Hundreds hear about potential power plant

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A couple hundred people packed the community center in Wilton, Iowa, Tuesday for their first chance to hear from MidAmerican Energy about a possible power plant and the 350 jobs it could bring with it.

Some area farmers used the evening to make it clear that they are "absolutely opposed" to a nuclear power plant in the area.

"From a farming standpoint, with the power lines and extra traffic and everything, it's a real problem for us. We use aerial application on our crops a lot; that's a problem for us," said Dwight Glenney.

Glenney's biggest problem, though, is with the possibility of radioactive material being stored nearby.

"We're all for jobs. Who isn't for jobs? But the thing is, when you pick jobs over health and those two things collide, which one do you choose?" said Glenney.

Representatives from MidAmerican attempted to ease some of those concerns Tuesday night, answering questions from the crowd.

"Safety's always a concern. No matter what generation you've got, there's no complete safe way to generate electricity. So, we're looking at new technology -- is it safe?" said Dean Crist, MidAmerican's vice president of regulation.

The company has done soil testing in both Muscatine County and Fremont County in southwestern Iowa. MidAmerican, though, says that's as far as it goes. There is no official plan, proposal, or site for a plant -- only a "Nuclear Assessment Study," which was called for by the Iowa legislature to look at the state's energy future.

"We're having to reduce our coal generation due to environmental regulations. We need to replace it with something," said Crist.

Crist insists the report doesn't mean a power plant is headed anywhere.

"It could be somewhere else in Iowa. We don't know if it's solar, wind, or natural gas or nuclear that we're looking at yet. We're still looking at all those alternatives," said Crist.

The group of neighbors who organized Tuesday's meeting said it would support plans for a natural gas plant if it was built on the site of an existing coal plant set to close.

MidAmerican said the next step is finishing up the study, which should be done by the end of April. From there, they'll report back to the legislature and the utilities board. The company insists, though, that the study won't end with a decision on whether to build or not.