HEAL Utah abandons Green River nuke appeal
Last week, utahwaterlaw.com reported on the Utah Court of Appeal’s recent decision in HEAL Utah v. Kane County Water Conservancy District, which upheld the approval of two change applications that will provide much-needed water for the Green River nuclear power plant project.
HEAL Utah Decides Not to Appeal to Utah Supreme Court
Following the court of appeal’s decision, HEAL Utah said it would review the court’s ruling before deciding whether to appeal to the Utah Supreme Court. However, on Wednesday, HEAL Utah and the other principal environmental groups involved in the lawsuit, Uranium Watch and Living Rivers, announced “they are dropping the legal challenge to the project’s water rights.”
HEAL Utah and Other Groups Maintain Nuclear Project is “Struggling”
While the HEAL Utah and the other environmental groups have dropped their legal challenge to the Green River nuclear project, the groups maintain that “all facts available show the project is struggling, having attracted very little investment from utilities.” More specifically, HEAL Utah has said that “[d]ropping their legal appeal will likely hasten the project’s demise, because Blue Castle Holdings, the company behind the troubled, nearly-decade-old reactor plan, will now have to make large cash payments to southern Utah water districts.”
“By dropping the appeal we are actually forcing them to put up or shut up as they sometimes say,” HEAL Executive Director Matt Pacenza told reporters outside Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City. “We don’t think they can.”
“Blue Castle may be winning in the courts, but they’re losing everywhere else. When no one wants to invest in your company and no utility wants to buy your power, you’re in deep trouble,” Pacenza said. “Everything we have learned over the last nine years is that this is a project that has not gotten off the ground.”
Uranium Watch Says Court of Appeals’ Decision “Does Not Change” Fact that Project is in Financial Trouble
Similarly, Sarah Fields, program director of Moab-based Uranium Watch reiterated that the Blue Castle nuclear power plant project has “never been a viable project. The Court of Appeals decision does not change that.”
“None of the utilities in Utah and the surrounding states have agreed to join the project at any level,” Fields said. “There is no realistic source of funding to construct nuclear reactors in Utah.”
Fields also pointed out that although Blue Castle is purportedly putting together a permit application, the company has not had contact with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission since 2011. Furthermore, Fields, like Pacenza, questions whether Blue Castle will be able to make the hefty payments to the Kane and San Juan County Water Conservancy Districts, which start at $180,000 per year for the first five years, and then increase to $580,000 a year after the nuclear reactor comes online. Given Blue Castle’s inability to raise funding from outside sources, just over $500,000 since 2007, Fields and Pacenza may very well be right about Blue Castle’s inability to pay for the needed water.
Living Rivers Says Water Availability is Still an Issue for the Project
Echoing Pacenza and Fields, John Weisheit of Living Rivers added water availability also remains a huge issue for Blue Castle. “The project is a non-starter for one very important reason: There isn’t enough water available from the Colorado River. The demand for water by the seven states of this basin exceeds the natural supply.”
Weisheit also said that the effects of climate change may further plague Blue Castle in its attempt to complete its nuclear project. “Increasing aridity is becoming a major cause of depletion,” he said. “Over the last 16 years the average decrease in the natural flow has been 20 percent, or 3 million acre-feet.”
Blue Castle Holdings Fires Back Over Claims of Financial Struggles
The Green River nuclear power plant project is the brainchild of former Utah County Republican lawmaker Aaron Tilton, who is the president and CEO of Blue Castle Holdings. Following the Utah Court of Appeals’ decision, Tilton said in a news release:
The original approval by the State Water Engineer has now stood the test of an appeal where the relevant evidence was weighed. The ruling is a major de-risking milestone for the Blue Castle Project. It provides future utility participants greater certainty that the major asset, water for the deployment of a new nuclear plant, has been secured economically.
In response to the claims made by HEAL Utah and the other environmental groups regarding Blue Castle’s finances, Blue Castle attorney, David Wright said, “HEAL Utah is simply not privy to Blue Castle’s finances and does not know what Blue Castle has been doing, concerning its efforts in developing the project. Blue Castle has honored the terms of its leases with the two water conservancy districts and intends to continue to do so.”
Blue Castle Holdings Moving Forward to Select Builder of Power Plant
Last month, Blue Castle announced it was moving forward with the project and that it was beginning the process of selecting contractors to build the power plant. Blue Castle said its power plant will create between 2,200 and 3,000 megawatts of power, which will increase Utah’s ability to generate power by up to 50%, while consuming only 1% of its water diversions.
Time Will Tell if Power Plant Project will Come to Fruition
While the legal fight between HEAL Utah and Blue Castle Holdings may be over for now, time will tell whether the Green River nuclear power plant project will ultimately be a success. Aside from raising resources to continue to fund the project and pay for the water necessary to fuel the plant, climate change and states’ efforts to draw more water from the Colorado River may further impact the vitality of the project.
* Photo Cred.: deseretnews.com