WED AM News: Dairyland executive says nuclear power necessary to reach carbon reduction goals; Report highlights decline in rural startups

— The president and CEO of Dairyland Power Cooperative says integrating nuclear power is necessary to reach carbon emission reduction goals.  

“The bottom line is, if we are for a less-carbon future, if you are against carbon, you need to be for nuclear. I don’t know a simpler way to put it,” Brent Ridge said yesterday during a Wisconsin Technology Council event in Madison. “If you want there to be less carbon, and you want a reliable, safe, economic grid that will keep together our economic 24/7 engine, nuclear is part of that future.” 

The La Crosse-based generation and transmission co-op in February announced an agreement with NuScale Power to explore the Oregon company’s small-scale nuclear reactor technology. The company is planning to build the first of its small modular reactors in southern Idaho, Ridge explained. He said Dairyland is interested in how these reactors could help improve grid resiliency as more renewable energy resources such as solar and wind go online, and more people drive electric vehicles. 

Paul Wilson, the Grainger professor of nuclear engineering and chair of the UW-Madison Department of Engineering Physics, agreed nuclear power can help fill in the gaps as reliance on fossil fuels diminishes to some degree. He said more wind and solar development should likely come first, but other options will be needed. 

“When we get down to those really low decarbonization levels, and we really want to get close to zero, then you need to have something that’s providing what we today call baseload … and you need some sort of low-carbon, firm, dispatchable power source,” he said. “I can say I don’t really care what it is, but the only one that’s really ready right now is nuclear.” 

He added: “Without that, the system gets a lot more expensive and a lot less reliable.” 

Meanwhile, Madison Gas & Electric Chairman, President and CEO Jeffrey Keebler said the company is also looking into the potential benefit of nuclear technology as it pursues its own decarbonization goals. MGE is shooting for 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, and net-zero carbon by 2050, he explained. 

“We need to look at nuclear,” he said. “Nuclear can be a pretty cool technology … there’s battery technology we’re testing out. A lot of these technologies are new to be used at a grand scale. So there’s a lot of learning to do over the next three years, five years, 10 years, with all of these technologies.”

Ridge noted that as more drivers adopt electric vehicles in the near future, electricity usage at night will likely rise as they will need to be charged when not in use. 

“We’re going to see a need to pump up more electricity in the evening, and maybe late at night,” he said. “That’s probably going to be coal, gas or nuclear.” 

He said Dairyland’s approach to decarbonization is likely slower than other utilities such as MGE, and involves “balancing fossil fuels — gas, coal, as a bridge to nuclear.” He said coal will be needed “for a while” before nuclear energy can be incorporated, as NuScale’s operations won’t be fully operational until 2030. 

But because the small modular reactors will include a number of independently operating segments, energy production at a smaller scale can begin as soon as the first module is installed. 

Ridge said the capital expenditures and construction duration for these projects would be significantly less than for traditional nuclear power plants. And Wilson noted NuScale’s reactor plans represent “a very interesting approach” as the smaller reactors translate to lower risk. 

“One of the great promises is that you can build most of it in a factory,” he said. “We like to say that it’s going to be more like building airplanes than building airports.” 

See more details on Dairyland’s agreement with NuScale here: 

See a recent story on the Midwest energy landscape: 

— A new report highlights a “sharp decline” in new business formation in rural parts of the state, despite these areas having higher levels of startup activity overall. 

The Rural Innovation Report was created by the Wisconsin Startup Coalition and the UW-Madison Department of Agricultural & Applied Economics. 

While researchers found startup activity has historically been higher in rural parts of the state, they found the rate of new business formation has “been declining in general, and relatively steeply, in remote Wisconsin” over the past 40 years or so. 

So-called “remote” parts of the state had the most startup activity over that period, the report shows, while regions adjacent to these areas had the next highest startup rates, followed by metro areas with the lowest rates. The report considers both remote areas and adjacent regions to be rural. 

According to the report, remote parts of the state had 16 new businesses per 1,000 employees in 1978. By 2018, that rate had fallen to about eight new businesses per 1,000 employees, report authors wrote. Over the same period, that startup rate in “nonmetro-adjacent” areas fell from around 11 businesses per 1,000 employees to about four per 1,000 employees in 2018. 

Meanwhile, metro areas of the state also saw a decline in new businesses from 1978-2018, just not as steep. 

Report authors highlight a number of recommendations aimed at improving innovation and entrepreneurship, including communities forming financing opportunities for local “pre-venture” companies and smaller businesses. 

“In the end, innovation and entrepreneurship comes from what people do,” they wrote. “For many rural Wisconsin communities a long-term strategy around ‘place-making’ could make the community attractive to potential innovators and entrepreneurs.” 

See the full report here: 

— AG Josh Kaul has announced Wisconsin will see some of the $19.2 million settlement with Ford Motor Company following claims Ford advertising misled consumers about gas mileage and payload capacities.

Wisconsin will see $325,247 after Ford allegedly claimed its 2013-14 C-Max hybrid hatchbacks got better fuel economy than other comparable hybrids. Ford also allegedly claimed its 2011-14 F-250, F-350 and F-450 Super Duty models had “best-in-class” payload capacities available to any customer, even though the option configurations to get that payload capacity were only available to commercial fleet customers. Kaul in a press release said Ford’s advertising should be more clear.

“Corporations like Ford must not make misleading representations about the fuel-efficiency of hybrid vehicles and payload capacity for pickup trucks,” he said. “When Wisconsin families don’t get what they’ve paid for due to corporations’ misleading claims, the Wisconsin Department of Justice works to get accountability.”

A Ford spokesperson told the second-largest automaker in the country is happy with the settlement.

“We are pleased that the matter is closed without any judicial finding of improper conduct,” the spokesperson said. “We worked with the states to resolve their concerns and in the process limited additional investigative costs and legal expenses for all parties.”

The settlement is not subject to Joint Finance Committee approval because the agreement was reached out of court, according to the Department of Justice. Kaul will have sole discretion over distributing Wisconsin’s portion, according to the agreement.

See the release:

— A recent report from the RAND Corporation ranks Wisconsin as the fourth most expensive state for hospital prices paid by employers and private insurers. 

But the Wisconsin Hospital Association is disputing the premise of the report, arguing its methodology is questionable and doesn’t provide the whole picture. 

A release from The Alliance, an organization formed by employers with self-insurance programs, highlights the report’s findings. The group describes itself as the “voice for self-funded employers who want more control over their health care costs.” 

In Wisconsin, the report shows prices paid to hospitals in 2020 by employers and private insurers for inpatient and outpatient services averaged 307 percent of what Medicare would have paid for the same services, compared to 224 percent at the national level. 

Christopher Whaley, the study’s lead author and a policy researcher at RAND, says the report “may help policymakers looking for strategies to curb health care spending.” 

But Joanne Alig, the senior vice president of public policy for WHA, says the report’s claims are “really misleading, as the underlying methodology is problematic.” In an interview yesterday, she noted Medicare rates aren’t the same across U.S. states. 

“Just having a study that uses Medicare as sort of this basis of comparison and then ranks states, really is overly simplistic,” she said. “The study also fails to consider some really important factors.” 

As an example, she pointed to Medicare spending per beneficiary as a measure of efficiency. 

“That shows that Wisconsin’s health system used 6 to 10 percent fewer medical services than other states, and that’s an important distinction,” she said. “When we look at premiums and overall out-of-pocket costs, that seems to be about the same as the national average.” 

The latest RAND Hospital Price Transparency Study includes information from over 4,000 hospitals in 49 states and Washington, D.C., between 2018 and 2020, the release shows. The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit policy think tank based in California. 

This study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and participating employers, including The Alliance.

See the full report: 

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<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

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