowing both the construction and operating permits to be sought at the same time. Gillespie said he hopes to begin those filings with the NRC by December or early 2009.
Federal approval isn't the only hoop AEHI will have to jump through. Both state and county agencies will have their say. Gillespie has been in contact with the Elmore County Planning and Zoning office, but has not formally requested any papers to file, yet. He expects to do so within the next month, seeking the necessary conditional use permits the county would require.
He also intends to hold a series of public information meetings in the relatively near future to explain his plan to Elmore County citizens.
Gillespie said that, for his company, moving to the Elmore County site had a number of advantages.
"There are no fault lines on this side of the river," he said, "we'd be close to rail access, although we'd have to run a short spur, and that's important considering the size of some of the equipment these plants require. With the Owyhee site, we realized we'd probably have to build a bridge over the Snake River," since existing bridges couldn't support the weight of some of the equipment, "and we'd have to cross BLM land, and that could be a problem."
The Elmore County site eliminated those problems, he said, adding that the land "is flatter, and easier to construct on."
The site is located about 15 miles upriver from C.J. Strike Dam, and roughly six miles south of Hammett.
Gillespie said the company intends to eventually build two plants on the site, although it potentially could hold three. The first plant would cost between $4 billion to $5 billion to construct (including paperwork costs).
During construction, Gillespie said an economic analysis AEHI had done by an independent firm in Oregon, showed that the project would generate $2.6 billion in economic input to the state of Idaho, approximately $2.3 billion in Elmore County alone. By comparison, the entire assessed valuation of all property in Elmore County just recently cracked, barely, $1 billion.
Gillespie said at current tax rates, once completed the plant would create somewhere between $40 million to $70 million in additional property tax revenue for Elmore County, the upper figure being higher than all county governments' current property tax revenues combined. "That could mean some significant tax reductions for everybody else," he noted.
Gillespie said that despite the setback in making the site change, the process "is moving pretty fast. The support in this state has been incredible, especially from the state leadership, the governor and congressmen."
Idaho has a long history of nuclear power. The first city ever powered by nuclear energy was Arco, and the INEL complexes west of Idaho Falls operate a number of experimental reactors.
But Gillespie knows he'll face opposition from some of the state's environmental groups, which tend to be opposed to nuclear power on principle.
And in fact, the first shot was fired almost immediately by the Snake River Alliance over the weekend.
"The last thing Idaho needs is a nomad nuclear power plant developer bouncing from county to county, looking for the best deal for his outrageously bad idea," Alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley said. "Moving this scheme 15 miles upstream on the Snake River and across the county line doesn't make it any more acceptable. It was a horrible idea at C.J. Strike Reservoir and it's an equally bad idea outside of Mountain Home.
"The opposition to AEHI's ill-conceived merchant nuclear plant is far stronger today than it was when Mr. Gillispie came to Idaho in 2006," Shipley contended. "AEHI is now starting from scratch and its proposal will meet even greater and more formidable opposition in Elmore County. We guarantee officials there will soon be made aware of his company's dismal record in Owyhee County. In fact, we encourage Elmore County officials to give their colleagues next door a call to see what they'll be dealing with in the months ahead -- assuming of course that AEHI doesn't pack up and move to another county first."
Shipley cited water issues, radioactive waste storage and potential light pollution of the Bruneau observatory as drawbacks to the plan, among other factors.
Shipley also charged that AEHI had been "pulling the wool over the eyes of Owhyee County officials. We will make sure it does not happen in Elmore County. This company has a record of building structures without permits and not responding to county demands to pay its permit fees. It has not been a good corporate citizen of Owyhee County or of Idaho."
Shipley added that using geologic features to justify the move was just "scrambling for excuses," by AEHI and "changing the site will have no impact on the growing campaign to prevent construction of AEHI's plant in Elmore County or anywhere else in Idaho."