WILTON, Iowa — Don’t look for a nuclear plant to be towering over Wilton’s horizon anytime soon.
But don’t rule it out, either.
MidAmerican Energy is studying the feasibility of building a new generating facility in Iowa — and Muscatine County is one of two counties being studied as potential locations. The other is Fremont County in southwest Iowa.
Part of MidAmerican’s process involves meeting with local residents and officials to answer questions and address concerns.
On Tuesday afternoon, about 60 Muscatine County residents — most of them landowners and elected officials — attended an invitation-only session at the Wilton Community Center with MidAmerican officials to learn more.
If built, the plant would probably be nuclear or natural gas-fired, since the permitting process for coal-fired plants is difficult and cost-prohibitive in today’s regulatory environment.
But, a MidAmerican representative said, it’s much too soon for people to begin thinking about what kind of plant might be built where — or even whether a new plant might be in the works.
The utility is conducting a three-year nuclear feasibility study, said Tina Potthoff, which also could be used for possible construction of a natural gas-fired plant as well.
After that, even if MidAmerican did decide to build in Muscatine County, it could take a decade or longer before it would be built.
The feasibility study, which will be presented to the Iowa Legislature next year, will evaluate geography, soil, environmental considerations and proximity to existing transmission lines and transportation options, Potthoff said.
“At our meeting we wanted to make people understand why we will be in the area (boring soil samples 100 feet deep) and answer people’s questions,” Potthoff said. “The boring will be done this fall, and people will want to know what is going on.”
According to Kas Kelly, chairwoman of the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors, who attended Tuesday’s meeting with supervisors Dave Watkins and Tom Furlong, the Muscatine County site being considered is between 140th and 150th streets west of Vail Avenue.
The utility, Kelly said, has purchased or has options to purchase 778 acres in the tract. Utility officials said a similar arrangement is in place in Fremont County.
According to Kelly, quoting utility officials, a modern nuclear facility would bring about 350 jobs to the area with most salaries ranging between $50,000 and $100,000.
It would take about 1,000 construction workers about four years to build the facility, she said.
“There are still a lot of questions to be answered,” Kelly said. “With a new design, how safe is it? I am very concerned about the soil, but they said people can farm right up to the fence line. They can’t live that close, but they can farm right up to the fenceline. That made me feel a little better.”
The growth to Muscatine County’s tax base “would be huge,” Kelly acknowledged.
“We have a lot of things to weigh,” she said, including jobs, the potential increase to nearby property values — and, of course, safety.
“In the end,” she said, “we don’t have much say about it.”