A Republican proposal to scrap the state's ban on new nuclear power plants cleared its first hurdle Tuesday.

The House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 10-6 to advance the bill, giving it one more stop before an expected floor vote in the House. It is the latest of several recent efforts to lift the nearly two-decade-old moratorium, and new Republican majorities plan to send the bill to the governor's desk.

Gov. Mark Dayton opposed lifting the moratorium on the campaign trail, citing concerns about nuclear waste storage, but he remains mum on whether he will veto the legislation.

Rogers Republican Rep. Joyce Peppin, the bill's author, said that as energy demands grow, the state should consider the nuclear option.

"If we fail to plan and provide the infrastructure we need in the future, we risk not being able to provide [for] the energy needs we've all grown accustomed to," Peppin told the committee.

A representative for Xcel Energy, which operates nuclear power plants at Monticello and Prairie Island, said the company has no plans to build a third plant.

DFL lawmakers and environmental groups sharply criticized the bill.

"I honestly can't understand why you are promoting the most expensive and the most risky way to produce new electricity," said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis.

Marshall Cohen of the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington said plants are expensive to build but "inexpensive to operate."

The moratorium, he said, is "preventing a process that will enable you to know what the costs are and what the other impacts of a real proposal -- should one come along -- would be."

Victoria Winfrey, president of the Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council, reminded the committee that additional nuclear waste would be stored in Minnesota until the federal government designates a storage location. Her community lives several hundred yards from the waste at the Prairie Island plant. "No other community in Minnesota should have to live in fear of nuclear power and nuclear waste the way our community does," Winfrey said.

Eric Roper • 651-222-1210