Duke official updates legislative delegation on proposed nuclear plant
“This plant will have its time, just not right now,” Chuck Claunch, Duke Energy regional director for state government affairs, told local lawmakers Thursday evening during a legislative delegation meeting at Spartanburg Community College.
“We are still moving forward with the (William States Lee) project. The best case scenario is we would not start construction for 3 to 5 years.”
After nine years of patient work, Duke Energy now has a licenses to build two nuclear power reactors in Cherokee County although the utility may never build them.
The combined licenses would allow Duke to build and operate two AP 1000 reactors at a $11 billion Williams States Lee nuclear site announced in 2007. In a July filing, the company said it has spent nearly $495 million on preconstruction costs since 2011.
The proposed Lee nuclear site is in a holding pattern as growth in demand for electricity has stagnated since the 2008 recession. The utility is closely watching the costs on two nuclear plants under construction in South Carolina and Georgia.
But Claunch said the Lee decision is further complicated by several factors such as whether prices for natural gas continue to stay low and the impact of environmental regulations.
Duke Energy spent $4.9 billion to purchase Piedmont Natural Gas in October as part of a longterm move to add natural gas into its energy mix.
The nuclear plant will also have to comply with new safety regulations put into place following the March 11, 2011, disaster that struck the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan following a major earthquake and tsunami.
Utilities are required by law to conduct long-range planning to project their power generation needs over a 20- to 25-year time period. Duke Energy Carolinas estimated a 33 percent increase in nuclear energy by 2031, according to a planning document filed with state regulators in September.
The combined construction and license issued in December for the proposed Cherokee County nuclear plant is good for 40 years.
Duke Energy expressed its appreciation to local lawmakers, the school district, county and city officials for their continued support of the William Lee States nuclear project.
“Our ultimate decision on whether to build Lee Nuclear will be based on what’s in the best interest of our customers, and will be based on factors such as energy needs, project costs, environmental regulations, natural gas prices, existing or future legislative provision for cost recovery and more,” he said.