2017-05-19 / Front Page

Nuke project in trouble?

Utilities commission demands answers
By TIM GULLA
Ledger Staff Writer

Duke Energy has been put on a 60-day clock to answer some very important questions by the North Carolina Utilities Commission regarding the proposed William States Lee III Nuclear Station here in Cherokee County.

Among those questions, the regulators are requiring Duke Energy to provide an assessment on the recent bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric Co., the maker and designer of the AP1000 nuclear reactors planned and approved for the proposed plant in McKowns Mountain, and the potential impact of that bankruptcy going forward.

The questions stem, in part, from a March 1 challenge by NC WARN, an environmental group that has been battling Duke on environmental issues, which argued to the commission that Duke Energy had failed to notify the commission of the reactormaker’s bankruptcy in its most recent semi-annual report detailing ongoing activities and costs on the project.

“NC WARN states that, at this juncture, DEC (Duke Energy Corporation) does not have any reasonable and prudent path forward for the Lee Nuclear Station but keeps it in its Integrated Resources Plan,” the order from the utility regulator notes. “NC WARN opines that DEC has spent $529 million for the Lee Nuclear Station with absolutely nothing used or useful to show the Commission.”

While it has received a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Duke has not yet committed to actually building the plant.

In addition to an update and assessment on the Westinghouse bankruptcy, which the commission acknowledged is evolving and uncertain, the commission also ordered

Duke Energy to describe how it has been accounting for the costs of the project, whether Duke Energy plans to include certain project expenses in its next general rate case application, the current total estimated cost of the proposed nuclear power plant, and how much will Duke be spending on the project in the next several years.

The regulators also noted that they had only approved Duke Energy in a 2011 order to spend up to $120 million for the North Carolina allocable portion of the development costs and they want to know, “If DEC’s expenditures for such costs have exceeded the $120 million, explain how this occurred without the Commission’s approval.”

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