2016-02-10 / Local News

Duke still spending on nuclear plant here, but not committed

By TIM GULLA
Ledger Staff Writer

While Duke Energy still hasn’t committed to actually building a nuclear power plant in Cherokee County, regulatory filings show it’s still spending money on the long planning and licensing process.

In the second half of 2015, according to a report filed Feb. 1 with the North Carolina Utilities Commission, Duke Energy spent $21.5 million on pre-construction costs and development activities for the proposed William States Lee III Nuclear Station in McKowns Mountain.

Altogether, according to the report, Duke has now spent a total of $471 million on the proposed project since Jan. 1, 2011.

The Charlotte Business Journal, which has been closely monitoring the spending, reported last week that Duke is on pace to hit the $500 million mark in spending on the project this year with no clear indication if the project will actually be built.

Natural gas prices have fallen so much in recent years that the future of costly-to-build nuclear facilities has been called into question.

The Charlotte Business Journal reported last October that Duke Energy Chief Executive Lynn Good “sounded a strongly doubtful note” during an address before the Winston Salem Chamber of Commerce about the company proceeding with the new nuclear station.

“Nuclear will continue to be an important part of energy supplies in the Carolinas,” she was quoted in the business publication. “But whether or not new nuclear is a part of the picture remains to be seen.”

According to the latest report to the North Carolina Utilities Commission, Duke spent an additional $2.2 million on Nuclear Regulatory Commission review and hearing fees in the second half of 2015, and an additional $575,000 on pre-construction and site preparation costs; $565,000 on supply chain and construction planning and engineering; and $357,000 on operational planning.

While Duke has spent a total of $44.9 million on land and right-of-way purchases for the project since 2011, no money was spent in that category in the latter half of 2015.

Most of the money spent by Duke on the project in the latter half of 2015 — $17.9 million — fell under the category of “allowance for funds used during construction.”

Duke has long expected to get a decision from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the license for the new plant in 2016, though it’s unclear when that will happen. A project timeline on the NRC website shows a mandatory hearing expected in April 2016. There’s no estimated time listed for a final decision on the license, however.

As far as a decision by Duke on whether to proceed with the project, Duke spokeswoman Rita Sipe said, “Basically, the ultimate decision would come after we receive the license.”

Sipe said the decision will be based on “what’s in the best interest of our customers and the best information available when we make that decision.”

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