2016-09-19 / Front Page

Proposed Duke nuke project timeline gets pushed back

Ledger Staff Writer

If Duke Energy ultimately decides to forge ahead with plans for a new nuclear power plant in Cherokee County, it will be at least a decade before the first of the two proposed reactors start generating power.

According to the utility’s latest integrated resource plan dated Sept. 1, anticipated timelines for operation of the two reactors at the proposed William States Lee Nuclear Station in McKowns Mountain have been pushed back two years from the original plans.

That means the first reactor wouldn’t come online until 2026 and the second reactor wouldn’t come online until 2028. Duke had originally expected the first reactor to come online by 2024 and the second by 2026, the dates listed in its license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Duke still hasn’t decided, however, if the multi-billion dollar power plant will be built here even though the company’s long-range plans continue to express a commitment to nuclear energy.

Duke continues to expect it will receive a combined construction and operating license for the proposed plant from the NRC by the end of this year. The NRC website page for the plant, which lists numerous details about the proposed plant as well as NRC timelines, currently does not list a date or even a targeted date for a final decision on the license, though.

“The decision and timing of Lee Nuclear will come after we receive the COL (combined operating license) and will be based on what is in the best interest of our customers and founded on the best information available at the time we make a decision,” Duke spokeswoman Rita Sipe said in an e-mail Friday.

Numerous factors have reportedly slowed the project in recent years, from concerns raised by safety regulators following a tsunami-related nuclear accident in Japan, to the the impacts of the economic downturn and a downturn in the price of natural gas.

An executive summary in Duke’s latest integrated resource plan states the long-range plan “continues to support new nuclear generation as a carbon-free, cost-effective, reliable option within the Company’s resource portfolio.”

The report does include some cautions, though. “Historically low natural gas prices, ambiguity regarding the timing and impact of environmental regulations and uncertainty regarding the potential to extend the licenses of existing nuclear units affects the timing of the need for new nuclear generation,” according to the report.

Duke is continuing to spend money on the project, regardless of a final decision on the plant’s future. In its most recent report to the North Carolina Utility Commission regarding pre-construction costs the first six months of 2016, Duke reported spending $3.87 million for ongoing NRC reviews and hearing fees, nearly $290,000 for pre-construction and site preparation activities, and $568,000 on supply chain and construction planning and engineering.

Altogether, Duke has reportedly spent almost $495 million toward the project since 2011.

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