May 04, 2011

76 Trombones—and a Nuclear Reactor

When we evacuated our house last Friday afternoon, M. scooped some new sequined, strappy dress sandals that she had not yet worn outside the store.

She is not big on "retail therapy," but these were purchased partly to celebrate the denial of a zoning request in Pueblo County for a vaguely proposed nuclear power plant—or something.

Although the proposer, lawyer Don Banner, was not from out of town, the whole scenario kind of reminded me of the Broadway musical (and later movie) The Music Man.

The film's protagonist travels from town to town, telling the residents that he will organize a boys' marching band. Then he takes the money meant for instruments and uniforms and catches the next train to Somewhere Else.

Banner wanted the county to give him a planned unit development zoning on land he did not own (although he had some options), to build a nuclear power plant with financing and partners that did not yet exist, said power plant to be cooled with water to which he did not have any rights.

And this is Colorado, where water rights are everything.

Oh, and his proposal went before the Board of Commissioners right when the nuclear-plant disaster in Japan was at the top of the news.

But he promised jobs. And you could just imagine a zombie-fied board of commissioners shuffling forward mumbling, "Jobs ..." Right here in River City, as the song goes.

But then, in the words of the Pueblo Chieftain, it all "melted down."
For themselves, the commissioners expected to hear a bitter argument over the safety of nuclear power. Where the ground shifted away from Banner was on the fundamental questions of why was he asking the county to fast-track his project by considering it as a request for a simple planned-unit development instead of a more comprehensive review?

Also, how could he ask the county to approve zoning for a nuclear plant when Banner had no actual power plant for consideration? The controversial details of size, water use and waste storage all would be delayed for future consideration if Banner could find a developer. . . .
For his part, Banner acknowledged that there were many unknowns in his proposal. He was trying to get a site zoned for a power plant without having a utility interested in building it. It was a "build it and they will come" approach that he justified with his enthusiasm for nuclear power.
No water, no land, no partners, no plan. As The Denver Post put it,
But here's the hitch, one that Banner freely concedes: There is no money, developer, committed transmission line or customer for the nuclear power plant.
But he's a visionary!
Banner, who has described himself as "overly zealous" on occasion, accepted the verdict with the same certainty that made him champion the power plant in the first place.
"This was a short-sighted decision," he told The Chieftain after the vote. "And I am a visionary."
Xcel Energy has a coal-fired power plant in Pueblo, and Black Hills Energy is building a natural gas-fired plant as well. So it was not like the area needed a power plant; this was strictly for export, so to speak.

In the end, the commissioners cited the lack of water as perhaps the least-controversial way of saying no to Banner's request. Nuclear reactors require a huge amount of cooling water, which is why they are often located next to rivers or oceans.

Banner is not an out-and-out con man like "the professor" in The Music Man, but his approach likewise was based on telling people down in Pueblo that they had a problem that he could cure. All they had to do was believe in him.

No comments: